Rent Supplement: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 614 No. 45

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Gilmore on Tuesday, 14 February 2006:

—due to high house prices, inadequate provision of social and affordable housing, and increased rents in the private rented sector, there are now approximately 60,000 households dependent on rent supplement; and

—the rent supplement as currently administered is causing serious poverty traps and disincentive to work;

calls on the Government to replace rent supplement with a new housing support which:

—would be related to housing need, income, and local renting conditions;

—would not discriminate between applicants on social welfare and those at work; and

—a recipient would not automatically lose on return to work and any reduction of which would be tapered as the recipient’s income increases.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

“acknowledges the achievements of the Government in:

—increasing housing supply as the key response to the broad range of housing needs;

—ensuring that over 500,000 houses, equivalent to one third of Ireland’s total housing stock, have been completed in the past ten years;

—facilitating the 11th successive year of record house completions through the addition of 80,954 in 2005;

—providing SWA rent supplement payments to 60,000 people and introducing the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, to provide improved and more secure arrangements for SWA rent sup[1560]plement recipients with long-term housing needs, thereby reducing dependency on the supplementary welfare allowance scheme;

—putting in place a range of initiatives to expand the supply of affordable housing including the establishment of the affordable homes partnership to address requirements in the greater Dublin area;

—modernising and improving the operation of the private rented sector through the introduction of new legislation and the establishment of the Private Residential Tenancies Board;

—developing and implementing an integrated strategy on homelessness, effective programmes for Traveller accommodation and an expanded role for the voluntary and co-operative housing sector; and

—supports the Government vision for housing as set out in the new housing policy framework — Building Sustainable Communities, including plans to substantially expand investment over the coming years and develop a range of initiatives so that the maximum number of people can access high quality and affordable accommodation; and endorses the action set out in the framework to provide appropriate accommodation responses for those on rent supplement who can benefit from the rental accommodation scheme, including contributing to addressing issues relating to the elimination of poverty and employment traps.”

Mr. Curran: Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  I wish to share time with Deputies O’Connor, Fiona O’Malley, Michael Moynihan and Andrews.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Curran: Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  I support the Government amendment. I also thank the Labour Party for tabling this motion on the matter of housing, the content of which is broad and far-reaching.

The first line of the Labour Party motion refers to high house prices. We recognise that prices are high, but it would be remiss of me to leave it at that and not refer to some of the initiatives and undertakings of the Government. High house prices are specifically related to supply and demand, but not solely because the population of the country has risen significantly in the past decade, although it would be easy to say that. There have been other social aspects. [1561]The number of family units has changed significantly for various reasons. I do not want to go into the reasons, whether separation, divorce or individuals living longer on their own etc. On the demand side, the number of family units has risen significantly owing to population and family size, but during this period the supply side has increased significantly with current output at approximately 80,000 new units per annum, a figure that has been maintained for the past few years.

The motion refers specifically to the fact that approximately 60,000 households receive a rent supplement. This should not be viewed as a negative but as a response to a demand which the Government is meeting. I will return to this point which should be looked at from that point of view.

It is interesting that the motion refers to the inadequate provision of social and affordable housing. While the Government introduces policies to address this issue, the implementation of many of the policies falls on various local authorities. Anybody who takes time to examine how these policies are implemented will notice that there appears to be uneven implementation of them throughout the country. It is incumbent on all political parties — because the parties on the Government side of the House do not control all the local authorities — to play a role in this area. Not all local authorities engage actively and equally in the process. All we need do to realise this is look at some of the statistics on output, capital expenditure and the numbers on the various lists in the different local authority areas where we see unequal results.

I am best placed to speak about my local authority area, South Dublin County Council. I am more than satisfied with its response on a range of issues, including its response not just on social housing but also on affordable housing, particularly under Part V where it implements its target of 15% as far as possible, a target it adopted a number of years ago under the Planning and Development Act. The Part V strategy requires 15% of residential developments to be reserved for social affordable housing purposes. Within recent weeks the council advertised publicly for applicants for affordable housing. It is probably the lead authority in this area and has developed an innovative approach to affordable housing, called the property path, which involves the authority having what might be termed its own estate agency where the available properties and prices are displayed. The applicant can go through all the paperwork because the council advertises and promotes what is available. If we look at the national newspapers, we do not see many other local authorities being as proactive, which is disappointing.

It is disappointing that local authorities do not deal with affordable housing in the manner intended by the legislation. We are often criticised for not giving local authorities sufficient [1562]freedom and control. However, where we have allowed this freedom, it does not appear to be implemented equally. The South Dublin County Council initiative of the property path is excellent. Unlike the days when people had to go to their local authority, the council or the “Corpo”, people feel when they go through the property path as if they are going to an estate agency where they get advice, see pictures of the property and are directed and have their applications processed. Typically, when people get provisional loan approval, their letter tells them that they are likely to be offered a property within six months. The system is working well to date.

The most recent advertisement in the newspaper on behalf of property path, just a few weeks ago, advertised two-bedroomed homes from €142,000 and three-bedroomed homes from €172,000 in three locations, the Belfry in Tallaght, Rosse Court in Lucan and Rathgael in Clondalkin. These properties came to the local authority in a variety of different ways, some under Part V and some under various other initiatives. They are advertised and promoted and I would like to see more local authorities actively engaged in a similar process.

The motion also refers to social housing. Just before Christmas a report dealing with the assessment of social housing needs for each local authority area in the country was published. If we match the housing needs in the various local authority areas with the programmes they have adopted and their output, they do not tally. South Dublin County Council assessed a need for 1,800 housing units and Fingal County Council assessed a need for 2,500 for the same period, which is significantly more. However, the programme adopted by South Dublin County Council caters for far more than that of Fingal. We must examine such issues.

It is easy to be critical of Government and say it has not addressed the issue or that it does not have policies in place. We have policies and mechanisms in place but we need to return to local authorities and check whether they are delivering to meet the needs in their communities. Deputy O’Connor will speak after me. As a former member of South Dublin County Council, I am proud to acknowledge what it is doing in actively addressing the issues. I do not have enough time to go through the figures on its social housing programme, but it has adopted a programme and is achieving the target. Its target for the next few years is clearly set out and it monitors the housing construction programme monthly. Some local authorities do not address the issue nor meet the needs of their people and when we correlate what is being done with the assessment of social housing needs, there are discrepancies.

It is easy to be critical of the policies. However, the implementation of many of the policies is the responsibility of local authorities and a responsi[1563]bility in which every party in the House has a significant role to play.

Mr. O’Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I am almost tempted to follow the Clondalkin speech with a speech on Tallaght, but I will resist the temptation. Deputy Curran has spoken about the local authority on which we both served and of which I was chairman in 1999. I am always happy to support local government.

As Deputy Gilmore knows, South Dublin County Council is a progressive local authority and we are proud of what it is doing. The estates mentioned by Deputy Curran include the Belfry which is in my constituency. I compliment Deputy Gilmore, with whom I served on Dublin County Council many years ago, on raising this motion for debate. It is fair to have a debate on these issues. As Deputy Curran has discovered, we do not have enough time to go through all the issues. I will confine myself to discussing a few matters.

I note the Government amendment, which I support, mentioned homelessness. This is significant, as those of us representing urban areas are aware of that issue. One can see it is a current issue if one looks on the streets of Dublin. I speak as a Deputy representing a major population centre in Dublin South-West, Tallaght. As one walks around Tallaght people sleeping rough are not seen on the streets, as it is a hidden issue to some extent. People who are under pressure and with particular challenges often go on the bus to the city centre. It should not be like this.

