PEOPLE ACROSS THE country are living in dread of Budget 2014 and the impact it will have on their lives. For too long they have had to choose between heating or eating, they have struggled to clothe and educate their children and – in increasing numbers – they fear having no roof over their head.
Reports that Ministers are preparing a budget with 2:1 split between spending cuts and tax measures are doing little to ease the fears of those in real danger of slipping into poverty.
Our political leaders must use this budget to reset their agenda and offer hope to the hundreds of thousands of our citizens weary of five-years of relentless cuts as a result of policies which favour good book-keeping over people.
One the most basic needs is having a home but that is something which is slipping beyond the means of families in this country in their thousands.
The figures are stark; there are 5,000 people already living on our streets, over 57,000 families are in mortgage arrears for more than one year, at Focus Ireland we have seen a 23 per cent increase in people seeking help over the past two years and all the time rents are on the increase.
In Dublin alone 16 families a month are becoming homeless.
Compassion is needed
A fresh and compassionate approach is needed, and Budget 2014 is the opportunity to provide that.
There are a number of measures which can be taken to ensure that having a home is something which everyone can afford.
The much-promised Housing Assistance Payment, intended to assist those on low income to get private rented accommodation, must be fast-tracked. Already promises to run a pilot of this scheme have been broken – these must now be honoured.
The Rent Allowance Scheme must be urgently reformed, with rising prices it is simply not enough while landlords are increasingly losing confidence in it and rather than deal with bureaucracy are simply not accepting tenants on rent allowance.
We must get back to building affordable homes. A Government investment of €400m could provide 3,000 homes and in addition up to 3,200 much needed construction jobs.
These supports also need a human face. Community and Social workers which have been replaced too often by websites, automated phone lines and information leaflets must be back on the frontline providing much need person to person contact – and not leaving it to the voluntary sector to solely provide this.
Our commitment to end homelessness
Ireland gave a commitment to end homelessness by 2016 – it is an admirable goal and one which we should strive for. It is a commitment the Government should hold as dear and as loyal as those it made in Brussels and Frankfurt.
Budget 2014 is the cross-roads which will decide whether or not that goal will ever be achieved.
If we do not correct and bring balance to relentless austerity it is clear the numbers of those in danger of losing their homes will only increase.
I have in the past argued strongly of the need to ensure that the huge economic burden which our country continues to face is spread fairly across all sections of Irish life. It is a reality that Ireland is home to some of the richest people in Europe, as well as some of its biggest companies and banks.
The Government must honestly examine if these individuals and firms have played a big enough role in the national recovery, or have the voices of their lobbyists been strong enough to shift more of the burden onto those who have no voice.
There was a reason 2016 was picked as the year to end homelessness coming as it does on the Centenary of the Rising. In these final days before the sign off the national books perhaps our political leaders would do well to recall the vision of the men and women who took to the GPO of a country which would cherish all its children equally.
It is a vision which is just as valid today as it was almost 100 years ago.
SR Stanislaus Kennedy is a social campaigner. In 1985, she founded the homelessness charity Focus Ireland and is Life President of the organisation. In 2001, she also set up The Immigrant Council of Ireland