Reliance on one-off budget measures leaves households exposed, warns SVP

by Alison O'Hanlon
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Reliance on one-off measures leaves households exposed to increasing cost of living, warns SVP

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) says the Budget has made a number of important investments in education that will make a real difference to the lives of thousands of children and families across the country. 

However, SVP remains concerned that the continued reliance on one-off measures leaves households exposed to the ongoing impact of the cost of living. 

 Positives welcomed by SVP

*   Free schoolbooks for the junior cycle.

*   Payment of Child Benefit to students who are 18 and still in school.

*   Increase in capitation grant for schools.

*   Increase in support through SUSI will make a difference to students.

*   The increase in the Minimum Wage. 

*  The threshold increase for the Working Family Payment will support low-income families in work.

SVP disappointments

*   The focus on one-off measures rather than benchmarking the social protection system

*   A real-term cut in social protection payments – €12 is less than half what was needed to keep pace with rising living costs.

*  The inadequate increases in the Qualified Child Payment to the children in the poorest households at €4 is well below the recommended increase of €10 for children under 12 and €15 for children over 12. 

*  The weekly rate of the Fuel Allowance is now effectively frozen for a third year and the allowance wasn’t extended to families on the Working Family Payment.

*  There was no increased support for children in Direct Provision.

*  The increase in the Back-to-School Allowance wasn’t made permanent. 

*  The Government has not committed to introducing a weekly cost of disability payment.

*  No removal of the poverty trap for working lone parenting receiving the Jobseekers Transition Payment.

*  Not enough support with childcare for the lowest income families, including no introduction of a DEIS model in early years to support children experiencing disadvantage.

*  Overall budget allocation for homeless prevention is totally inadequate.

In regard to access to further and higher education, SVP has for a long time called for SUSI to be made available to students studying part-time and is disappointed that there was no decision to provide SUSI support to this group.

Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP Head of Social Justice, said, “This Budget was a real test of the Taoiseach’s commitment to addressing child poverty, and it has delivered on a number of fronts. However, we are dismayed to see the Qualified Payment to the poorest children will only increase by €4, which is well below the recommended increase of €10 for children under 12 and €15 for children over 12. The inadequate increases in core rates will also mean families forgoing essentials as they still grapple with the cost-of-living crisis. 

“Poverty is not all about income, but without sufficient investment in income supports, a real living wage and affordable childcare for low-income families, it will be impossible for the Government to meet their own poverty reduction targets.

“ We regret that the Government has not committed to introducing a weekly cost of disability payment but acknowledges the extra temporary payments for carers and people with disabilities will provide some short-term support.

“ Overall, it is very much what we feared following last year’s Budget when the emphasis was on one-off payments and less on actions that would seriously impact poverty reduction among those in work on low pay and those in receipt of social protection payments.”

SVP says the social protection system must move in line with other European countries and benchmark it to an adequate level. Benchmarking the basic rate of social welfare to the cost of a Minimum Essential Standard of Living would mean that rates would never be so low that people are unable to afford essentials such as food, utility bills, housing, transport, basic household goods and having the means to participate in our community.

On housing, SVP says the best way to ensure stability and security for individuals and families is to increase the supply of social and affordable homes and wants Housing for All to deliver on its commitments. However, it says the overall budget allocation for homeless prevention is totally inadequate.

SVP has sought a dedicated homeless prevention budget, an end to HAP top-ups and a special rent arrears fund to prevent more low-income families from entering homeless accommodation in Budget 2024.

For many households, the energy crisis is far from over and calls to SVP for help with energy are up 60% in 2023 compared to the same time in 2022. The charity says the one-off Fuel Allowance Payment is welcome, but the weekly rate is now effectively frozen for a third year, and the organisation is very disappointed the payment wasn’t extended to families who receive the Working Family Payment. 

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