I have often made the point in the House that the Tallaght homeless advice unit does a tremendous amount of work. A new initiative is being proposed in the St. Dominic’s parish area of my constituency, and the matter should be considered. We should be proactive in promoting the idea that homelessness should be eliminated, and we should work towards this.

I am interested in the question of rent subsidy and where this funding is going. People often make the point that the matter should be seriously examined. The Ministers responsible for housing and social welfare should consider the challenges presented by this system. When people are on rent subsidies for a long period, the money seems to some extent to be poured into a void, and such people will never own a home.

Deputies can get calls from different people with different perspectives regarding rent subsidy. People may believe, for example, that if they have an anti-social family beside them which is receiving rent subsidy, somebody should be able to take action, although this can sometimes be difficult. There has been much progress with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, which I applaud. Sometimes the bureaucracy persists, however, and many people have indicated to me [1564]that the body requires more power. It should perhaps be proactive in dealing with issues.

There is an issue falling within the remit of the Department of Social and Family Affairs of families receiving a rent supplement but wishing to improve their lot or go back to work. These people, who may be single parent families, go to their local representatives — they come to me on a weekly and daily basis — after finding that the system is restrictive. I am not blaming CWOs or arguing that they do not care, but young people on rent supplement in particular come to me on a weekly basis who cannot afford to go off it. These people are challenged by being offered employment. It is a real problem and I hope the Minister will understand it is necessary to consider these issues as we drive forward, taking advantage of the great economy we now have. I will not make a political point on this as my colleagues are being quiet and I do not wish to upset anybody.

Nobody is denying the country is doing well. If there are still people who feel that these systems upset their opportunities of progressing, we should be open to their appeals. I have stated that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, is revolutionising his Department. I hope he continues to do so. He has a real role to play in the area of rent supplement and in continuing to help the families under pressure therein. I hope he continues to do so.

This is important business. Many issues have been raised already in the debate and will be raised later which require action. I will not be afraid to indicate to Ministers that we must continue to consider these matters and take action. I look forward to supporting the Government amendment.

Ms F. O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  I commend the Labour Party for raising the issue for discussion in the Chamber. In this time of plenty we should remember there are many people still on our housing lists. In particular, the question of affordability of homes is pertinent. I listened with great interest to Deputy Curran’s contribution regarding the property path and what is available. It is extraordinary that South Dublin County Council is able to provide two-bedroom homes for €142,000. I am sure Deputy Gilmore would agree with me in wondering how my local authority area cannot do something similar.

There is much to be said regarding the amount of land available in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, compared to vast swathes in South Dublin County Council, and other Dublin boroughs. However, we have a particular problem in terms of when we have to carve up the cost of the land. We have extremely expensive sites, and before one brick is placed on another, the cost of the site is more or less prohibitive.

That is from the local authority perspective, but the point is similar with regard to the private sector, with affordability being an issue. All Deputies are concerned with the issue. As the [1565]demographics of the population changes, it does not bode well for the community in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area that prices have driven young people out of the area. I would give anything to be able to provide something like the property path that South Dublin County Council has. I am glad to be made aware of it, as it is something we should all work on together and get our own local authority involved in.

Government policies must be working as year on year the housing output is at a record level. That is a good achievement in its own right but does not take away from the need for local authorities to provide more affordable housing. A certain amount of work can be done in this regard.

When I chaired the strategic policy committee on housing in my council area, I found it disappointing that people did not appear to want to work together. I was impressed by the work of the voluntary and co-op sectors. However, there was a certain resistance in the local authority in getting those bodies to build houses. It was as if the authority wished to ring-fence and own the houses, or indicate that the local authority built so many houses. It does not matter who builds the houses, but the delivery is important.

I was sorry not to see a greater amount of co-operation between the work of the voluntary and co-operative housing sector. In the North of Ireland and in Britain, tremendous work has been done in this regard. I am a believer in outsourcing, and if professionals are available who know how to deliver cheap and affordable housing, why not let them do it? I was sorry my local authority did not, under the terms of the Part V clause etc., ask the voluntary and co-operative sector to do more work.

The Labour Party has put forward a Bill relating to finishing housing estates. It was unanimously agreed, and we must work on it. That party has my support in getting the Bill progressed. It is in all our interests, and that of the people and the communities we represent, to have it progressed. There is no point in building houses if vibrant and sustainable communities are not being constructed too. I commend the work of the housing policy framework and the building of sustainable initiatives document. We need to bring legislation forward, however. I hope we can progress that particular Bill.

Mr. M. Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on housing. Many of the issues we as public representatives face in our constituencies on a daily and weekly basis concern housing. Others have spoken on the cost of housing and the economy going well. Those issues aside, we have a certain bracket of population, such as single parents, which finds it very difficult to get on the property ladder. The State and the county councils are doing much to target these people under the affordable housing scheme and other initiatives.

[1566]Representing a rural constituency I have seen the benefits of sheltered housing, which has become a feature of rural Ireland. The sheltered housing scheme receives funding from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government via the local authorities and supports voluntary housing groups such as local community organisations or voluntary housing associations. These provide massive facilities. In some of the smaller communities, they have provided some six to eight houses and more in other communities. They particularly facilitate older people moving into a sheltered environment. Funding is now available through the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities for the day-care centres attached to these facilities. Many of those groups have done excellent work in small villages and towns in rural Ireland. We should encourage it because in every community vulnerable people are left on the margins. We occasionally see news of people left aside, unable achieve what people have in the sheltered housing projects and day-care centres.

If people were lucky enough to get a local authority house to lease and then their circumstances changed, they could buy the house. People in such housing tended to maintain the house as well as possible because they might one day come into good fortune and be able to purchase it. It was a great incentive and I have seen many estates where that happened. However, in my constituency and throughout the country many housing associations and co-operatives build houses and lease them to people who would normally be on a local authority list. In some estates, housing associations lease to local authority tenants with the stipulation that the house cannot be bought. Such associations have massive amounts of property in each town, village and local community but I wonder do the people renting them have the same incentives as those who know that one day they will be able to buy. Does it encourage them to get involved in the local community? I would like to hear other people’s views on that. People can say we built houses, leased them and then allowed the tenants to buy them, and that it was a great idea which was the forerunner of the affordable housing scheme.

The shared ownership scheme is also beneficial. All these schemes particularly target the less well-off and try to get them on to the property ladder. Over the years more affluent people have been able to look after themselves. The figures show that many people have been able to get on the property ladder through the shared ownership scheme. They show that 17,000 houses have been purchased in this way. Affordable housing is about to get going and the Part V arrangements will come into play in many housing estates the length and breadth of the country. This will be seen as revolutionary legislation that has helped people in no small way.

[1567]A huge bugbear for all public representatives from rural constituencies in Ireland is planning, particularly for one-off houses. Those various organisations of the State that constantly criticise one-off houses should be dispensed with. There should be normal planning guidelines but this framework contains enough to ensure that as many as possible can get planning on a one-off basis in rural Ireland.

I commend the Government’s amendment to the House.

