We have been making the point for quite a long time that the cap on rent supplements is driving more and more people into homelessness. This report would seem to justify our worries in that regard. The survey carried out by the Simon Community found, startlingly, that seven out of eight properties available for rent are priced beyond the reach of those in receipt of rent support. In the case of single people, 99 out of 100 properties are beyond the reach of those in receipt of rent support. In the case of a couple, 98 out of 100 properties are beyond the reach of those in receipt of rent support. In the case of a couple with two children, 97 out of 100 properties are simply beyond their reach.
As the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, is aware, we have a very severe housing crisis which has given rise to a situation where 3,143 people are living in emergency accommodation, including almost 1,200 children. Unfortunately, that does not tell the whole story. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Many people in this country for one reason or another, sometimes due to lack of space or other reasons, are not in emergency accommodation but are living with relatives in completely unsuitable conditions such as overcrowding or circumstances where babies or young children are living in the same household as very old people.
I know the Minister of State will be busy from now to the election, but if he had time I would take him on a tour of my constituency. I would take him into house after house in Limerick city where those conditions pertain. In many of those houses he would find that patience is literally at breaking point. The tensions involved in such situations are enormous. It is difficult to imagine a worse possible environment in which to rear children, and many young children are in such unsuitable accommodation.
The Government will be aware that since the previous cap was put on rent supplement, rents have increased by almost 20%, taking them beyond the reach of more and more people who are entitled to rent supplement. In response to me in the House, the Minister for Social Protection did undertake to introduce an element of flexibility into the rent supplement scheme.
She circulated a letter to the managers of all labour exchanges throughout the country. However, I have come across many cases in which flexibility is not being extended and people who are even slightly over the limit are not being accommodated. It is totally at the discretion of the local social welfare officer. Rents are increasing dramatically, for example, they increased by 8% in the first quarter of 2015, which means that more people will not be accommodated. The further one is above the limit the less likely it is that flexibility can be applied, even if the social welfare officer is well disposed. Will the Government re-examine this issue? The ideal solution would be to increase rent supplement. In the absence of this, will the Government re-examine the way flexibility is being applied in practice? What is its position on the application of flexibility under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, under which more people are being accommodated?