#Budget19 reaction: Budget shows some promise for older people but does not go far enough, says ALONE

Update: Following today’s Budget 2019 announcement, ALONE has welcomed the increase to the state pension.

The charity that supports older people to age at home stated that further Government action is needed to support Ireland’s older people, particularly concerning housing and homecare issues.

Considering measures to combat the housing crisis for older people, Seán Moynihan said, “The focus should be on providing housing with supports for older people and further funding to the Housing Aid for Older People Scheme, in order to prevent a larger crisis to come.

“The increase in funding for Housing Adaptation Grants to €57 million, from €53 million, will enable up to 11,800 adaptations to better facilitate older people to age in their own homes.”

The charity conducted a housing report which it says identified demand for grants for older people of €84.5m per year.

While an increased homecarers’ credit of €300 to €1,500 per year was welcomed, ALONE say they are also disappointed that no increase to homecare was included.

This follows a pre-budget submission by the charity calling for an increase of €102m in Home Support Hours.

Last week, more than 20 organisations – including ALONE – came together to call for an additional €100m investment in homecare.

The charity is calling for €3m of the investment to mental health funding to be assigned to the Loneliness Taskforce which it established in collaboration with Senator Keith Swanick earlier this year.

In terms of social benefits announced for older people, Mr Moynihan commented, “The restoration of the Christmas bonus will be a welcome relief for many older people in the run-up to the holidays.

“The extension of the fuel allowance to 28 weeks is also encouraging, but as one in ten older people are unable to keep their home adequately warm, we believe that this should have been restored to 32 weeks.”

600,000 people living with disabilities ‘overlooked’

The lives of 600,000 people in Ireland living with disabilities have been overlooked in the budget, according to one charity.

Rehab Group, which provides services for people with disabilities, has said that the budget failed to address the big issues facing people with disabilities.

A spokesperson for the group said that it had called for an increase of €20 per week to disability and other allowances as well as the setting up of a commission to establish the true costs of disability in Ireland.

In a recent wide ranging survey of people with disabilities who use the Rehab Group services, it was revealed that many are skipping meals, going without medicine, cutting back on heating and cannot afford to go out because their disability payments are too small. The majority of those surveyed said that they found it ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to live on their allowance.

Another measure that Rehab Group called for was the elimination of prescription charges for people on medical cards, but Minister Paschal Donohoe’s announcement that prescription charges were going to be reduced by 50 cent only applies to people on medical cards over 70 years.

Budget ‘a klaxon call’ for the next election campaign, says Barnardos

Children’s charity Barnardos has said Budget 2019 “offers little comfort to those 3,700 children currently experiencing homelessness”, and said it is disappointed with the Government’s “continued reliance on the private rented sector to increase supply of homes”.

Barnardos head of advocacy June Tinsley said: “Worryingly the extra funding for HAP tenancies doesn’t take into account that many HAP recipients find it impossible to find homes to rent within the HAP limits.

“Any investment in improving emergency accommodation standards is welcome; however family hubs, hotels and B&Bs are not a home. The Government should back up its investment with a commitment to a six-month limit on emergency accommodation for children.”

She said the €1.25bn investment announced for social housing “must be backed up by more action than we’ve seen to date”, and added: “It is clear this Budget represents a klaxon call for the start of the next election campaign.”

Meanwhile, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Children and families on the breadline stand to gain in this Budget.

“In particular, we welcome the acknowledgement by Government that families with older children are struggling to make ends meet. Older children are more likely to experience poverty because it costs more to feed and clothe them.

Another measure welcomed by the organisation is the increase to income thresholds for the Affordable Childcare Scheme by the end of 2019.

Ms Ward said: “Families are crippled with the cost of childcare. The increase to income thresholds for the Affordable Childcare Scheme will mean that four out of five eligible families with children will benefit financially from the scheme.”

They also welcomed the increase in the Direct Provision Allowance for children to €29.80.

Ms Ward said: “Children in Direct Provision have told us about the shame of living in poverty; about never getting to go on a school trip or join their local hurling club. We cannot allow asylum-seeking children fall further behind their peers in terms of child poverty so we hope to see the rate increase further down the line.”