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  I welcome the Labour Party motion. I always pay attention to what my colleague in Dún Laoghaire, Deputy Gilmore, has to say, having shared council time with him many years ago. On this occasion a selective series of facts was brought before the House to prove a conclusion that had already been reached. It was an unscientific extrapolation of a theory that was highly political in its exclusion of salient facts that may have got in the way of the previously conceived theory, namely that the Government is not doing what it should do. For example, they excluded the fact that house price inflation was 40% per annum at the end of the rainbow coalition’s term in power and is now down to 6% or 7%.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  That is wrong.

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  House price inflation has reduced significantly in the past eight years. That is the kind of fact it would have been appropriate to mention.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Ordinary working people could afford to buy a house when we left office.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  Those that had a job.

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  That may be the case.

Mr. Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  I do not know from where the Deputy gets his figures.

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  This Government has built 80,000 houses per annum since it came to power. We have built record numbers of houses.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Houses for investors, subsidised by taxpayers.

Mr. Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  There is no problem building them.

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  It is ungenerous, unfair and inaccurate to leave out these facts when making a statement on housing. We are the envy of our European neighbours and the Deputy knows that, as well as I do. Much of what is now being said in this unruly fashion is designed purely for political ends.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Nobody can afford them.

[1568]Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  People can afford them and many are buying houses. More important, in the period 2001-04 average rents in Dublin came down and that was not referred to by any speaker.

Mr. Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  From where has the Deputy got this information?

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  This is a fact and I will give the figures if the Deputy wants to listen to me. If the Deputy wishes to hear the sound of his own voice he will have the opportunity in a short while. In Dublin, from an index of 104 in January 2002 the rental property index is down to 89 in January 2005. Outside Dublin the average rental per month in 2002 was €975, but was €750 in 2004.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Who told the Deputy that?

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  I can make the figures available to the House just as Deputy Gilmore gave figures yesterday. I do not claim this means the Government has achieved anything in particular. The slump in the rental property market is recognised by almost everybody.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Deputy must have had some of the magic mushrooms.

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  Perhaps the Deputies are not aware of the reduction in prices in the rental property market but it is widely acknowledged.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Deputy is out of touch.

Mr. Andrews: Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  We may have shared time on a local council but this concerns the whole of Dublin and the whole country, rather than the specific examples Deputy Gilmore gives. It would be helpful if Deputy Gilmore had referred to the achievements of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs in tackling the issue of those who are unable to get back into employment because of rent allowance. That is why I welcome today’s proposal because the inability to get back into work is something I see in my constituency. The tapering of rent allowance has been very successful. I look forward to the rental accommodation scheme when it comes to Dún Laoghaire. It has been tried out in Dublin and other areas but has not yet come into being in Dún Laoghaire. In tackling that problem, that will be another string to the Government’s bow.

We are allergic to the word “landlord” and the private rented sector is barely tolerated because people feel it is a necessary evil. However, in partnership with the social and affordable housing sector it can help to ensure we have a comprehensive housing policy.

On the improved social and affordable housing scheme that Deputy Michael Moynihan mentioned, I suggest we should consider whether in future, instead of the rent supplement scheme, rent could in some way be geared to income and [1569]subsidised further by the Government, as happens in other countries. In addition to the social and affordable scheme, we should also consider further Part V schemes to ensure liaison with developers to provide some housing units that are ideally suited for Government subsidies. That needs to be developed in future.

Local authority house building in areas such as my constituency of Dún Laoghaire is often subject to a series of delays. Most of those are due to objections from residents, the long planning process and the lengthy consultations that are required. For example, the Mountwood Fitzgerald and Whelan’s Terrace developments collapsed because the contractors went out of business. The Patrician Villas development is delayed because of a right of way issue and, for very different reasons, the Laurel Avenue development has now been delayed as well. Unless we tackle such issues, they will continue to be part of the problem.

Mr. Gregory: Information on Tony Gregory  Zoom on Tony Gregory  I will share time with Deputies Finian McGrath, Catherine Murphy, Healy, Connolly, Boyle and Morgan.

I support the motion because it focuses attention on what is correctly described as the single worst poverty trap in Irish society. The denial of rent supplement to people on low incomes obliges them to spend a large proportion of their income on paying rent to private landlords. Many people on social welfare who desperately want to work cannot take up employment because they would lose their rent supplement and be crippled with high rents. That provides a massive disincentive to work.

Another aspect of the scandal is the low rent supplement available to single people, for whom the maximum supplement is €120 a week. I have received many calls from single people who have told me they cannot find a half decent flat in Dublin city for that amount of money. They are left with little choice, as they must choose between being homeless and being ghettoised in tenement-like tenancies in Dickensian conditions reminiscent of a Dublin of long ago. Parts of my constituency — I will not stigmatise them further by naming them here — are well on the way to becoming ghettos in which landlords allow their properties to degenerate into unhealthy and unsafe fire hazards. Only the poorest people desperate for a roof over their heads tolerate such conditions. All this is taking place in the Ireland of the Celtic tiger, so it is little wonder that the National Economic and Social Forum described ours as one of the most unequal societies in the world today.

This major issue is not being tackled by the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern. As the anti-drugs activist Fergus McCabe said outside the Dáil today, the Minister of State has special responsibility for two of the most important social issues — housing and drugs — and he is neglecting both of them. Each of those issues clearly [1570]requires the full attention of a separate Minister of State.

Ms C. Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  What I find strange about the Government amendment is that it does not deal with the substance of the motion so it is hardly an amendment. As others have explained time and again tonight and especially last night, the central issue is the relationship between housing need and homelessness, work and the poverty trap.

Either those affected by the issue have decided to avoid contacting Deputies from the Government side or those Deputies understand the problem and have chosen not to deal with it. About three weeks ago I was contacted by a young couple who had become homeless because they could not pay their €1,000 a month rent. The young man earned just above the minimum wage and the family received family income supplement so their income was about €400 a week. Having got into arrears with their rent, they moved all their worldly goods into a room in a relative’s house and all four of them had to share a double bed in another room in the same house.

I spoke to the council’s homeless officer, community welfare officer and several other people, but I knew the stark choice the family were likely to face. They could either take up short-term hostel accommodation 35 miles away, which would have necessitated the man giving up his job, or they could continue staying in the room in which they currently lived. Alternatively, if the man gave up his job, they could receive rent assistance and welfare. The man told me that he did not even contemplate giving up the job. Three weeks later that family are still sharing the double bed in the same house.

Approximately 2,000 individuals and families are on Kildare County Council’s waiting list, but from that source they can expect no resolution to their housing problem for about three years. With unemployment running at between 4 and 5%, the question is often asked “Who exactly are the people on the housing waiting list?” Many of them are people who want to work but cannot take up a low-paid job because they would lose their rent assistance. We keep hearing employers say that they cannot get people to work in low-paid jobs. I know many people who would love to work but who simply cannot afford to do so and every one of them is a housing applicant. The policies being pursued are anti-work and anti-family.

Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the motion, which highlights the 60,000 households who are dependent on rent supplement. I strongly support the motion because I believe we need to tackle head on the poverty traps that exist throughout our society. We urgently need to assist citizens of this wealthy state who are excluded and who survive on a very low income. I support the creation of a new [1571]scheme to replace rent supplement with a new housing support related to housing need, income and local conditions. In other words, we need a scheme that deals with the real issues.

