Tuesday, 28 June 2022
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, together.
The well-being framework is a programme for Government commitment to measure how we are doing overall as a country and a nation and to improve our understanding of quality of life in Ireland. It does so by bringing economic, societal and environmental impacts together under one framework. It also places a particular focus on equality and sustaining well-being into the future.
The Government published a second report on Ireland's well-being framework earlier this month, Understanding Life in Ireland: A Well-being Framework. This report reflects a second phase of work on the well-being initiative, testing and refining the initial framework which was published last year. This included further consultation, seeking feedback on what is important for quality of life alongside specific research, including on sustainability. The second report also outlines the longer term approach to embedding the framework into the Irish policymaking system over time. This includes the development of an analysis of the well-being dashboard, which will be reflected annually in the budget process.
As a first step, a report reviewing Ireland's performance across the 35 indicators contained in the Central Statistics Office's, Well-being Information Hub was published alongside the second report which provides a medium-term picture of quality of life in Ireland.
Feeding into the budget process commences this year. Last week the well-being framework was a theme at the national economic dialogue, with a specific breakout discussion chaired by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath. The analysis will feature in the summer economic statement and as part of budget day documents.
The framework is intended to help inform policymakers in order that we can take a rounded view, based on evidence, of what determines quality of life in Ireland, beyond just economic growth.
Earlier this month the Taoiseach published the second report on Ireland's well-being framework and analysis of the well-being dashboard. That analysis identified a number of groups in Irish society that experience inequality across a high proportion of indicators. These groups include women, single-parent households, households on lower incomes, people with long-term sickness or disability, immigrants, non-Irish and households in rented accommodation. This represents a sizeable proportion of the population across all age groups living with social and economic inequality daily. It must also be noted that, despite the introduction of equality budgeting by the Government a few years ago, it is clear that little progress has been made. The at-risk-of-poverty rate after housing costs is 41.6% for those in rented accommodation, in comparison with 9.3% for those in owner-occupied accommodation.
Sinn Féin's emergency motion includes provisions to reduce and to freeze rents and to put a month's rent back into renters' pockets with a refundable tax credit.
The community and voluntary sector play a very significant role in the well-being of our communities. Due to changes in the tendering process for employment services, community-run job clubs are closing in several areas. These have provided invaluable support over many decades. These projects were funded 100% by grants and have no surplus of funds built up. They cannot pay out redundancy to staff. There is no grant funding to pay for these redundancies. This means there will be costly and expensive wind-up processes involving insolvency. This will impact very unfairly on staff and on the voluntary board members, who have given years of service to the communities over several decades. Will the Government provide grant funding to pay for these redundancies? This will be a less costly approach and would save time and money. Will the Taoiseach look into this and come back to me?
The well-being framework is about understanding and improving our quality of life by pulling together a framework of the things that are important to us across housing, mental and physical health, biodiversity and many other different measures. I understand the framework will be reflected annually in the summer economic statement and in the budget day documents. We are seeing that the summer economic statement is being advanced and the second report of the well-being framework has been published. Is it envisaged that the framework will be included in the forthcoming summer economic statement in July or later on in the budget?
Is slat tomhais atá sa chlár folláine seo agus, seachas a bheith gafa go hiomlán le cúrsaí eacnamaíochta, leagann sé amach na rudaí atá an-tábhachtach dúinn, ar nós tithíocht, sláinte meoin, timpeallacht agus gach rud eile seachas sin. An bhfuil sé ar aigne ag an Rialtas go mbeadh an slat tomhais seo in úsáid i gcomhair an ráitis eacnamaíochta samhraidh atá ag teacht sna seachtainí atá romhainn nó sa cháinaisnéis níos déanaí sa bhliain? Bheadh sé ina ráiteas an-láidir dá mba rud é go mbeadh sé amhlaidh agus go mbeadh an slat tomhais sin in úsáid go tapa.
The biggest obstacle to the well-being of hundreds of thousands of our citizens is the lack of secure and affordable accommodation or, for 10,325 people, including more than 3,000 children, the lack of any accommodation whatsoever. These people are now, in record numbers never seen before, in emergency accommodation or worse, as I pointed out to the Taoiseach earlier, where the local authorities, for the first time in my experience, cannot even offer emergency accommodation to families with children. This is shameful and makes a mockery, to be honest, of talking about well-being. Two and a half years into this Government and it has never been so bad. I am not exaggerating when I say I am overrun in recent weeks by families with children with nowhere to go.
If the Taoiseach is serious about looking at well-being and not just at economic figures, why can we not have the promised review of Housing for All, which we are supposed to have, and why can we not have the promised review of the income eligibility thresholds that are denying thousands any housing support at all?
Covid-19 has not gone away unfortunately, if you look at the case numbers, the hospital numbers, or at the number of people who are, tragically, dying every week. The Government, however, is acting as if Covid-19 is just gone away and is acting to remove a number of different supports from people from 1 July. On this Friday, for example, long Covid leave or special leave with pay is ending. People still have Covid and are still suffering the effects of long Covid but the Government is withdrawing that support. The Government has still refused to recognise long Covid as an occupational injury. In education, a circular has gone out from the Department of Education saying very high-risk individuals are no longer to be facilitated in respect of working remotely from 1 July but will have to return to the workplace, regardless of the fact they are recognised as very high-risk individuals. Will the Taoiseach act to stop these very regressive moves, recognise long Covid as an occupational injury, and not force people back into unsafe conditions they will regret?
