Issue 22 - November 2011(2)

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Poverty, debt, low pay, national poverty targets and the budget

There were discussions in both houses on the report of the interdepartmental working group on mortgage arrears (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 25th October 2011, 48).  Katherine Zappone (ind, Taoiseach nominee) described this as a prime opportunity to tackle poverty.  Instead of taking place after the bank debt crisis, it should happen alongside and parallel to the development of the banking sector, so as to develop a new and socially sustainable political and economic model.  Hammering those with personal debt should not be a core ingredient of  of salvaging the banks.  Stories were appearing every day of households that had drastically cut their spending on food to pay their debts.  The government should give very serious consideration to the Free Legal Advice Centres proposal for a debt resolution agency which would bring us into line with best European practice and oversee the resolution of multiple debts, not just mortgage arrears.  What was needed was an agency with statutory powers to make independent binding adjudications, subject to right of appeal to the courts.  It should have the authority to entitle the debtor to a minimum income.  She drew attention to the work of the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice which had worked for over 12 years to develop a robust methodology to determine the minimum essential standard of living for household types, taking account what has gone on in other EU states.
The growth of poverty was also a focus of the debate on the Industrial relations (amendment) §2 Bill, 2011 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 7th October 2011,935-969).  Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) spoke of the growth of child poverty; the reduction in social welfare support for families, the lowering of wages and the worsening of conditions.  We no longer had a Combat Poverty Agency to properly measure poverty levels and assist the government in addressing poverty.  The agency was abolished by the previous government and he called on the Fine Gael and Labour coalition to reinstate it.  It was never needed more than now.
Finian McGrath (ind, Dublin NC) added that he strongly supported the coalition to protect the low paid, which comprised, SIPTU, Mandate, the Communications Workers Union, UNITE, the Migrant Rights Centre, the Poor can’t pay Campaign, the Community Platform, the European Anti Poverty Network Ireland and the National Women’s Council.  They had been campaigning to defend the pay and conditions of thousands of workers, the vast majority of whom were women, in the lowest paid sectors of society.  The Bill was referred, on the motion of Peadar Toibin (SF, Meath W) to select committee on 7th October.
The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, told Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dun Laoghaire)  that arising frm the National Reform Programme, the government had decided to undertake a comprehensive review of the national poverty target, as proposed under the EU2020 Strategy. The purpose was to enable the government to adopt appropriate and sustainable national poverty targets for the Irish contribution to EU2020 and the commitments in the Programme for Government.  The review is to be completed by November 2011.
Asked about the forthcoming budget, the minister told Mary Lou McDonald (SF, Dublin C) and Sandra McLellan (SF, Cork E) that she had met the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice to discuss minimum essential budgets at the pre-budget forum on 16th September (Dail Eireann, Debates, 13th October 2011, 719-720).  For the 2012 budget, her department would analyze the distributive and poverty impact of possible welfare changes prior to the finalization of the budget, but it would not be possible to publish it in advance.  The analysis of last year’s budget had been published in March and a comparable analysis would be published early next year. 
Asked about fuel poverty, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte told Martin Ferris (SF, Kerry N) that the interdepartmental group on affordable energy had finalized its deliberations on the affordable energy strategy over the summer.  He was completing a round of discussions with other ministers and with the approval of the government would publish the strategy in the next few weeks (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th October 2011, 466).
  •  Child poverty: Dail Eireann, Debates, 11th October 2011, 366-7.
  • Additional debates on the report of the interdepartmental working group: Dail Eireann, Debates, 18th October 2011, 100-115; 20th October 2011, 532-587; 25th October 2011, 831-843; 26th October 2011, 137-145.
  • Debt settlement and mortgage resolution Bill, 2011: Dail Eireann, Debates, 29th October 2011, 435-467.