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Snippet Contents:

I take the opportunity to express my deepest sympathy to the family of Garda Golden, the families of those who died in the Carrickmines tragedy and the family of the homeless man who died on Westmoreland Street on Saturday night.
Yesterday evening I received an e-mail from the One Family group about the budget announcements. If I am to be honest, it did not make for great reading. The group referred to the budget as a "let down for poor one-parent families". Contained within the letter was the following: The budget, when looked at proportionately, will do very little to protect and fails the most vulnerable. For the Government, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to a realisation of the realities. It had the opportunity yesterday to make the lives of vulnerable people more secure, yet it introduced another budget that, once again, favoured those most well-off in our society.
I welcome the additional allocation being made available to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, as it was an issue I brought up just last week. However, I repeat what I said then. Serious investment is required in the social work sector to allow ratios to be brought down to more workable levels in the hope of producing a more efficient service and allowing those children most at risk to be protected in so far as is humanly possible. Family resource centres also require adequate investment, at both national and local level, to facilitate their work, given the ever-rising number of vulnerable children and families presenting to their services. Prevention is better than emergency firefighting.
Some 1,496 children are still living in emergency accommodation and judging by trends in the housing sector and ever-increasing rents in the private sector, this number will continue to rise. Yesterday the Government could have attempted to tackle this crisis but instead decided against it. The introduction of rent caps in the private sector would give struggling families some sense of security, but this opportunity was ignored. It could also have looked at the possibility of increasing rent supplement limits. In an article in The Irish Times just last week it was highlighted that over 90% of available properties were out of reach of someone who received rent allowance. Does the Government fail to hear the voices of those who need help most or does it deliberately turn a deaf ear? When looked at objectively, one can only derive that, with thousands of people in need of rent support and less accommodation available, this will result in more people being subjected to homelessness and becoming part of a crisis that has already reached astronomical levels. All it requires is a basic analysis and the application of a minimal amount of logic, but, not surprisingly, this has evaded the Government yet again.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said yesterday that child care was a key priority for the Government. He said the increased allocation would allow him to bring forward a package of measures to ease the burden on working families. I welcome the extension of the free preschool year, but what about those children ranging from zero to three years of age? There is very little in the budget that will be of benefit to them. It is virtually impossible to expect someone to go back to work on a full-time basis when so much of their wages would be spent on child care. Take, for example, a family on the minimum wage and lucky enough to be given full-time hours. They must seek child care, which would account for a huge proportion of their income. The Government speaks about getting people to return to employment, but the policies it implements make this very difficult. The additional funding allocated to the ECCE programme is welcome, but it is still a far cry from the 0.8% of GDP which is the average figure across OECD countries.
It is welcome that Sinn Féin's lead on the introduction of two weeks paternity leave was followed by the Government, although it is very unfortunate that it does not plan to implement this legislation until September 2016. It seems to be based on the premise that the coalition will still be in power this time next year, about which I would not be so sure. We had suggested there was space to go further and extend maternity leave, allowing for another six weeks to be afforded to either parent, but, unfortunately, this was not taken on board. If the Government is really committed to child care and the aspiration to follow a Scandinavian model, it needs to address the gaping holes and the many questions that arise from the double-speak.