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Budget 2021 driven by welcome COVID supports left little scope for poverty

Budget 2021 driven by welcome COVID supports left little scope for poverty and inequality reduction measures, says SVP

Despite welcome increases in the Living Alone Allowance, the Fuel Allowance and targeted supports for children, today’s Budget has provided little to prevent an escalation in poverty or a growth in inequality, says the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP).
The Society says that it understands the need to deal with the short-term demands made on state finances due to COVID-19 to maintain jobs, businesses and individual incomes, but it is disappointed that there are insufficient measures to indicate that the Government recognises the need to put in place any long term strategic plans to improve the situation for the 700,000 people already living in poverty before the pandemic. 
SVP welcome the increase in targeted payments for children in low income households, but it is disappointed that these increases are not accompanied by an increase in the adult rates. Child poverty and income inadequacy can only be fully addressed when the minimum needs of the entire household are considered.
Dr. Tricia Keilthy, SVP Head of Social Justice said; “While there has been welcome increases in targeted supports, this is a second year in a row that there has been no increase in minimum social welfare rates. This decision leaves many people struggling to get by as current rates are set below the poverty line and well below what is required to meet a basic standard of living. Increasing minimum social welfare rates would have provided better support for individuals and families trying to get by on a very low income and helped prevent the damage caused by poverty. 
We also needed to see a comprehensive package of supports to address rising levels of household debt as a result of the pandemic, particularly for utility and rent arrears. Budget 2021 was a missed opportunity to proactively put in place a sufficient financial package and debt relief mechanism to prevent an increase in homelessness and disconnections.”
So far this year, SVP has received almost 80,000 calls requesting help and support to access the most basic of needs.  
Calls were up 15% in September compared to the same time last year. 
As further necessary restrictions have been imposed across the country, SVP members fear that the pandemic is worsening existing inequalities and are preparing for a surge in appeals for help with utility bills and food supplies as winter approaches.
Alongside improvements in income supports, SVP wanted the Budget to deliver a comprehensive investment package to help address the persistent issues of homelessness and housing insecurity, educational disadvantage, unaffordable childcare, energy poverty and health inequalities. Very little in this Budget have addressed these issues, say the Society.
Dr. Keilthy said, "Increased funding for social housing built by Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies is welcome but there continues to be an overreliance on the private rented sector to meet long term social housing need. There is also no additional support for those living in the private rented sector and in receipt of housing subsidies. Our members see how paying unsustainable top-ups to bridge the gap with market rents causes families to cut back on basics like food and heat. This Budget needed to address this issue given the added uncertainty people are facing in terms of job and income loss.”
Budget 2021 needed to invest in children and young people experiencing disadvantage, many of whom have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
"Educational disadvantage was a key concern for SVP prior to the pandemic and now we have significant concerns for the long-term impact of school closures, and associated learning loss, on children and young people already struggling to play catch-up. There is also very little in today’s Budget to address the persistent issue of school costs that causes so much stress for low income families every year,” said Dr. Keilthy.
SVP welcomes the changes in SUSI and the increased support for students at third level to support the move to online learning. However, we are disappointed to not see any financial supports or recognition for the increasing numbers of students wishing to access third level on a part time basis.
In relation to energy costs SVP says that while it understands the reason for increasing carbon tax in terms of environmental impact there must also be significant measures in tandem to protect those on low incomes, rural households and those with poorly insulated cold homes and reliant on solid fuel. They welcome the additional funding for the retrofit of social housing but said the increase in the Fuel Allowance is not sufficient in offsetting the increase in the Carbon Tax as many households experiencing energy poverty are not eligible for this support. 
SVP will provide a more detailed analysis in the coming days when the full breakdown of measures and expenditure is provided. 

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