Before Dáil Éireann resits after the summer, we gathered in Dublin in September for a think-in with our TD’s, Councillors and Local Area Reps – looking at the Locked Out Generation and how we, as a party, can support them.
We used to think there was a social floor under which nobody could fall in our society. Successive right-wing governments have ensured that social floor is well and truly gone. My friend Carly is one those people who fell through the cracks when she and her family lost their home. My other friend Tracy is about to become homeless as she struggles to find rental accommodation that is suited to her disabled son and also accepts HAP. HAP and rent control measures have caused consistent increased rental rates in a housing sector that is already severely under pressure.
The Locked Out Generation face many different issues: there are few rental properties available to low and middle incomes and off those properties virtually none accept the HAP scheme. Homeless numbers in Ireland increase monthly, the numbers do not include the hidden homeless statistics. It begs the question: “If your basic needs like housing and getting food on the table aren’t being met, how would you expect children to go through education?”. What Fine Gael and Fine Fail have created is a society where the current system is designed to fail people, especially if you’re from a working class background.
Key issues? There are no houses being built by local councils and we have high dependency on housing agencies providing solutions. As with so many things in Ireland, we’ve outsourced the issue for someone else to fix. The issues within local councils? The timescale between planning stage and actually building dwellings is too big and many council departments lack staff. Volatile circumstances in a housing sector that’s already not performing. Renters are vulnerable and many landlords are accidental landlords who do not have the time and investments for the rental market to perform properly.
Solutions? Obligation from the state for a Right to Housing. Creation of a Dedicated Housing Agency, giving more power to Local Authorities. Secured Rent Deposit Accounts.
This generation is not just faced with a housing crisis: precarious living conditions are often accompanied by precarious working conditions. It’s hard to guess what long-term effect zero contracts have on the mental health of lower income workers: constant insecurity and no ability to plan for the future has to be nerve wrecking.
Why do we not care for those in caring professions? Retail and health care workers are often faced with zero-hour contracts, have no travel allowance, no sick pay, no pension contributions. Somewhat ironic considering the majority of these jobs link in directly to HSE, in a way zero-hour contracts are endorsed by the state. The importance of this within a national context: what consequences does this have on social welfare, access to housing, gender inequality, access to good quality childcare? Other consequences: family formation being delayed (“can’t afford to have children”) and financial difficulties paying for childcare. The result? Severe effect on mental health and more cracks through which people fall; earning too much to get state support but not enough to pay for essential services themselves. The ever increasing generation of working poor…
Solutions? Collective Bargaining to Abolish Zero-Hour Contracts. Start valuing Early Years Education and invest properly in it. Pay the Living Wage, not the Minimum Wage. Universal Health Care.
This is harrowing reality that many people in Ireland find themselves in. A volatile mix of many terrible circumstances, making it hard sometimes to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Solutions need to be found and some measures might not be popular. But there has to be hope… I hope Social Democrats can be part of the solution, to go back to a building a society which has a social floor under which no one can fall.