In dealing with poverty, we must be sensitive to and respectful of the citizens who are being left behind. For me, it is a crime that people are poor in this day and age. The question is no longer whether our society has the resources but how the Government distributes that wealth. As the motion deals with that core issue, I am supporting it in tonight’s debate. Low-paid workers and those on social welfare must be top of the list for support and assistance, and those people, with working people in general, are my priority. The Independent Deputies in this House will always stand with the most vulnerable people in this country. That is our vision and our position. We will always push for a high quality of life. That is common sense and it is based above all on justice and equality. It is not acceptable that, in some disadvantaged areas, 52% of children are not ready for primary school and children continue to live in homes that have issues of heating and dampness. It is not acceptable that 26% of children display significant problems of conduct before starting school and 20% have eating difficulties.

I urge all Deputies to support the motion on rent supplement. We need to stand up for the 60,000 households who depend on rent supplement.

Mr. Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  I want to record my support for the motion, which deals with one of the most important issues facing this country. In particular, I support the part of the motion that highlights the poverty trap whereby those who work cannot receive rent subsidy even if they work for only 30 hours per week.

The Government amendment is an insult. It suggests that everything is hunky-dory and that nothing needs to be done. Just a few moments ago Deputy Curran told us that the blame rests with local authorities, apart from the one in his constituency, but his colleague Deputy O’Connor, who spoke immediately after him, said that the local authority in his constituency was not to blame either. We all know the Government is the one to blame because it has given local authorities the resources to provide the social housing that is necessary. More families are on local authority housing waiting lists now than when the Government came to power in 1997.

I support the motion.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Paudge Connolly  Zoom on Paudge Connolly  The private rented sector is the fastest growing component of Ireland’s housing system. In 1991, 7% of houses were rented, which equated to about one in 12 or one in 14 houses. By 1995 that figure had grown to 16%, which equates to one in six houses. We obviously have a growing difficulty.

[1572]People on low incomes who cannot afford to buy their houses account for that growth in the rented market. Many employees who are on or close to the minimum wage cannot buy their own homes, but they are ineligible for the rent supplement because they do not work less than 30 hours a week. Another difficulty facing people on low wages is that, as they are now competing with non-nationals who are also at the lower end of the scale, the likelihood of their wages increasing is quite slim.

I wonder where the Government’s housing support schemes will stand in the future. It would be necessary for the Government to introduce a scheme of support for landlords to provide affordable rental housing to the working poor and low income earners who are ineligible for the rent supplement. That would, however, be a disastrous situation. Discussions were held in 1999 on the introduction of such a scheme but it was decided not to rush the matter because it would have taken a minimum of two years. However, seven years later, we are still grappling with the issue and, all in all, the situation in the rental sector has become much worse.

Mr. Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  I strongly support the motion tabled by the Labour Party. It has been a long-standing policy of my party to replace supplementary welfare allowance with a direct housing benefit payment and it is good to see that others are thinking along the same lines. In the 30 years that supplementary welfare allowance has been in existence, its inequities have been apparent and it has given rise to stigmatisation in instances where people could not make additional payments to landlords.

However, the problem has become especially marked during the period since this Government took office in 1997. In that nine-year period, the number of households making use of this form of assistance has doubled and because of rental price inflation, the amount of money made available for supplementary rent allowance has quadrupled. There are no more damning indictments or shameful statistics than those figures.

By changing to a direct payment system, we would remove many of the inconsistencies of the current system, such as the payment of supplementary welfare allowance irrespective of whether the landlord is registered with the Private Resident Tenancies Board and regardless of the quality of basic facilities. Only last week, one of my constituents in a private tenancy arrangement complained of not having access to hot water. Other people lack basic toilet facilities. Most apartments, which represent one third of the housing stock built in this country since 1995, are of the cardboard box variety and because they are particularly hard to heat, impose extra hardships on people trying to survive on State allowances for rent and everyday household needs. The motion is pertinent on these grounds alone.

[1573]The Government cannot slither away from the fact that, at the end of the day, too many people make use of a payment which does not help them in terms of meeting basic housing needs. An explanation is needed for the failure of every housing initiative introduced since 1997. Despite ever increasing local authority housing lists, affordable housing is still small in scale, few in number and too slow in coming on stream. Seven months after the announcement of new projects for the rental accommodation scheme, they have still not physically manifested themselves.

This Government is not interested in real reform of the housing sector and is only willing to support the people who engage in property speculation. This is the Government which has introduced the triple whammy effect for people who speculate in property at the expense of Irish taxpayers and those in need of accommodation. Tax reliefs have been provided for the construction of cardboard-type housing and on the rent received for such accommodation. Through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the State funds 40% of all rents paid in this country. This triple benefit is given by taxpayers to people who should be ashamed of themselves and who are not even living up the legislative responsibilities put on paper by this Government. The Government is showing no sign that it will enforce these responsibilities through the provision of proper resources to local authorities or a national organisation which would monitor housing quality, nor is it putting plans in place for housing that will be available to and affordable by everybody.

Mr. Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  I support the motion before the House and commend the Labour Party and Deputy Gilmore on giving us the opportunity to debate it because it is an important issue which concerns many of my constituents from across the social spectrum.

As the sometimes technical nature of our debates can cause us to lose sight of these issues, I want to briefly outline one of the eight to ten representations on rent supplement dealt with by my constituency office in Dundalk each week. The case in question concerns a separated 58 year old woman who had been involved in a bad relationship during the almost 40 years she was married. However, she remained in the relationship because she wanted to rear her children and wanted to wait for them to leave home before taking action. When she eventually left the relationship, the family home was sold, with the money from the sale being divided between the couple and the children.

For the past three years, she has lived on her portion of €40,000 with the knowledge that she would hit a brick wall when the money was inevitably spent. She joined a community employment scheme, which provided an income of €218 per week but was paying rent over the three years of €140 per week and, in addition, had to buy furni[1574]ture because her rental accommodation was unfurnished. When her few bob ran out, she applied for rent supplement but was told that she did not qualify because her rent was more than €100 per week. She was living outside Dundalk because she could not afford the cost of rent within the town, which ranges from €150 to €170 per week. At present, she is entirely dependent on her relatives and adult children for support.

This woman is an example of the failure of this system to serve many people, including some in even worse circumstances. We need to examine the system and make urgent changes. The bottom line is that Government policy forces women in particular to remain in dreadful and sometimes violent situations. They cannot escape their situations because of the rental trap.

A number of Government Deputies, and Deputy O’Connor in particular, likened the €400 million per year cost of private rental supplement to a black hole but nothing is being done to change the system. The provision of adequate numbers of social housing units is the only viable solution. Deputy Gilmore outlined the statistics and described the Government’s disastrous record on this issue. The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, correctly states that 73,000 units of social housing will be required by 2012, yet the Government has no strategy in place to achieve that objective.

The Minister of State regularly pats his Department on the back and claims that it is doing wonderfully and, in a similar vein, the Government amendment boasts that it facilitated “the 11th successive year of record house completions through the addition of 80,954 in 2005”. If “bullshit” is considered parliamentary language, that is the appropriate term for that because only 5.8% of those 80,000 houses comprised social housing. How can the Minister of State pat himself on the back for presiding over such a scandalous and disastrous record?

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Do not mind the percentages. They mean nothing.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  It is nearly nothing.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Talk about numbers.

Mr. Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Waffle.