Failure to ringfence sugar tax fails children, health group says

The budget this afternoon has received a mixed reaction from health groups as many welcome the decision to increase the tobacco tax by 50c.

The Irish Heart Foundation said: “However, the failure to close the price gap between manufactured cigarettes and much cheaper roll-your-own tobacco through an additional increase on these products is disappointing given their popularity among young people.”

It also criticised the Government’s failure to ringfence revenue from the sugar sweetened drinks tax to help to tackle the issue of childhood obesity.

“The Government’s own research estimates that 85,000 of today’s children on the island will die prematurely unless we do more to tackle our obesity crisis,” said Chris Macey, Irish Heart Foundation Head of Advocacy.

“This suggests that the levy was never really a health measure at all, but merely a revenue raiser to boost the State coffers.

It calls into serious question the Government’s commitment to tackle childhood obesity when it has yet to commit a single cent to resource the national obesity action plan over two years after its launch.

Meanwhile, the Irish College of General Practitioners have warned that the extension of the free GP visit card would further increase the demand on GPs resulting in extended waiting times.

“Already we have up to half of all practices saying they cannot take on any new patients because of the shortage of GPs,” said Dr John O’Brien, President of the ICGP.

“We know that the extension of the free GP Visit card will help more families see a GP, but it will lead to an increased demand, and longer waiting times for patients.”

“We need to double the existing health spend of 2 – 3% on General Practice in the health budget to properly resource the development of community-based chronic illness management.”

Nurses say Budget delivers extra funds, but fails to address recruitment crisis

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul said that today’s budget contains some positive developments but challenges remain in housing, education and childcare.

Kieran Stafford, SVP National President said: “While many of the measures announced today will help families who are struggling, much remains to be done in the areas of education, housing and childcare so that individuals and families can get out and stay out of poverty.”

“The increase in the rate of the Qualified Child Increase, in addition to the higher rate of social welfare announced in today’s budget, will make a difference to the families we assist and those who are struggling to get by every week.”

SVP said the increase in the earning disregard for one-parent families is a step in the right direction, but is concerned that the benefit of increases in the National Minimum Wage will not be felt by many lone parents in low paid work as a result of the low level of the earnings disregard.

SVP head of Social Justice, Caroline Fahey, said: “A job does not necessarily provide an income which will lift a family out of poverty, and the earnings disregard for the One Parent Family Payment and Jobseekers Transition Payment are essential if the problem of the ‘working poor’ is to be addressed.”

In regard to Housing, they said that Budget 2019 “lacks ambition”.

They said: “The Housing Assistance Payment is not appropriate to meet long-term social housing needs.

“After Budget 2019, tenants on low incomes in receipt of HAP or Rent Supplement will continue to pay unsustainable top-ups to their landlords just to keep a roof over their heads, and will remain vulnerable to homelessness in the event of a rent increase or if the landlord wishes to sell or refurbish the property, or let it to a family member.”

Caroline Fahey said: “Social housing, built and acquired by local authorities and approved housing bodies in conjunction with measures such as cost rental and affordable housing delivery is the solution to the housing crisis and we did not see an adequate response to the crisis in today’s Budget announcement.”

Update: Nurses union the INMO has welcomed today’s increase of €1.2bn on health, but said it was disappointed to see “inaction” on the recruitment and retention crisis in nursing and midwifery.

Highlighting that recruitment of overseas staff costs over €10,000 per person hired, and by July, agency nurses and midwives had already cost over €50m in 2018, the INMO said this could be avoided with an across-the-board pay rise for nurses and midwives, but no provision has been made in this year’s budget.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “Years of underinvestment have taken their toll, so today’s extra funding is welcome and much needed…However, without a resolution to the recruitment and retention crisis, problems in the health service will continue. The HSE simply cannot hire enough on these pay levels and the exodus of Ireland’s highly trained nurses and midwives will continue.”

Lack of clarity on Help-to-Buy scheme ‘will create uncertainty’ in housing sector, says CIF

The Construction Industry Federation has welcomed the rise in infrastructure investment announced in today’s Budget and the affordability measures in housing.

