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Introducing water poverty

‘Water poverty’ was added to the poverty lexicon, alongside ‘fuel poverty’ and ‘food poverty’ in the course of debate on the report stage of the Water services §2 Bill, 2013 (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 18th December 2013, 774-793).  David Cullinane (SF, labour) moved an amendment providing exemption from charges for customers unable to pay.  He challenged the government as to how it would deal with issues of water poverty: he did not want us to discover in five,  ten or 20 years time that water poverty had become a subset of poverty issues alongside the others.  He was supported by Denis Landy (Lab, administrative), Michael Mullins (FG, cultural & educational), Cait Keane (FG, labour) and Diarmuid Wilson (FF, administrative).  Replying for the government, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government Fergus O’Dowd told them that an interdepartmental group had been established to examine issues such as affordability and he was consulting with a number of groups.  It comprised representatives of government departments, ESRI and the voluntary and community pillar.  He understood that the Society of St Vincent de Paul and were involved and a submission had been received from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service.  When the group concluded its work in the new year, proposals would be brought to government.  Supports would be provided to those in need.  The first bills would commence in 2015.  The amendment was lost 26-13.


In the Dail debate, Brian Stanley (SF, Laois Offaly) alleged that the Bill did not take into account people on low incomes or in poverty (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th December 2013, 665-700).  Water charges would have an immediate and negative effect on them.  In Britain, households spending more than 3% of their income on water were at risk of water poverty.  He cited the report Water poverty in England and Wales which found that the lowest three income deciles there spend an average of 3% of their income on water, compared to the household average of 1%.