Dáil debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

3:45 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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1. To ask the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [52214/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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2. To ask the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [55796/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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3. To ask the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [55802/21]

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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4. To ask the Taoiseach the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit. [57183/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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5. To ask the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [57287/21]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach the details of the social impact assessments carried out by his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit since 1 January 2016. [57672/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

Social impact assessments, SIAs, are an analytical framework that is designed to examine the demographic profile of public services users and how they are impacted by budgetary policy decisions. SIAs seek to answer questions about the impact of Government expenditure, such as whether the policy change in question resulted in a quantifiable gain or loss to existing recipients, who gained the most or least and whether the profile of recipients was altered. The assessments are underpinned by a framework paper published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2016. The framework complements existing budgetary impact assessment exercises conducted by various Departments and externally by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, as well as the annual spending review programme. SIAs attempt to measure changes in income as a result of a policy or offer qualitative descriptions of how policies affect the financial positions of households. In so doing, they examine the distributional impact of policy changes across a range of indicators, including income, age, household composition and region.

SIAs have been carried out across a number of policy areas, including health, housing, education and childcare. Those areas were chosen for a social impact assessment on the basis that a significant portion of public expenditure is spent on them, they remain a high priority and they have been subject to budgetary changes in recent years. As my Department does not have responsibility for major expenditure programmes in areas like health or housing, it has not completed any SIAs under the framework.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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As the Taoiseach noted, the social impact assessment framework examines the demographic profile of public services users and how they are impacted by the Government's budgetary decisions. We are told these assessments should complement other budget impact assessments such as equality budgeting, which was first introduced as a pilot scheme four years ago. The 2019 OECD scan of equality budgeting in Ireland highlighted significant challenges and shortfalls in the initiative's structure and implementation. The OECD recommended that equality budgeting be expanded beyond the performance budgeting foundation to link it with other robust budget policy tools used in Ireland. It advised this should include expanding existing poverty proofing of policies to look at how poverty intersects with different equality dimensions.

Analysis of next year's budget undertaken by the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, on behalf of the National Women's Council of Ireland, NWCI, tells us the OECD's recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. TASC's analysis found the Government is unlikely to improve gender economic inequality, with lone parents likely to be worse off. It found the gender pay gap may widen, women may be at high risk of unemployment as pandemic supports expire, the increase in the minimum wage is insufficient to maintain the living standards of those trying to survive on low pay, and funding for childcare is still woefully inadequate. I want to echo the NWCI's call on the Government to prioritise gender and equality proofing of budgetary decisions in order that public spending will promote equality.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Thank you, Deputy. We are over time.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Taoiseach clarify whether it is the intention of Government to implement in full the OECD's equality budgeting recommendations?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I have asked repeatedly, for about five years now, for a review of the income thresholds for eligibility for social housing. Is there any assessment being done of the effect of not raising those thresholds? As I said to the Taoiseach last week, as well as to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I am now dealing with two families in homeless accommodation who are going to be evicted from that accommodation. It is not bad enough that they are homeless; they are going to be evicted from being homeless to become roofless. One of the householders got a letter yesterday saying the family has two days to be out of the hotel in which they have been staying. Both families have been homeless for three years.

What is their crime? The parents got a bit of work. For people with a council or housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancy, they do not get thrown out of it because they get work. For people who are homeless, however, who get a job and whose earnings go up a bit, they will be evicted from homeless accommodation and told they will get no more housing support and they are off the housing list. They are thrown to the wolves. That is happening this week and I am hearing of similar cases. It is all because the income thresholds were not raised. I appeal to the Taoiseach to do something urgently about this. In the next two days, a family will put out of homeless accommodation and onto the street. They cannot afford to go anywhere else.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Thank you, Deputy.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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In the case of another family, the mother is a care worker and cannot even take a promotion that is going in her organisation because, if she did, she would be thrown off the list.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call Deputy Kenny.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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In any event, she is now being told she is off the list and may be evicted from her homeless accommodation.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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My question relates to the State policy that has led to 25 years and more of failure in respect of those in society who take drugs. We need to have a grown-up conversation about this. The Taoiseach spoke at a meeting of the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign last week. The figures are pretty sombre, to say the least. In the past 25 years, there has been a 225% increase in drug-related deaths. The statistics go on and on. These people fell through the cracks and their deaths have had a terrible effect on their communities.