Mr. Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  It is waffle. The Government has no answers on this. I accept that we need to change the current system because the €400 million paid each year is going down the drain. The landlords who receive that money are taking advantage of people who would otherwise be in social housing. The ninth progress report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution presented one aspect of the solution when it recommended that local authorities should be given the power to compulsorily purchase land at existing use value. That would at least deal with [1575]the most expensive part of housing provision — the cost of land. It is most unfortunate that we do not have more time to discuss this important issue because we need to do something to wake up the Government. We will certainly be supporting the motion.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  I wish to share time with Deputies Stagg, Burton and O’Shea.

I was amazed to hear the comments of Deputy Andrews to the effect that rent in rural Ireland has been reduced because in my constituency of Kildare South, that is not the case. Rented accommodation has become so scarce that people are now speculating in new houses. Houses valued at €300,000 or €400,000 are being leased because of the lack of rented accommodation. This leads to problems with availability of accommodation for those unfortunate enough to have to seek it.

Previous speakers have talked about the poor condition of some accommodation and this is what is available to people on social welfare. Landlords are in a position to let such properties because of the scarcity of rental accommodation. There are people from Connemara, Cork and so forth, buying houses in Athy that they have never seen and letting them to people on rent supplement. That is the position and Deputy Andrews is totally off the mark when he suggests rent payments are on the decrease in rural Ireland.

There is a number of aspects to the housing problem. With regard to housing co-operatives and rent supplement, the problem is there is no cap on rent, which means people on low incomes or on social welfare must stay in those houses and cannot use them as their first step onto the property ladder. Such people cannot try to improve their job opportunities because if they do, a pound for pound situation pertains and their rents increase. Any benefit that might accrue from their efforts to better themselves goes to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government through the local authority.

I ask the Minister to address this issue and put a cap on rents to enable such people to get into a position where they can buy those houses. They will remain in those houses anyway because there is no legislation in place that will move them on. They will always be tenants so the benefit to the Government of not capping rents is minimal. More houses cannot be gleaned from these situations because people will stay put. I cannot see why successive Ministers have not addressed this issue. The Minister of State should put a five year cap on tenancy and after five years, address the question of rent and allow the tenants to purchase the houses, to create a sense of community to the betterment of everyone in the area.

My constituency colleague, Deputy Ó Fearghaíl, who spoke earlier has been more involved in this area. He would be the first to say [1576]that housing co-operatives would be a success if a cap was put on the rent and then, after a period of time, tenants were allowed to purchase the houses.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  We need to get the Irish Council for Social Housing on board to do that.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Deputy Noel Ahern is the Minister for State. He must fight the battles and should do so.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  I am trying.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  I have raised this matter with the Minister of State on previous occasions. He is losing an ideal opportunity to form a base for local communities all over the country.

The other issue of importance is county development plans. The aim of most local authority development plans is to move people into town centres and villages but the houses available in those areas cost €350,000 or €400,000. People on low incomes could not even look at the door of such houses. This is where the planning authorities have made a mistake. The Department and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have also been found wanting. They have not ensured that in cases where the aforementioned development plans are to be adopted, the provisions of Part V of the Planning and Development Act are brought into play. In that way, at least some people will benefit.

An estate of 30 houses was built in a village in my constituency recently, all of which cost between €350,000 and €400,000. How could any locals afford to buy a house there? I could not name even two or three people in the area who could afford to buy one of those houses, not to mention 30 houses.

We are driving people on low incomes and social welfare into the worst possible conditions in some cases. If they are lucky, they could get a good landlord and be in a four bedroom house, but they are never going to improve on that position because they cannot improve their employment prospects and form a base because they are on rent supplement.

Much more could be said on this issue but I will finish by asking the Minister of State to examine the problems with housing co-operatives and county development plans, both of which must be addressed.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I want to declare, on behalf of the Labour Party, the right to a home, to a roof over one’s head, for every citizen of this Republic and the right to a roof that does not pauperise the family or the individual. Our current system has failed to deliver this. A total of 60,000 families or approximately 180,000 men, women and children are in short-term, private rented accommodation they cannot afford and their landlords are paid [1577]€400 million per annum to subsidise their rents. This means that 4.5% of the population are condemned to permanent poverty by the rent supplement scheme.

What is the scale and depth of the poverty I am talking about? Let us take the example of a couple with one child. They must be on social welfare benefit to qualify for the supplement, which is €292 per week. They must pay €13 in rent, which leaves them with €279, out of which they must pay for all housing overheads, including electricity, gas, clothes, school books, transport and food. That is without accounting for the usual top-up. If they get an extra €1, their rent allowance is reduced accordingly. These families are forced to remain idle and cannot engage in any economic activity. If they do so, they will be punished. They are in very insecure housing and a month’s notice at any time puts them on the street. They live in dire poverty and are harassed by social welfare officers to accept low-paid employment that would put them on the street in any event.

Our proposal would create a buffer or breathing space in the transition from enforced idleness to productive employment — productive for the family and for society. It should be noted by the Minister of State that he and his Government pay more in rent subsidies to landlords than they pay in income support to families and that must change. However, the Labour Party is not saying this is a final solution for the families in this housing poverty trap. The real and lasting solution is the provision of sufficient homes for rent and purchase at prices that the 60,000 families on rent subsidy can afford. This will require the acquisition of land — I refer the Minister of State to the Kenny report in that regard — and the building of large numbers of units of social and affordable housing by the State or its agents. A total of 60,000 homes are required in these categories.

  8 o’clock

The vain hope that these homes would be provided by the private sector through the Part V process was dashed when the Government cut the heart out of the Planning and Development Act introduced by the former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and accepted cash rather houses from the builders. The effect of this little manoeuvre is well demonstrated in County Kildare. In 2004 and 2005, 7,000 houses were built in that county. Under the scheme laid out by Deputy Noel Dempsey, the county council would have received 1,400 housing units. However, under the new Part V scheme, Kildare County Council received 12 social and two affordable houses out of a total of 7,000. There are a lot of very happy and very rich builders in County Kildare as a result but the housing waiting list grows by the day. This demonstrates the Government’s priorities.

Let us look at the price of houses and consider why they are so high in comparison with the price [1578]of production. The average price has increased by a factor of more than three since 1997, as Deputy Gilmore outlined last night. We hear much from this Government and others on the benefit of the free market and competition. They have not worked well in the housing market. As a result of direct action by the Government, investors buy half of all the new houses built. They do so because the Government gives them double tax breaks, first on the mortgage and then by giving guaranteed rental income from the taxpayer’s pocket. Young couples cannot compete in this lopsided market. No large tax breaks exist for first-time buyers and this shows where the Government’s priorities lie.

It is a scandal in this rich country that 4.5% of the population is forced into poverty because their Government has failed to provide housing for them. There is no easy solution and we do not say there is. One may tinker around the edges with Part V or rental accommodation and other useless novelties but the only long-term solution for the 60,000 families on rent subsidy is to build houses for them. Our proposal will ease the pain and poverty in the meantime.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I thank Deputy Gilmore for raising this important issue. What does the poverty trap mean in terms of housing? A person on social welfare with two children and who receives rent allowance would need a gross income of between €30,000 and €40,000 to make it worth his or her while to go back to work. This is the true story of the poverty trap that bedevils the rent allowance and social welfare system. Where once we were praised for having an agile economy we now have a rent and social welfare system that is designed to discriminate against working class families on housing lists. The darker side of the booming economy is the number of families existing exclusively on social welfare income and locked out of employment, education and training, especially if they are also in receipt of rent allowances.

