Now that the dust has settled after Budget day, the Society of St Vincent de Paul is taking stock and assessing what it will mean for the people and households we assist. Will the small improvements in supports and services have a meaningful impact on families and children living in poverty? Will our 11,000 volunteers see a difference in the lives of struggling households they visit every week?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Additional resources were spread too thinly, meaning it will do little to address the huge deficits in housing, childcare and education. The Government can’t end poverty overnight, but we had hoped that this Budget would have been more ambitious, taking a longer-term view of what is required to improve our public services and infrastructure, particularly for those most in need of quality services and supports.
In the run-up to the Budget, Minister Doherty emphasised her commitment to addressing the needs of the 139,000 children currently growing up in poverty. We witness the reality behind this statistic every week through our home visitation work; parents who go without food so their children can eat. Yet, the €2 increase for our poorest children, while welcome, will do little to address these levels of deprivation. We know households with teenagers particularly struggle, so it was also very disappointing that there wasn’t a higher rate of payment for older children.
The small increase in social welfare is welcome, but for many families this will likely be absorbed by the recently announced increases in electricity prices and the PSO levy, and continually rising rents.
On the eve of Budget day, a report on the reforms of the One Parent Family Payment highlighted what SVP has been saying for years; the reforms increased poverty among one parent families and made parenting alone more difficult. Despite this, the announcements on Budget day were piecemeal, with no comprehensive plan to support lone parents into education, and sustainable employment.
Budget 2018 also failed to deliver measures to tackle education costs. This August, SVP received a record number of calls, as 5,000 parents sought help with back to school costs. Next year parents will still be cutting back on essentials like food and heating to meet these costs. Children will continue to feel different because their uniform is too small or they don’t have the right materials, or they can’t take part in activities like their friends. For less than the cost of the tax cuts, we could have reduced the cost of education for all families while simultaneously breaking down barriers to education.
For the 1,442 families, and 3,048 children living in emergency accommodation, Budget 2018 doesn’t offer much certainty for the future. The targets for next year mean very few will have hope of finding a secure home —almost 80% of social housing need will be met through the private rented sector. Every week SVP meet families who struggle to find a landlord who will prioritise a HAP tenancy, or are at risk of becoming homeless as they pay unsustainable top-ups. A more ambitious target for the social housing output was needed.
A new National Anti-Poverty Strategy is due shortly and it must set out a clear road map to address poverty and inequality so no one is left behind. As an organisation committed to social justice, we believe it is not acceptable for anyone to live in poverty. It should also not be acceptable for our Government.