However, they expressed disappointment on the Help-to-Buy scheme, with Director General Tom Parlon saying: “We are disappointed that there was no clarity in relation to an extension of the Help-to-Buy scheme which is due to expire in December 2019. This will create uncertainty next year for both first-time house buyers and homebuilders.

“The Help-to-Buy Scheme has significantly contributed to a 30% year-on-year increase in housing output since its introduction.

“This measure essentially resulted in making it financially viable to build starter homes again and freed up finance from banks for this segment.

They said that the €300m affordable housing scheme should be modelled on that in the UK.

Mr Parlon said: “We welcome measures giving Local Authorities greater flexibility to develop social housing. If procurement practices in the public sector and at local authority can be modernised, there is every chance that thousands of social houses can be brought online over the next decade.”

Update: Siptu economist Marie Sherlock has described Budget 2019 as “a scattergun approach designed to get over the hump of the next election” and “an exercise in populism over prudence”.

She added: “The lure of tax cuts does little for families improved access to childcare, healthcare (or) affordable housing – concerns which the Government and its Independent Alliance supporters claim to profess.”

She said the increase in VAT on hotels and restaurants to 13.5% is long overdue and vindicates the long campaign carried out by Congress and SIPTU over several years to end this unfair concession to a profitable sector where she said many workers are underpaid and exploited.

However, she said, putting over €1.5 billion into the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) for the so-called rainy-day fund – and an additional €500m per year – ignores the immediate need for large scale capital investment in social and affordable housing.

“It’s raining already,” she said, and said placing available funds of more than €1.5bn into the ISIF reflects a lack of urgency in relation to the housing crisis.

Family Carers group slams Minister’s claim of a ‘caring budget’

A carers group has challenged the Finance Minister’s claim that today’s budget is a “caring budget”.

Family Carers Ireland have said that they are bitterly disappointed saying that it has ignored the current crisis in homecare.

According to the group, many carers are “overwhelmed by the isolation, ill-health, exhaustion and financial strain that caring for a loved one can bring”.

While Family Carers Ireland acknowledges the modest €5 increase in weekly social welfare payments to some carers, a €300 increase in the Home Carer Tax Credit, reduced prescription charges for over 70s, a €150 million increase in funding for disability services, €84 million in additional funding for mental health and an extra €20 million for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, there are many family carers who may not have seen any benefit from this budget.

Catherine Cox, Head of Communications and Carer Engagement with Family Carers Ireland, said: “It is evident that carers are under-supported and have difficulty accessing the services they desperately need, in particular respite care to give them a much-needed break.

“A post-code lottery of services exists whereby where you live determines whether you will receive supports or not.

“To add to this, we have seen home supports cut significantly over the last nine years alongside a greater number of people requiring care.”

Earlier: Peter McVerry Trust says budget ‘will ease huge pressures on the housing system’

Housing and homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust has welcomed Budget 2019 and said it “would ease the huge pressures on the housing system”.

The charity’s CEO, Pat Doyle said: “Peter McVerry Trust is delighted that housing was to the fore of Budget 2019. Given the scale of our housing and homeless challenge it was important that the momentum that has been generated by the regular policy and funding announcements for housing was maintained.”

“I believe that the measures outlined today in the areas of housing and homelessness will ease the pressure on the housing system. The minister was very clear in prioritising increased spending in the areas of homelessness, social and affordable housing above other areas with very significant increases in housing targets. This is a very important commitment that means organisations like Peter McVerry Trust can do more to respond to the needs of vulnerable people in our society.”

Mt Doyle said he was very happy at the €60m for capital spending specifically to provide homeless services, and with the increased of €121m for HAP (housing assistance payments).

The charity said it also welcomed the new affordable housing scheme, saying: “Peter McVerry Trust believes that the measures set out to make homes more affordable for those on middle incomes will help more people trapped in the rental system get their own home. It will, I hope, mean that the pressures on the rental system are eased and perhaps more properties become available for those exiting homelessness.”

An anti-homlessness protest – archive picture.

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