Some 60,176 rent supplements are paid to individuals and families at a cost of approximately €400 million annually. I am not sure if the Government is aware of the extent to which a new set of poverty and unemployment traps has developed in recent years for people receiving rent allowances. The Minister may have seen the reports published today by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, of a doubling of youth unemployment among recent school leavers, particularly young men who have dropped out of school early. The Government’s policy on rent allowance is directly contributing to this problem.

Another contributory factor is the discriminatory structure of charging differential rents for local authority houses. Many schemes such as those in Fingal County Council are based, without limit, on the earnings of the highest earner in the house. Thus if a young guy works on a build[1579]ing site and earns €1,000 a week, as happens, the rent for the house for the entire family will be based on his earnings. Such would be the rise in rent that most people in that situation would be forced out of home within a short period. It is a new eviction strategy by this Government. Alternatively the parents, usually the mother, may fail to report fully the young person’s earnings, end up owing thousands of euro in arrears to the county council and often resort to money lenders, locking the family into another cycle of poverty. Thus this Government’s housing policy actively discriminates against young people born and reared in a rented local authority house. The Minister of State knows this and it is appalling discrimination against young people.

Differential rent schemes push young people out of their parental home and direct them to the private housing market. It should be borne in mind that many of these people being pushed out of their homes are in their late teens and early 20s. They pay through the nose to rent an apartment and are too young and inexperienced to deal with life on their own with large wage packets and the temptations that apartment living can offer. Equally the affordable purchase option is not realistic because they have had no time to save up to qualify for the scheme. The Minister of State should not roll his eyes. I am telling him about reality as it happens in Dublin West.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  I know about reality.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The Minister should listen and learn. Deciding whether to take work in this economy is a no-brainer if taking a low-paid job at €300 a week means losing more than that in rent allowance and a medical card. That is opportunity in the Government’s economy for people in rented housing.

Mr. O’Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Gilmore, urlabhraí Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre ar chúrsaí comhshaoil, oidhreachta agus rialtais aitiúil, as ucht an rún tábhachtach, tráthúil agus praiticiúil seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála. Tá tithíocht phoiblí ina praiseach sa tír seo. Tá athruithe móra ag teastáil, agus léiríonn an rún seo go bunúsach conas tabhairt faoin rud seo.

The issue at stake here in terms of people on rent allowance was brought home to me today with a figure I obtained from Waterford City Council. Although an estimated 1,300 people are on rent allowance in Waterford, between 1,100 and 1,200 people are on the housing list. There are background issues. For instance, Waterford City Council receives between 600 and 700 new housing applicants every year and loses between 500 and 600. The fact that this number of people are on rent allowance in a city the size of Waterford is a commentary on how the Minister has failed to look after the public housing needs of [1580]the area. I see it throughout the county too. There are 573 applicants on the county council housing list and 260 on the Dungarvan housing list, approximately 50% of whom are on rent subsidy.

We have a category of people to whom Deputy Gilmore referred who are caught in that trap. While their income is too high to obtain a house from a local authority, they have no hope of buying a house in the private sector so they must pay high rents, cannot save up a deposit and have no hope of escaping that bind. To some extent affordable housing would have helped these people but the number of affordable houses that has been produced is pitiful. That group often comprises couples where both partners work to pay rent to a private landlord.

There are issues about local authority housing that must be addressed. A number of local authority houses are idle and being vandalised and people will not take them. People walk out of local authority houses because they can no longer tolerate the conditions. They do this at a substantial loss to themselves as they need to rent in the private sector. Issues include coming to terms with people who intimidate tenants, indulge in anti-social behaviour and make life hell. I dealt with two cases earlier this week. It appears that certain characters in society are untouchables. While it is clear who they are and what they are doing, they continue to get away with it.

The area of marital break-up is serious. If a couple who break up have a mortgage, it tends to be a large one. When the house is disposed of, the proceeds to be shared between the partners are of little value. As a result, female partners who tend to have custody of the children have no hope of being able to purchase a house, with all the attendant difficulties this creates, particularly if child care is needed. These women are caught in traps.

In tabling this motion Deputy Gilmore has raised important issues. There must be no discrimination between people in receipt of social welfare and those in employment. Income must be the deciding factor in determining who should receive rent subsidy. When someone begins work he or she should not immediately lose his or her rent subsidy. As Deputy Gilmore suggested, rent subsidy should be reduced incrementally rather than suddenly withdrawn as income increases. I support this important, practical and timely motion given the major crisis in public housing.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. B. O’Keeffe): Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Last night the House was treated to a lesson in playschool statistics and economics from the Fine Gael and Labour parties. It is not our intention on this side of the House to insult children at play. Instead, we would like to be instructive. For those Deputies who missed the Opposition parties’ double act, let me recap on some of the best and most [1581]humorous contributions to the debate. It appears from their statements that local authorities no longer build houses. This will come as a shock to local authorities around the country which have completed more than 15,000 dwellings in the past three years and will complete another 18,000 over the next three years.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Only 71 local authority dwellings have been built in County Kildare.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  If these are not houses, what are they — buses?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Of 7,000 dwellings built in County Kildare in the past two years, two were affordable houses.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The Opposition also stated that waiting lists grow and grow.

Mr. Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  They are growing.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  They might grow under Labour-Fine Gael Governments but not under this Government. Despite major population increases and an even greater growth in the number of households, the total number of households on local authority waiting lists declined by almost 10% between 2002 and 2005.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Government changed the way the figures were calculated.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It used trickery.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  This was achieved by boosting supply to meet unprecedented demand. We heard speakers state that lining landlords’ pockets should not be the aim of the rent supplement scheme, a point on which all Deputies will agree. How would the Labour Party ensure this does not occur? It would abolish the rent caps in place under the scheme to ensure landlords cannot charge unreasonable rents for private rented accommodation.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  That is not in the motion.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Does the Labour Party really believe the removal of caps would lead to lower rents? It asks why we do not build or buy sufficient local authority houses to accommodate households in receipt of rent supplement, using the money saved in rents. Last year, rent supplement supported the housing needs of approximately 58,000 households, at a cost to the Exchequer of roughly €400 million. The Labour Party believes it can build 60,000 new houses with this funding. It clearly believes in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  We did not say that. The Minister of State should sack the smart alec who wrote his script because it will get him into trouble.

[1582]Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The Labour Party motion smacks of desperation and tired point-scoring but fails to score any points.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Is money not available?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption. Deputy Stagg’s colleagues will have an opportunity to respond.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  What about the substantive issues raised in the debate? Much was made last night of the slower than anticipated roll-out of the rental accommodation scheme and the difficulties facing households in the private rented sector in receipt of rent supplement.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister of State should throw away the script.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  I am doing well. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and I did not interrupt Opposition speakers. It is understandable that Deputies opposite feel the need to interrupt because my remarks are obviously hurting.

The Government introduced the rental accommodation scheme due to the difficulties faced by households which are reliant on rent supplement but have long-term housing needs.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It will take 100 years to address the backlog.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The problems faced by tenants, for example, the poor quality of much existing rented housing, the shortage of suitable accommodation for single person households, overcrowding or tenancies not being registered are the reason it has taken longer than anticipated to roll out the scheme. The basic facts are that the Government is taking action to eliminate dependence on the social welfare allowance rent supplementation scheme by persons assessed as needing housing assistance on a long-term basis.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister of State’s time is up.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  In addition, the Government is taking action to improve standards in the private rented sector through the use of only good quality accommodation for rent allowance scheme tenants; to improve tenant choice and provide greater long-term housing security; to address the needs of the homeless; and to support tenancy sustainment programmes to help persons make the transition to independent living. We are also acting to enhance the capacity of local authorities to respond to long-term housing need.

