The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) says that welfare increases announced today are welcome but insufficient to keep people afloat in a sea of rising living costs and life will be even harder for those struggling to get by on a low income.
SVP had hoped with Government promises to build back better post-Covid-19, that this Budget would be the start of the transformative change needed to tackle long-standing issues like poverty, housing insecurity and homelessness, educational disadvantage and energy poverty. While the charity understands these issues cannot be solved in a single budget, the measures announced today mean not enough will change for those struggling below the poverty line.
Dr. Tricia Keilthy, SVP Head of Social Justice said; “The increase in core social welfare payments by €5 is welcome. However, the reality is that these increases just about cover the increase in the cost of living after two years when the rate didn’t rise. They are still at a level that is below the poverty line and well below the cost of a minimum standard of living. The increase in the payment for older children falls short of the support that families need. Budget 2022 was an opportunity missed to commit to benchmarking social welfare rates to an adequate level over time.”
SVP also said that given the current energy price crisis, the increase in the rate of Fuel Allowance from midnight tonight is welcome, as is extending it to more jobseekers. However overall, too many people are still not eligible for the payment, and the measures announced today are insufficient to combat the rapid inflation in energy costs.
The charity is also disappointed that there was no reference to increased supports for those living in Direct Provision.
SVP welcome the increased investment in childcare and the increased investment for the Hot School Meals programme as well as extra supports for DEIS schools. However, it said that from its members’ experience, many children experiencing disadvantage do not attend a DEIS school.
With regard to education, the Society welcomed the increase in support provided under the SUSI scheme and increasing the rate of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, as well as equalising eligibility for lone parents.
Rose McGowan, SVP National President said: “Facilitating access to education is the one of the most important factors in breaking the cycle of disadvantage, and every year we support thousands of students to access further and higher education. These measures must be built upon in future budgets so that everyone has the opportunity to progress in the education system. We are disappointed that supports for those wishing to access part-time education has not been addressed in this budget. Many people who seek support from SVP have expressed an interest in attending higher education on a part-time basis but the fact that they cannot access the SUSI grant is a major barrier.”
“We are also disappointed that the capitation grant rate to schools was not increased, or the free pilot book scheme extended to all non-fee paying primary and post-primary schools. This year we saw a 10% increase in calls for help with back-to-school costs. Providing genuinely free education would not only take this pressure off parents every year but it would allow every child to reach their potential.”
Following increased requests for help with digital devices at back to school time and during the pandemic the Society has welcomed funding for digital equipment to schools, however, it awaits further details to see if it will assist low income households with the cost of digital equipment for their learning and to access the school curriculum.
Earlier this year SVP welcomed the publication of Housing for All as it says it urgently needs it to deliver for the people SVP assists and to provide a pathway so the State can provide secure and affordable homes for people to live in vibrant and sustainable communities.
However, it says the Budget will do little to prevent an escalation of homelessness and make it increasingly difficult to work towards ending homelessness by 2030.
Dr. Keilthy said; "SVP 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 the context of rising rent. Ensuring people can meet their housing costs and stay in their homes in the first place is the most important thing Government can do to prevent the trauma of homelessness. Unfortunately, however, the Budget is weak on prevention and tenancy sustainment measures.”
SVP welcomed the investment in retrofitting, and a commitment to socially progressive investment, but is disappointed to see nothing for renters living in energy inefficient homes. “In September, SVP and Threshold published a report which detailed the much higher risk of energy poverty faced by renters and set out the steps required to ensure those in private rented accommodation are not left behind in retrofitting schemes and targets. However, there is no commitment to extend existing energy efficiency upgrades to those in private rented accommodation at risk of energy poverty,” said Dr. Keilthy.
SVP will provide a more detailed analysis in the coming days when the full breakdown of measures and expenditure is provided.