That Dáil Éireann:
— the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19;
— the necessity of shutting down non-essential economic activity to prevent the spread of viral infection and to save thousands of lives;
— the loss of income suffered by many households, through no fault of their own, notwithstanding extraordinary measures taken to offset these;
— that many households will have been unable to keep up with rent or mortgage payments during the period of lockdown;
— that accumulated debt from rent or mortgage payments will suddenly crystallise for many households once the economy reopens and current exceptional protections are removed; and
— that the ban on rent increases and evictions during the pandemic has led to a decrease in the number of people presenting as homeless; and
calls on the Government to:
— ensure that no one becomes homeless or suffers penalty charges due to an inability to meet rent or mortgage payments during the lockdown period;
— introduce an extended moratorium on rent increases and evictions until there is sufficient supply of new housing;
— ensure there is a specific provision in law to protect people threatened with eviction due to rent or mortgage arrears accrued during the pandemic;
— establish a State scheme to substantially reduce rent-related debt that has accrued through no fault of households who were unable to pursue their livelihoods during the period of lockdown;
— stop the banks from charging penalties or surcharges on mortgage arrears accrued during the pandemic; and
— clearly state what other actions the Government will take to alleviate the situation of housing-related debt caused by the Covid-19 lockdown on the economy.
Tá mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis an Teachta Nash. The Minister will know that during the general election, which feels like an awfully long time ago, housing was one of the issues most often raised on doorsteps. While the Covid-19 pandemic has taken many people's minds off the housing crisis in this State, in many ways it has just pulled a plaster over the reality of housing need in this country. We wish to speak about those who rent and those who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
I know that the Minister will appreciate that we have had a dysfunctional housing market for many years. In a European context, Ireland depends disproportionately on the private sector. As we have said and will continue to say for as long as anyone is willing to hear us, the market has no conscience. The private sector has a profit motive. As such, we should not allow people in housing need to depend on the market or rely disproportionately on the private sector. We in the Labour Party strongly believe that the State has to take its role seriously. The State should provide housing and those who are renting should be able to depend on the State to have their backs.
The Labour Party has some very simple suggestions. Last night I spoke about the need for a rent-to-buy scheme. It is impossible for young couples or individuals to rent and save simultaneously. We have had such schemes in the past and the State should support them in the future. Unfortunately, there has been a sense in recent years that the State, the Government or the Department do not want to intervene in the market. We have to intervene. It has been shown time and time again that the market fails consistently when it comes to housing people. We should not go through another of the cycles we have witnessed in the past 20 years or so.
The Labour Party wants the Minister to agree to a State support scheme for rental arrears; legal protection from eviction because of rent or mortgage arrears; an extension of the moratorium on rent increases and evictions; and a ban on bank penalties for mortgage arrears. My colleagues will speak about other areas. I wish to speak about the need for a State support scheme for rental arrears. I want to outline to the Minister who renters are. Before I touch on that, I again remind the Minister that we have a low-pay economy. That is what we have constructed. That is what this economic recovery is based upon. As my colleague, Deputy Nash, frequently reminds this House, 23% of Irish workers were in low-paid work before Covid-19 according to the OECD. About 40% of people under the age of 30 are in insecure work. Someone on low pay can only get accommodation of a low standard. If someone is in insecure work, his or her accommodation is also insecure. The labour market, the rental market and the housing market are interlinked and we cannot divorce them.
I will speak about the State support scheme for rental arrears that we want and why we want it. Let us think about younger workers, to whom I have already alluded. Younger workers are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 lay-offs. Approximately 60% of those aged 18 to 19 are out of work and 47% of those aged 20 to 24 are out of work. Over the weekend Mr. James Doorley of the National Youth Council noted that youth unemployment in Ireland now stands at 45%. Younger workers are also much more likely to live in rented accommodation. Some 30% of those aged between 20 and 24 and 42% of those aged between 25 and 34 are renting.
Job losses have also occurred in sectors where a large number of workers rent. Renters account for 38% of workers in the accommodation and food sectors, 28% of workers in the administration and support sector, 27% of retail workers, 23% of those who work in the arts, and 21% of those who work in construction. Huge numbers of people whose lives and livelihoods have been hugely affected by the current crisis are in rented accommodation. Around 200,000 renters are in the sectors most severely affected by job losses. Essentials make up about 40% of a renter's total spending. The comparable figure for owner-occupiers is just 36%. Renters lead a more difficult life. They are less able to weather storms, including this one. Are we going to leave them to the market and the private sector or are we going to provide them with the protection of the State? That is where the Minister comes in.
Departmental figures from May show that the number of people who are in debt, are renting and have low-paid jobs is still very high. As I have outlined, low-skilled and low-wage jobs are disproportionately held by young people, migrant workers and female workers. There is an equality dimension to this. Supports such as interest-free loans or tax credits for renters are necessary to alleviate debt built up as a result of job losses. This is going to last for years. While we may come out of the immediate health crisis, its effects are going to last for quite a long time, as the Minister knows.
Threshold has created a profile of the renters impacted by Covid-19. Younger single people make up about 60% of the callers seeking assistance from Threshold. Some 69% of those calling have reported losing their homes as a result of Covid-19. Many callers did not know about rent supplements. If a tenant leaves a house share, the remaining tenants become liable for larger rents. There has been a significant increase in queries regarding arrears. Couples and families are disproportionately affected and one-parent families experience a secondary effect.
In putting forward this motion, we are outlining very clearly to the Minister that the demographic in question, namely, people who rent, was already suffering under the economic model we have pursued. We are living in an economy where a disproportionate amount of the income people accrue is spent on accommodation. I think the Minister will acknowledge that. As I understand it, nowhere else in Europe is as high a portion of people's income spent on accommodation by way of either mortgages or rent. We are now in a situation where the collapse in employment is disproportionately affecting those who have been renting. Those people need protections from the State against the excesses of the market, which has no conscious, and the excesses of the private sector, which has a profit motive. That is where the Minister comes in.
My colleague, Deputy Nash, will touch on other issues and we would appreciate the Minister's feedback on all of them. The last thing we need in this Dáil is for Labour Party Deputies or any other Members to come into the Chamber to give valid suggestions only for the Minister to do what Governments have traditionally done, which is to put down an amendment and we all walk away having achieved nothing. Our objective is that people who are witnessing their lives falling apart can look at this Parliament and see a group of people who are working for them and not just playing the game. We in the Labour Party have no interest in playing the game. Our interest is in representing people, getting things over the line and setting up schemes that will affect people's lives in a positive way. All of those things are in the gift of the Minister. We want to know whether he is going to stand by the State or stand by the market. Will he stand by the public sector and public provision of housing or will he stand by private provision, which, as we have seen, has failed time and time again? We very much want the Minister to deal with our motion in the spirit in which it is presented. We are solutions-driven and we are not here to play games. We are here to find real housing solutions for the people of this country.