I have argued many times that policy on this issue has been an abject failure. We have to do something very different. The programme for Government includes an undertaking to have a citizens' assembly on drugs, which would allow a debate in society on how we are getting things so wrong and failing so many people. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that the citizens' assembly will sit some time next year?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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It is getting cold out there. Why is this country almost always near the top of the European league table for excess winter deaths? That number is consistently more than 1,000, sometimes as high as 1,500 and can go as high as 2,000. Can the Taoiseach explain why countries like Denmark or Norway consistently have a lower excess winter death per head of population figure than Ireland? Excess winter deaths are not just about the cold; they are also about poverty. Fuel poverty is a major issue for our society and it particularly hits the old and the poor. Can the Taoiseach provide a rational explanation as to why, in the teeth of energy prices rising faster than they have for many years, the fuel allowance was increased this year by only a miserable €5 per week? Does he accept that this miserable increase will not be sufficient to prevent hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of preventable deaths this winter? Will he agree to review that decision and, at the very least, consider a more realistic increase for those of our people threatened this winter not just by the cold but by fuel poverty?

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Has there been an assessment of the social impact the housing crisis is having on people with disabilities? Last week, Ciara, who is homeless and sleeping in a car, told her story on the Reboot Republic podcast. She could not find any suitable private rented accommodation as her HAP was insufficient. There is no homeless emergency accommodation suitable to her needs. She has lost her care support services because she is now homeless. She is living in physical pain because she is sleeping in a car, which is utterly inappropriate for anyone, especially someone like Ciara, who has disabilities.

What is being done to ensure emergency accommodation is available that is suitable for people with disabilities?

What is being done to ensure proper supports are in place so that no one with a disability, like Ciara, becomes homeless?

3:55 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies for the questions. First, on equality budgeting and the general approach of Government under the social impact assessment framework, approximately 17 papers have been published since 2016 under the social impact assessment, SIA, framework, embracing education, childcare, energy, poverty, disability and health, including mental health. I mention the assessment of living standards, results of the 2019 survey on income and living conditions, SILC, the SEAI programmes targeting energy poverty, in 2020, the student grant scheme, which resulted in improvements, the specialist disability services for people intellectual disability, and, in 2021, the results of the SILC. In 2019, there was the acute mental health services, assessment of living standards, the survey on income and living conditions, the nursing home support scheme, public service, equality budgeting - relevant findings from ex post valuation, domiciliary care allowance and so on.

Basically, the SWITCH model, deployed by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, is also used in assessing budgetary measures Government takes as well as the fairness of those budgetary measures and whether they are progressive or regressive. That model by the Economic and Social Research Institute supplements and complements the work of the SAI framework.

I mention the assessment of living standards, results from the 2019 survey on incomes and living conditions which was conducted by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. Again, it analysed income, poverty, social exclusion indicator trends and how they have changed with economic cycles. Recent budgets have been progressive. That paper demonstrated that income inequality is measured by the Gini coefficient which after social transfers fell slightly in 2019 by 0.9 points. It also examined the impact that Covid-19 may be having on incomes and poverty using ad hoc CSO publications on the impact of Covid-19 on income poverty metrics.

Deputies might be interested to hear that preliminary findings on the impact of Covid-19 indicate that lower-income employees, and employees under the age of 25, appeared on average to experience an increase in their incomes in the year to Q4 of 2020, due to availing of Covid-19 supports. That underpins the strength of the measures that Government introduced to safeguard the incomes and living standards of some of the most vulnerable to the economic damage reaped by Covid-19. That was a fairly comprehensive study undertaken by the CSO.

On the homeless, the report stated that there are fewer homeless people on the street this year than last year. A significant winter plan is being developed. I would ask Deputy Cian O’Callaghan to bring that case to the attention of the Minister, because that should not be the case. There is a whole range of supports there through the homeless organisations and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to try to deal with cases like Ciara’s. I would be very concerned that the system did not provide a safety net for her in respect of that.

On income thresholds for social housing, that is currently being reviewed. Again, I do not see why, in the case the Deputy identified, that a person who is homeless and gets work is automatically taken out of the homeless services. That should not be the case. There always has to be a degree of cop-on and flexibility in dealing with people within the system. In many instances, I meet that common sense approach. I will engage with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on these points that Deputy Boyd Barrett raised.

On the city wide drug strategy, there is an issue about existing mechanisms. As I said previously, I would like to see an expansion of supports for area partnerships or drug task forces. The Minister of State, Deputy O’Brien, is working on suggestions and proposals on that. In addition to the funding already allocated, we would like to do more to deal with the epidemic and the challenges and pressures imposed on communities as a result of the illegal trafficking of drugs and also to bring a more health-based approach to supporting those who are addicted and those who need help.

In respect of the points raised by Deputy Barry, the Government introduced measures in the budget and we are constantly keeping this under review to make sure we can do everything we possibly can to alleviate the pressure on households in respect of the increase in energy pricing. We will continue to do that.