In 2005, the Government’s main objective was to put in place the necessary support structures for the rent allowance scheme.

[1583]Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  On a point of order, given that the Minister of State has exceeded his time, I expect speakers from the Labour Party will also be given additional speaking time.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  This objective was largely completed by the end of last year.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Stagg should note that I called the Minister of State for five minutes and these have just elapsed. He was entitled to speak for five minutes because a previous speaker from the Labour Party exceeded the time by one minute.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister of State is required to conclude by 8.15 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputies from the Labour Party will have 15 minutes speaking time.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  This is outrageous. The Ceann Comhairle is biased in favour of his party colleague, the Minister of State.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The rental accommodation scheme is a response of substance and, as with any such intervention, a lead-in time is necessary to put in place systems to manage and drive the process. I am happy with the progress made to date. The collaborative approach of all the agencies involved will ensure the scheme is successful and meet its targets in the coming years.

Mr. Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Despite the surprisingly infantile assertions of the Minister of State and the whiff of desperation emanating from the Government benches, this is one of the most important motions to come before the House in a long time. It highlights and illustrates, if such was needed, the bankruptcy of the Government’s commitment to the unpropertied classes, the men and women who do not own their own dwellings and have no prospect of doing so under this uncaring, selfish Administration which has zero commitment to their plight. It is about the tens of thousands of people in households who are not in a position to pay their rent. As my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, stated last night, it is also about Ireland’s unique poverty trap which succeeds in forcing people who are already on abysmally low incomes to make a choice between a State subsidy — a rent supplement — and taking up an offer of work.

What is even more pronounced is that the Government’s failure to tackle the need for social housing is forcing thousands of families to live in substandard private rented accommodation. No less an authority than Sister Stanislaus Kennedy from Focus Ireland, who does not belong to the Labour Party, stated that the Government has abandoned its historical policy of providing social housing for people who cannot afford to buy their own house. Sister Stanislaus, who has a track record in this area, is telling the Government how abysmally it has failed.

[1584]The Government has presided over a trebling of the price of housing since 1997, compelling young people and their families to rent rather than being able to purchase a house in their own right. The corollary of house prices going through the roof is that rents have also spiralled upwards out of the reach of the same families. The Government has substantial amounts of money at its disposal with which to build a decent number of local authority houses. Nobody can accuse the Labour Party in government of failing in this regard. I remind Deputies of the work of former Labour Party Ministers, Jimmy Tully, Liam Kavanagh and Emmet Stagg. They did not let people down. The Government has no respect for anyone who comes from a cottage and those of us from such a background are well aware of it.

The Labour Party would not have allowed 60,000 tenants in private rented accommodation to be forced to apply, through a means-tested procedure administered by community welfare officers, for rent supplement or allowance. The vast majority of those who receive rent supplement are social welfare recipients. As I said when debating a Bill introduced by the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, she made a bad situation worse. Someone employed for 30 hours a week will no longer qualify for rent supplement. The full-time work disincentive denies an applicant assistance if one member of the couple works 30 hours per week, even though the household income is low.

It is clear the needs of the working poor who are experiencing housing affordability problems require urgent attention. These people are now literally working to pay the rent. Many of them are paying up to 40% of household income to finance their housing expenditure. While the Minister of State might not like to hear this, it is a bottom-line fact. It is here that the viciousness of the poverty trap can be seen at work. It feeds into poverty and becomes a massive disincentive to work. How can people in receipt of rent supplement take up offers of full-time work, which may not be well paid, and immediately find they will lose rent supplement thus rendering them significantly worse off? As Deputy O’Shea outlined, thousands of our constituents, those on social welfare, lone parents and others, continually tell us of this problem.

We need to change the system and replace the rent supplement with a new form of housing support as proposed by Deputy Gilmore, which would be related to housing need and the cost of housing, the circumstances of the applicants and the rent levels pertaining in a particular area in order to eliminate the poverty trap. This new housing support should not discriminate between those on social welfare and those at work. As Deputy Gilmore outlined the level of support should be tapered as income increases, which would be considerably preferable to the slash-hook method applicable now, where one’s entitlement to rent supplement is severed immediately [1585]one exceeds the permitted income limit. This form of housing support is necessary in the interest of fairness and to reduce the financial hardship on working people who need to rent in the private sector. Critically, it would also act as an incentive and reward people who take up work rather than penalise them.

It is clear that a new initiative is needed. I ask all Members to support the Labour Party motion. As Deputy Stagg said it would merely represent a first step.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is, perhaps, the most important issue that affects modern Ireland. I pay tribute to Deputy Gilmore for the manner in which he has laid out the case regarding housing as, perhaps, the greatest failure of contemporary Ireland. What has happened in housing is socially destructive and has torn the heart out of the economy. It is socially destructive in so far as it represents little less than a complete retreat from social housing. Two people on modest incomes now have no choice but conscription into the economy in the full knowledge that they will spend most of their time commuting without any assurance that they will ever be able to afford a home. It has an effect on children, neighbourhoods and communities.

Like the Minister of State who spoke, I would like to deal entirely with facts. We regularly hear that 80,000 housing units were finished last year. Less than 6,000 of them were social housing units. When I first became a Member of the Oireachtas in the period from 1973 to 1977, we were building more than 20,000 local authority houses per year. What is being built now is less than a quarter of what was being built in the 1970s. The assumption is that people can be pushed from the social into the affordable housing category even though the qualifications are entirely different.

Having given tax breaks and made mistakes in the Finance Act of two or three years ago which allowed people write off rental income against all costs, people were driven into the market for speculative housing, which should be a basic right. It is interesting to consider the facts. Those who no longer own one or two houses, but eight or ten houses, have been able to deal with their income in terms of tax breaks and the Government’s approach to housing its citizens is to use €400 million per year as income for these greedy people who have not got enough.

I can answer the question asked by the Minister of State about where that €400 million could be spent. Any of us who have ever reviewed public accounts know it is a matter of what €400 million would serve by way of capital that could be used to provide a proper housing structure. Some 5.8% of total finishes were social housing units, which represents a decline from 2004 when it was 7%. In 2003 it was 8.9% and in 2002 it was 10%. The social partners opened talks with the Government in the full knowledge that one of the great[1586]est failures in the programme has been the failure to deliver the number of houses the Government, trade unions, farmers and other social partners signed up to. It is inconceivable that this would not be an opening point in the new talks.

Without being emotive we should consider the figures. The national development plan promised 35,500 units. So far in that period only 20,600 units have been provided. To be practical about those who are affected by this issue, is it reasonable that one in five should spend more than one third of their income on paying rent, as outlined in the Economic and Social Research Institute study on the position of tenants? We are depriving people not only of a house, but also of full citizenship by keeping them locked in poverty, which is the net effect because if even one of the two people who share a house works for more than 30 hours, both of them and their children lose the rent allowance. That is not defensible in a civilised society.

