Today, Unite has published its 2016 pre-budget submission. You can read the full submission here and the summary here. In short, it calls for a €4.8 billion budget package comprising a €1.9 billion increase in expenditure on public services and social protection, a €550 million increase in public investment and focused tax reductions on the low paid (e.g. reform of the PRSI step-effect, refundable tax credits and indexation) worth €220 million. This is to be paid for by tax increases on wealth and capital, along with increases in the social wage (employers’ PRSI) and the fiscal space allowed under the EU fiscal rules.
However, I want to focus on one particular proposal in the submission: the temporary, once-off investment programme of €2 billion for social housing; in particular, focusing on the homeless and households with special needs.
This has been discussed previously on this blog. Back in April 2014 I suggested that instead of the Government spending €7.1 billion on paying down debt, it should invest half of this into a special once-off investment programme in social housing. The actual turnout for 2014 was €5 billion used to pay down debt. At that time I wrote:
‘Let’s start with the conclusion: if by this time next year if there are people still homeless, it’s because the Government made a policy choice. And the policy choice was to tolerate homelessness.’
Back in May 2014 Fr. Peter McVerry warned of a ‘tsunami of homelessness’:
‘In all the years I have been working with homeless people; it has never been so bad. We are, even I would say, beyond crisis at this stage.’
16 months later the situation has become worse.
A comprehensive housing programme, one that addresses the myriad of issues such as homelessness, local authority waiting lists, rising rents and limited supply, house prices, planning, land prices – this is a big, big subject and is not amenable to sound-bite policies. It will require joined-up strategies, long-term thinking and the intellectual courage to go beyond the ‘housing as just another market good’ thinking that dominates policy-making.
However, with winter coming on and more people becoming homeless, sleeping rough and / or living in wholly inadequate accommodation, we need short-term stop-gap remedies. That’s the thinking behind Unite’s proposal for a €2 billion once-off investment programme – to address this immediate crisis.
There are any number of options open to the Government in using this €2 billion: fast-tracking refurbishment, acquisitions of short-term tenancies, conversion of idle buildings, extensions of current emergency accommodation, etc. The key is that accommodation can be brought on stream quickly and efficiently. One hopes that it is not too late.