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Budget Statement 2019 (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] In 2008, €493.5 million of the housing budget went on subsidising private rents. In 2018, payments to landlords stood at almost €1 billion and with the Minister's commitment of an extra €121 million to housing assistance payment, HAP, in today’s budget we are well on the way to the projection that we will spend €2 billion a year directly to private landlords by 2022. It is impossible to spin that as a sustainable housing solution. The more that is spent in this way, the more difficult it will be to find permanent and sustainable solutions.

Additional funding for this flawed scheme will do absolutely nothing to address the issues that already exist within the scheme, such as the low thresholds despite ever-raising rents, and the fact that so many people cannot qualify for housing assistance payment or where they do, they struggle to find a landlord willing to accept it. There is a large gap between what is available and the thresholds for the housing assistance payment. Either way, it most certainly does not represent a permanent solution to the housing crisis. If that truly is what the Minister has set out to find, then he has gone in completely the wrong direction.

Watching "RTÉ News: Six One" earlier, I was infuriated to see how RTÉ had presented these measures. The report said that funds had been allocated to build 10,000 social houses in 2019. That sum mentioned would not do it and the Minister himself said that figure was a mixture of acquisitions, leasing and builds, but we do not know the breakdown. It might be 5,000 units from leasing, which would be a temporary solution. It is important that it be properly represented because there is great confusion about the numbers relating to housing, and the solutions and policies in the area.

The entire Budget Statement is an exercise in language decoding. The Minister told us that in the past year, 5,000 households have exited homelessness. He means that they are either in homeless hubs or in HAP tenancies, not that 5,000 households are in permanent and secure homes. If 5,000 households have exited homelessness and so many are still considered to be homeless, we must ask what precisely is the true extent of the crisis with which we are dealing and how many people are being damaged by it.

There is a revolving door situation with homelessness based on manipulation of numbers and classifications of what does or does not constitute being homeless. We now see routine reclassification. It all adds to the sense of peril being felt by families in precarious living situations. Many families who find themselves homeless now - I am sure the Minister of State hears this himself - will typically say that homelessness was not something they ever expected to happen to a family like theirs. They have been saying this for years at this stage and it happened with both this Government and its predecessor. A whole new section of society is now terrified of a call from a landlord or the bank. They often come in to clinics and explain that they are trying to keep the stress away from the children and that they are terrified that they are running out of time, for instance, having been given a six-month notice to quit, only to find it impossible to find somewhere. That is typical of people's lives. Today’s budget does nothing to mitigate that fear.

While the Minister wants to blow his own trumpet regarding balanced books and prudent budgeting, he seems oblivious to the fact that reliance on schemes like HAP is the worst kind of financial management. It only serves to ensure we keep pumping public money into private pockets at an ever increasing rate while failing to solve the housing crisis. Nor is it a satisfactory solution for tenants who find themselves with no security of tenure and left to the whim of the private rental sector, which is already one of the primary routes into homelessness. Rather than recognising the importance of creating a vibrant and secure rental sector that can play a part in an overall housing strategy, the Minister has chosen to exclusively focus on the sector from the landlords' perspective. There is absolutely nothing in today’s budget for renters unless they qualify for HAP, which is a growing cohort and which affects younger people in particular. For a medium-income renter above the threshold for HAP, there is no rent security, no rent control, nothing to guarantee security of tenure and absolutely nothing to make those in the private rental sector feel safe from the prospect of losing their home at any minute. For that alone, the housing section of this budget is a massive failure.

I also question whether the Minister has fully thought through the implications of some of the housing measures announced today. For example, the 100% relief for landlords may actually further disincentivise landlords from taking on HAP tenants as the tax incentive for them to do so has now been reduced. Similarly has he considered that the 100% relief for refurbishments and improvements may now lead to landlords deciding to undertake refurbishment projects which they can then, under current legislation, use as a reason to hike the rent for existing tenants or evict tenants?

The opportunity was there to deliver a large-scale, truly affordable, public home building scheme. The moneys being put into the so-called rainy day fund are misplaced. For so many people experiencing this crisis, the rainy day is already here. That money would be better spent now to alleviate the housing crisis instead of spending many years to come pumping ever-increasing amounts of money into emergency solutions.

The same can be said regarding this budget’s handling of the climate crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report yesterday was stark to say the least. The climate change performance index placed Ireland as the worst performing country in Europe for action on climate change, which is ironic, indeed tragic, given our reputation as the Emerald Isle. The report was hard-hitting but today’s budget was not. In fact after today’s Budget Statement, and indeed past budgets by this Government I wonder if there is awareness of the issue's importance at all.

Instead of committing the funds required for key infrastructural improvements that would help us reach the targets to which we have signed up, we have pretty much conceded that we will miss the 2020 targets and as a result must pay massive fines, projected to be approximately €600 million by 2021. By missing the 2020 targets we put ourselves even further away from reaching the 2030 targets and facing even more fines. Not only is that not prudent financial management but we also are taking outrageous risks with the lives of our children, our grandchildren and their children by not addressing this issue during the last decade in which we had a chance to do so.

The Social Democrats alternative budget identified funding to help deliver solutions for Ireland to meet its responsibility in safeguarding the environment if the political will to so do existed. The introduction of a new national retrofitting scheme on a significant scale and energy efficiency measures would be stepping stones to which homes and small businesses could subscribe without the need for cash upfront. This was previously described as a pay-as-you-save scheme but it never got off the ground to any significant extent.

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