I wish to raise with the Taoiseach the loss of face-to-face services and the curtailment of access to community amenities in public services. This is having a very significant impact on the well-being of communities, and in my constituency we have seen the continued closure of the Citizens Information centre in Rathmines. A public meeting I organised on this recently drew a huge crowd who were very concerned at the loss of this face-to-face service. Many people trying to deal with Government agencies find themselves unable to get any response, and facilities like Citizens Information centres are of great importance in this regard, as indeed are post offices. There is also great concern throughout the country about their closure. We have also seen the closure of jobs clubs and the tendering of local employment services, which is another example of the stripping away of public access to free services that deliver face-to-face engagement and which facilitate people in making contact with Government agencies.
Will the Taoiseach commit to ensuring the retention of face-to-face services and community facilities like Citizens Information centres that provide such an important point of contact and an important source of well-being for so many communities?
It is very difficult to talk about well-being if we are talking about situations where people are going to be evicted and forced into homelessness. I return to the issue I spoke about earlier, which is that people in housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies, if they fall into arrears, are not given an opportunity to enter into a payment plan. People are being asked to pony up money, which can be up to €3,000. I have spoken about a number of instances where people were caught in a bad situation through absolutely dreadful circumstances beyond their control and were willing to pay this money, but unless they went to a loan shark, they were not able to provide this money straight away. All that happens in such situations is the HAP is not paid to the landlord, the landlord evicts these tenants, and these people then go back to homeless services in the county council. We are looking to find a solution for one candidate who is in a bad circumstance by seeking an additional needs payment. That is not how the system should be working. That is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The Taoiseach himself said that the well-being framework is an indicator of how well we are doing as a country. Kerry County Council homeless services is overwhelmed and has effectively run out of available homeless accommodation. Its own accommodation is full and the use of bed and breakfast accommodation, hostels and hotels are also maxed out for the 91 adults and 14 children who are homeless in the county. There are more than 2,000 qualified applicants on the housing list. The market has tightened recently and some providers have been lost to it. More and more families, however, are being issued with notices to quit and the ending of the eviction ban has had severe consequences. Will the Taoiseach intervene and do something?
Many workers and trade unionists in this country have been liking the spirited words of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers leader in Britain, Mick Lynch. Mick said last week there are more rich people than there has ever been and they have never been wealthier, and while they have full employment in Britain, they have falling real wages, which has to be addressed. He said people in full-time jobs are taking State benefits and are having to go to food banks to feed themselves. Anyone can work that out. You do not have to be a Marxist or a social scientist to work out that there is a problem at the heart of society.
I know the Taoiseach is not a Marxist, but we have full employment and falling real wages too. We also have workers going to food banks and have a massive wealth divide. Would the Taoiseach not agree there is a problem at the heart of our society too, a problem which his Government is completely failing to address?
Mick Lynch’s father is a Corkman. No doubt that sense of fair play and value system emanates from that Cork influence. He supports Cork City football club to the present day. Just to let Deputy Barry know as well that my late father was a founder of the National Busmen's Union, so I know a thing or two about transport strikes, particularly growing up as a child. I am watching with interest what is transpiring overseas.
On the more fundamental issue of well-being, we should welcome the introduction of a well-being framework in respect of how we measure things in this country. Deputy Moynihan asked if the framework would be incorporated into the summer economic statement. It will be and it will be in the Budget Statement. It will also be integrated into all major decisions of Government.
It was Bobby Kennedy who once famously said that the problem with GDP as a measurement is that it measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile. In many ways this is the essence of the well-being framework. There are approximately 35 indicators and Ireland performs well in 20, including the lifelong learning rate, average weekly earnings and satisfaction with democracy in Ireland. Six indicators show negative performance, including net government wealth, greenhouse gas emissions and experience of discrimination. The performances of the other nine indicators are more nuanced. There are particularly positive indications in the knowledge skills and innovation, work and job quality, and safety and security dimensions. Only one dimension reveals a negative overall picture, which is environment, climate and biodiversity.
Housing does not come across and there is a reason for it. The dashboard goes through the issues on housing. The indicators state Ireland comes out relatively well in terms of trend over time and international comparisons, but this has to be put in the context of data availability and demand. It is far more nuanced. New dwelling completions have been increasing consistently over the past seven years and they will increase substantially again, but we need to be closer to 33,000 units a year.
One of the big issues in housing that people have referenced regarding the current situation in emergency accommodation is that, in recent months, the number of international asylum seekers has increased beyond prediction. This is separate from the Ukrainian situation. It is putting a strain on emergency accommodation that was not anticipated. The estimate in the report of Dr. Catherine Day in respect of direct provision was approximately 3,500. We will be well beyond that and the number could go to 9,000 or 12,000 before the end of the year. This is creating its own pressures. Within the European Union there are pressures. The Deputy can nod all he likes but there are other issues.