While the economy in Ireland has experienced record growth since the pandemic, services in areas such as housing, healthcare and public transport are far below expected standards. Housing is a critical issue and impacts on all other areas of the economy and society.
The cost of buying a home increased nationally by 7.8 per cent during 2022 and remains stubbornly high having reached 2007 peak levels. Private rents increased by 6.7 per cent in the period to Q3 2022. We also have a persistent homelessness crisis, with the number of people accessing emergency homeless accommodation exceeding 12,000 in April 2023, including 3,594 children.
Investment in appropriate supply, rather than an over-reliance on subsidies is required. Government should double the social housing targets in ‘Housing for All, and to invest an additional €1.4bn as a step towards achieving a social housing stock that is 20 per cent of the overall housing stock by 2030.
Social welfare increase crucial to meeting poverty targets
Ireland’s level of poverty is very concerning with the figures all going in the wrong direction. 671,183 people are living in poverty (13.1 per cent of the population), of which 188,602 are children. 143,633 older people are living in poverty, an increase of over 55,000 since 2021. 133,565 people living in poverty are in employment – these are the ‘working poor’. These figures point to the long-term economic and social impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households who were already struggling before these problems arrived.
The approach of Governments to date is exactly the opposite of what is required. The failure to benchmark social welfare rates against average earnings suggests a lack of interest in both repairing the broken Social Contract and meeting our national poverty targets. Budget 2023 widened the rich/poor gap by €199. In effect the resources available were shared in a manner that favoured the better off over the poor.
A minimum social floor means maintaining adequate levels of social welfare. Budget 2024 must increase core social welfare rates by a minimum of €25. This is vital to ensure that we do not see an increase in poverty and deprivation. If those dependent on social welfare are not to fall behind the rest of society at times of economic growth, the benchmarking of welfare rates to 27.5 per cent of average wage rates is essential.
Investing in renewable energy
Government should prioritise renewable energy as an area to invest the record windfall corporation tax revenues which it continued to collect last year.
Ireland has very challenging climate targets to meet by 2030. In order to meet our own energy targets, to increase our renewable energy supply and to deliver long-term sustained reductions in energy costs, Government must invest in renewable energy and in offshore wind energy projects. This means diverting fossil fuel subsidies to support renewable energy and investing substantially to improve and upgrade our energy infrastructure.
When it comes to planning for our energy transition, Government must be proactive, and begin to look at what policy tools it can design to allow it to target and support rural and low-income households in the coming years as policies to meet headline targets in the carbon budgets are rolled out. This should include redesigning the fuel allowance, delinking it from heating fuels and updating and expanding eligibility criteria.
Dialogue should begin promptly on developing a new social contract which would commit the state and social partners to improving economic management with a view to enhancing the standard of living, quality of life and wellbeing of all the republic’s residents. This dialogue should involve Government, trade unions and employers, the community and voluntary pillar, as well as farmers and the environmental pillar.
Social Justice Ireland believes that a new social contract is required to address the core challenges now facing society. Real citizen engagement and a new social dialogue should be at the core of such a contract. Budget 2024 can begin this process, by investing excess windfall profits in areas where we have infrastructure deficits, and by ensuring everyone in society has a minimum social floor below which they do not fall and by putting key community values before unbridled profit.