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1 Debates: Senators press again for poverty debate

Senators continued to press for a debate on poverty (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 14th February 2013, 156, 162-3).   Katherine Zappone (ind, Taoiseach nominee) drew attention to the most recent statistics on poverty by the Central Statistics Office, which showed that 733,000 people, including 272,000 children were poor and their numbers were going up.  There was no strategy to combat poverty anymore and to say that increasing jobs was the strategy was too simplistic.  We needed a whole-of-government response and a cross-party plan to get rid of poverty for once and for all.  Why does not the Seanad come up with a plan?  she asked.  How about a cross-party Seanad plan to stop people from becoming poor?  


She was supported by John Kelly (Lab, administrative), who drew attention to the numbers of people lying in sleeping bags in doorways, the number of people on social welfare in poverty and middle-income earners who could not afford to take any more pay cuts.  Ned O’Sullivan (FF, labour) agreed and said that party politics should be kept out of the debate.  ‘We should invite in agencies like the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the Samaritans’.  Poverty was all around us, he said and the poor now included the majority of people.  He saw evidence of poverty every evening as he walked back to his apartment and it was an issue he dealt with every evening in his constituency work.  There was a spirit of poverty among the people.  Unemployed people were spending their days loitering around betting offices and in pubs drinking half pints of stout just to get out from under the feet of their families, but were being vilified for doing so.


Deputies returned to the theme of water poverty during the Dail debate on the Water services Bill (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th February 2013, 733-784).  Michael Colreavy (SF, Sligo – N Leitrim) spoke of a man on €188 a week, getting help from the Society of St Vincent de Paul, who already faced an increase in fuel costs, a reduction in telephone and electricity allowances was now having to meet household charges and water charges.  He quoted a report from the British Chartered Institute of Environmental Health that a household spending over 3% on income was a risk of water poverty.  The Bill did nothing to protect low-income families from water poverty.  


Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) argued that this charge would be a burden on many.  Even if the Minister of State said that the charge would be set low, any extra euro taken from the income of many households was significant.   700,000 households were already living in poverty, yet the government would heap another utility charge on them.  They were already struggling to make ends meet, not just people on social welfare but on low-paid jobs.  They were having to face reduced child benefit, increased VAT, the universal social charge, the property tax – and on top of that a water charge which they were already paying for though general taxation.  If the minister applied the same logic as the property tax, it would not be based on ability to pay.  It would be a form of double, if not treble taxation and especially wrong granted that it was a sub-company of a company that the government want to flog for privatization.


Asked in the Dail about the increased pressure of services on the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton told Alan Farrell (FG, Dublin N) that the society was a participant, with 34 other organizations, in the pre-budget forum and a member of the department’s Technical Advisory Group under the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016, which was responsible for data strategies and indicators to inform policy and she looked forward to a continuing engagement with the society (Dail Eireann, Debates, 12th February 2013, 223).