Catholic charities have welcomed aspects of Budget 2018 but there were many “opportunities missed” with regard to housing and education in particular.
An increase of €5 to social welfare payments including the State pension, a Christmas bonus of 85%, a €20 increase for lone parents and the Jobseekers’ Transitional Scheme were said to be good steps, but the “mixed bag” had many holes according the Peter McVerry Trust.
Spokesperson Francis Doherty said that the increase in social housing targets was welcome, as an extra €500m will be provided to the direct building programme – this will see an additional 3,000 new build social houses by 2021 on top of what was already promised.
“There are gaps in the housing section of the budget around the issue of empty homes. The Peter McVerry Trust has been campaigning for a tax on properties that have been vacant for a year or more particularly in areas of demand so I think that’s a missed opportunity from the Government,” he said.
The HAP scheme will be increased by €149m but the Government has been criticised for being “over-reliant” on it as a means for housing people, due to the major shortage of properties available to rent under the scheme.
“Part of the recognition from the Government is that much of what they’re promising on social housing won’t actually take effect until 2019, or after. Next year they really are over-reliant on Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) as a means of housing people,” Mr Doherty said.
Spokesperson for the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Jim Walsh, re-iterated the problem with relying on HAP. He said: “We know that there’s about 90% of properties available for rent that are beyond the HAP limit, it’s very welcome but it’s not the key to solving the problem.”
He added that the charity felt there was not enough targeted support for disadvantaged children attending school with regard to lunches, transport and books.
“We believe that there’s an opportunity missed to break the cycle of disadvantage because those costs obviously disadvantage some families more than others,” he said.