Other assumptions are made regarding housing including that we might not have a housing crisis. The suggestion is that sooner or later everybody will be able to be rich. Newspapers frequently run headlines that a particular property has sold for more than €1 million. I remember a former Secretary of a Department telling me how wonderful he felt to be living in Ireland where his sons were paying €500,000 for houses. How wonderful, indeed, that the citizens of the country had been fired on to the market to be available for speculative abuse and at the same time a series of Finance Acts would allow people to move their income without needing to pay even a proportion of it in tax. Meanwhile, at the crack of dawn men and women are driving ever-longer journeys to satisfy the economy and at the same time of the 61,000 who are locked at home because they are getting rent supplement, approximately 3,500 or fewer are on employment-related schemes. The idea is that they can be locked up through the rent supplement scheme when the country is awash with money.

As always for this kind of right-wing politics, the scarce resource of land was available to make a small number of people super rich. It did not really matter that families would not have a roof over their heads. As we go into the new social partnership talks, this is the test that people like me, who have spent nearly 40 years in a trade union, will be watching. After the talks, how many social houses will the Government commit to building? How will the Government explain the shortfall in the houses that have been provided? What will be the reaction to the crazy nonsense of suggesting that all the social housing applicants can be transformed into affordable housing applicants? Given the Construction Industry Federation’s strike against mixed housing and that we have abused the 5% provision is it realistic that somehow people will automatically be able to get houses? We need exactly what Deputy Gilmore has proposed. We need to replace the supplement system, which is degrading, and blocking people from entering the [1587]workforce and improving themselves. There is a clear discrimination against two people living together where because of the income of one, both are penalised.

With regard to the scarce resource that is land, it is also clear that the Government should use the resources it has in such surplus. If it can give €3 billion to those who do not need it, can it not give instructions and a plan to local authorities to acquire the land and build the houses that social housing applicants need?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Is it not inherently wonderful and natural, as they smugly bump off each other, that 29% of housing in the city I live in is now in the private sector. How controlled is that private sector? I can tell the Government that even in terms of building standards, it is uninspected and below standard. People are told they should be glad to have anything and if they open their [1588]mouths or go to work, they lose their rental supplement. They are told to simply put up with what they have. That is what is creating a huge underclass in terms of housing in this country, and a terrible price will be paid for it.

I was a Member of this Oireachtas between 1973 and 1977 and had the privilege to be a Minister at a Cabinet table, and the excuse that was always given for the good things people wanted was that we did not have resources. This Government has had endless resources, opportunities and time. It has betrayed the most vulnerable people because it is presiding over an entire retreat from social housing. It is encouraging local authorities to retreat from social housing and creating an atmosphere in which the last thing city and county managers want to have is tenants. That is why they are failing in regard to tenant management, housing estate management and upgrading the basic housing that people need and that should be regarded as a right.

Amendment put.

[1587]The Dáil divided: Tá, 64; Níl, 57.

Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Ahern, Noel. Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  Andrews, Barry.
Information on Seán Ardagh  Zoom on Seán Ardagh  Ardagh, Seán. Information on Niall Blaney  Zoom on Niall Blaney  Blaney, Niall.
Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Brady, Johnny. Information on Martin Brady  Zoom on Martin Brady  Brady, Martin.
Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  Browne, John. Information on Joe Callanan  Zoom on Joe Callanan  Callanan, Joe.
Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Callely, Ivor. Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Carey, Pat.
Information on John Carty  Zoom on John Carty  Carty, John. Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Cassidy, Donie.
Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Coughlan, Mary. Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  Cowen, Brian.
Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John. Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Cullen, Martin.
Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  Curran, John. Information on Síle de Valera  Zoom on Síle de Valera  de Valera, Síle.
Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  Dempsey, Noel. Information on Tony Dempsey  Zoom on Tony Dempsey  Dempsey, Tony.
Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  Dennehy, John. Information on Jimmy Devins  Zoom on Jimmy Devins  Devins, Jimmy.
Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  Finneran, Michael. Information on Dermot Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Dermot Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Information on Mildred Fox  Zoom on Mildred Fox  Fox, Mildred. Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
Information on Noel Grealish  Zoom on Noel Grealish  Grealish, Noel. Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Hanafin, Mary.
Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán. Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire.
Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  Jacob, Joe. Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  Keaveney, Cecilia.
Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy. Information on Peter Kelly  Zoom on Peter Kelly  Kelly, Peter.
Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Seamus. Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  Kitt, Tom.
Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Lenihan, Brian. Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  Lenihan, Conor.
Information on Tom McEllistrim  Zoom on Tom McEllistrim  McEllistrim, Thomas. Information on Donal Moynihan  Zoom on Donal Moynihan  Moynihan, Donal.
Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael. Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  Mulcahy, Michael.
Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  Nolan, M. J. Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  O’Connor, Charlie.
Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Liz. Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Denis.
Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  O’Flynn, Noel. Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Batt.
Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  O’Malley, Fiona. Information on Tim O'Malley  Zoom on Tim O'Malley  O’Malley, Tim.
Information on Tom Parlon  Zoom on Tom Parlon  Parlon, Tom. Information on Peter Power  Zoom on Peter Power  Power, Peter.
Information on Seán Power  Zoom on Seán Power  Power, Seán. Information on Mae Sexton  Zoom on Mae Sexton  Sexton, Mae.
Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  Smith, Brendan. Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Smith, Michael.
Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Treacy, Noel. Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Wallace, Mary.
Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Walsh, Joe. Information on Ollie Wilkinson  Zoom on Ollie Wilkinson  Wilkinson, Ollie.
Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Woods, Michael. Information on G. V. Wright  Zoom on G. V. Wright  Wright, G. V.

Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  Boyle, Dan. Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat.
Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P. Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard.
Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Burton, Joan. Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul.
Information on Paudge Connolly  Zoom on Paudge Connolly  Connolly, Paudge. Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  Costello, Joe.
Information on Jerry Cowley  Zoom on Jerry Cowley  Cowley, Jerry. Information on Sean Crowe  Zoom on Sean Crowe  Crowe, Seán.
Information on Ciaran Cuffe  Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe  Cuffe, Ciarán. Information on John Deasy  Zoom on John Deasy  Deasy, John.
Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy. Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Enright, Olwyn.
Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin. Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Gilmore, Eamon.
Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  Gormley, John. Information on Tony Gregory  Zoom on Tony Gregory  Gregory, Tony.
Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  [1589]Hayes, Tom. Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  Healy, Seamus.
Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Higgins, Michael D. Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Howlin, Brendan.
Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul. Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Kenny, Enda.
Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen. Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  McCormack, Pádraic.
Information on Shane McEntee  Zoom on Shane McEntee  McEntee, Shane. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  McGrath, Finian. Information on Paul McGrath  Zoom on Paul McGrath  McGrath, Paul.
Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  McManus, Liz. Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  Morgan, Arthur.
Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda. Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  Murphy, Catherine.
Information on Gerard Murphy  Zoom on Gerard Murphy  Murphy, Gerard. Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis.
Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan. Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Jim.
Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  O’Shea, Brian. Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Jan.
Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Pattison, Seamus. Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie.
Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John. Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Rabbitte, Pat.
Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Ring, Michael. Information on Eamon Ryan  Zoom on Eamon Ryan  Ryan, Eamon.
Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  Ryan, Seán. Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Sargent, Trevor.
Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  Sherlock, Joe. Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín.
Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Stagg, Emmet. Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David.
Information on Liam Twomey  Zoom on Liam Twomey  Twomey, Liam. Information on Mary Upton  Zoom on Mary Upton  Upton, Mary.
Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Wall, Jack.  

[1589]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Stagg and Neville.

[1589]Amendment declared carried.

Question, “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to”, put and declared carried.

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