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Homelessness

The provision of adequate and appropriate accommodation should be a key element of a new Social Contract. Here we look at how Budget 2021 could begin the process of a new, sustainable, housing strategy.

Housing in Ireland has been mired in controversy for decades – from tenement slums to planning irregularities, and from substandard housing to the institutionalisation of households in emergency accommodation and Direct Provision.  Social Justice Ireland has previously advocated for a 5-Pillar Framework for a new Social Contract.  These Pillars are a Vibrant Economy; Decent Services and Infrastructure; Just Taxation; Good Governance; and Sustainability.  In this article, we explore what those five Pillars might contain in the context of housing, as an example.

The most pressing piece of health advice, apart from washing your hands, to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for social distancing.  But for thousands of people living in emergency homeless accommodation, Direct Provision, refuges and Travellers living in cramped conditions, social distancing just isn’t an option.  The announcement yesterday of 650 spaces being made available is a welcome step, but doesn’t go nearly far enough.  There are over 245,000 vacant properties across Ireland.  Property website Daft.ie reported a 13% increase in rental advertisements this month.  Now is the time to utilise emergency powers and #MoveTheVulnerableOut.

The latest official data on homelessness showed an increase in presentations to emergency accommodation in January 2020.  If Ireland is to hope to eradicate homelessness a more radical approach is required, looking to our peers in Finland as model of how it's done.

Following triple-digit rates of increase in child and family homelessness since 2014, a decrease in the number of homeless people accessing emergency accommodation was evident in the months of November and December 2019.  A month-on-month decrease in December figures is expected, as Christmas approaches and more emergency beds are made available, however the decrease in November is unusual.  Is this a statistical anomaly or is child and family homelessness really decreasing?  With the state of data collection on homelessness in Ireland described as “statistical obfuscation if not corruption” in a 2019 report commissioned by the European Commission, it can be hard to tell.  There is a need for robust data collection in all policy areas, but particularly those affecting the most vulnerable. In its Policy Brief on Affordable Housing:  Better data and policies to fight homelessness in the OECD, the OECD looks at ways to improve data collection, and therefore evidence-based policies, on homeless. 

There are 10,448 people accessing emergency accommodation, including 1,685 families.  There are 68,693 households on the social housing waiting lists.  There are more vacant homes than households on the social housing waiting list in every county.  Read Social Justice Ireland's Election Briefing on Housing for an outline of a number of key challenges facing Ireland and some policy proposals that should be in the next Programme for Government.

Our 2019 Social Policy Conference was titled "The Challenges of Success" and looked at the appropriate policy responses to Ireland's changing demographics.
Click here to download slides and papers from the conference, watch videos of the presentations, see our handy summary graphics, or download the entire conference booklet for free.

Rebuilding Ireland srategy is not working. Given that this strategy fell far short of the scale of the response required in the first place, the failure to deliver the modest targets in all five pillars is a major indictment of Government policy. At our 32nd Annual Social Policy Conference, we reviewed the Government's housing strategy from the perspective of the young and old living in Ireland today and found it wanting.

€147 million was spent on Emergency Accommodation for homeless peopled in 2018.  A mere fraction of this (less than €10 million) was spent on prevention.  In allocating €166m between emergency accommodation and homelessness prevention in Budget 2020, Government refused to change a policy that simply isn't working and, instead, look for real solutions.  

To achieve the objectives of providing adequate and appropriate accommodation in sufficient numbers, reducing social housing waiting lists and eliminating homelessness, Government must pursue the following four proposals in Budget 2020.

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