Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

 

2:30 pm

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)

I call for a debate on the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. Over the weekend we heard of the terrible stigma attached to this scheme where low-income families, especially single mothers, are finding it extremely difficult to secure rental housing due to the stigma attached to the housing assistance payment. The private rental market is not equipped to deal with the volume of renters, who are disproportionately low income earners in comparison with homeowners. In many cases landlords do not want to deal with HAP while in other cases landlords simply do not know how. The burden then falls on social housing provision, which we all know to be sorely lacking. Due to chronic undersupply many people who should qualify for social housing are ranked instead as non-priority. The problem HAP was introduced to solve persists. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, has said as much in what should have been a call to action in 2015 when it reported on the inadequate provision of housing leading to family homelessness. To its and to our dismay, the IHREC has again reiterated its position. Under the European Social Charter it is the State's responsibility to provide for the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection. The European Committee of Social Rights, ECSR, has constantly interpreted the right to economic, legal and social protection of family life, covered in Article 16 of the charter, as guaranteeing the right to adequate housing for families. It is, therefore, the State's responsibility to provide adequate housing for families, but clearly the State is failing. According to the IHREC newly released Comments on Ireland’s 16th National Report on the implementation of the European Social Charter "...the State’s failure to take sufficient and timely measures to ensure the social housing provided to families is of an adequate standard is a violation of Article 16." One could not have it put any clearer than that. The commission's report further states: "The decision to withdraw from building social housing and to instead provide rent supplement for private renters has made low income households extremely vulnerable to shocks in the housing market."

Fine Gael is failing the most vulnerable in our society. Working people across the island face discrimination of many varieties on a regular basis. We should not tolerate this but the Government does little to act on one of the most prevalent human rights deficits or abuses in the State, which is centred in this city. There are few forms of discrimination more heinous than the blight of homelessness, which is discrimination in the area of human rights based on income. Housing is a human right but the State continues to send out the message that this applies only if a person can pay for it. Human rights are not to be bought and sold, nor attached to income thresholds. Rather, it is our duty in these Houses to ensure that those rights are upheld. Every day that passes without the right to a home being enshrined in our Constitution, our collective shame grows in proportion to the number of families and children who live on our streets and in emergency accommodation. Current solutions are nothing but a bandage over this wound in our national pride. Government targets are not being met, and even if they were they are not high enough. This is evidence of a Government that does not cherish all the children of the nation equally.

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