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Cuts in voluntary and community sector

On the adjournment of the Dail, Joe Costello (Lab, Dublin C) raised the issue of cuts in the budgets of voluntary and community organizations (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th October 2010, 645-8).  Funding for voluntary and community group was down -8% in 2009, with an even worse decrease in 2010 of -10%.  Local projects had suffered from redundancies, pay cuts and reduced services, estimating in a loss of more than 5,000 jobs in the sector.  With four more years of austerity to come, ‘the immediate future was very black indeed’.

The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice had indicated in a new study that a high proportion of families could not afford the basics required for a minimum standard of living.  This was a terrible reflection on us as a country, he said, because we were far from a poor country.  It was not good enough that  we were unable to prevent a sizable proportion of the people from falling to poverty, homelessness and hopelessness.  There was a need to look at why all these people were falling through the net, at the experience of abject poverty and what it entailed in feeding a family, keeping a roof, keeping heat, looking after the elderly, education and all the aspects that bonded society.  More than anything else, the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, which was largely responsible for the funding of the sector, should endeavour to ensure that this time around there would be no further cuts and that we should maintain the current levels of service and funding.

Responding for the government, the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Mary White spoke of how her department funded 64 voluntary organizations with €5m in 2010.  Her department had been reviewing the operation and scope of the scheme over the past few months and she would be considering various options for its future in the coming weeks.  She recited the other funding supports provided for the sector and concluded by saying that her primary concern was to continue the protection of front line services delivering vital programmes, especially those focussed on the needs of the most socially deprived communities, urban or rural.  No area was immune to cost cutting measures and regrettably that might mean that reduced allocations may have to be made to certain measures and programmes next year.  She was acutely aware of the concerns of voluntary and community groups and that was why she had responded by placing such emphasis on the protection and prioritization of front line services and support to customers and beneficiaries over administration, overheads and ancillary costs.  Community development was central to the social and economic well-being of the nation but the sector, like all in the economy, has to rationalize where possible and operate within reduced budgets.  Across government as a whole, they were taking difficult decisions but their approach was to do so in as balanced a way as possible: ensuring a continued positive impact across the voluntary and community sector would be a key part of the department’s work.

Later that day, the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Pat Carey, told Lucinda Creighton (FG, Dublin SE) that options for the future function of the Family Support Agency were under review and the future of the Western Development Commission remained under consideration (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th October 2010, 755-6).  Local community development groups had already been reduced from 94 to 52 and the consolidation or reduction of other structures, for example the Family Resource Centres, will be reviewed.

Meantime, Ivana Bacik (Lab, Dublin University) proposed that there be a debate on the alternative proposals for the economy put forward by The Wheel and the Community and Voluntary Pillar (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 6th October 2010, 720).

> Implementation of McCarthy report in Department of Social Protection: Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th October 2010, 721-2.