I thank the committee for agreeing to meet us in order to discuss our #RestoreTheYouthSafetynet campaign. We have made recommendations to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on restoring the full adult rate jobseeker’s allowance to disadvantaged young jobseekers. My colleague, Mr. Gordon Hill, is the senior manager of Crosscare's homeless services and I am the policy officer for the Crosscare migrant project. Our aim is to convince members of the importance of this issue and the need to scrutinise policy on this, particularly with the upcoming 2020 budget. The aim of the campaign is to remove the barriers to young people surviving independently without family supports and to prevent consistent poverty and homelessness.
Crosscare has been the social support agency of the Dublin Archdiocese for the past 75 years. It works with people in the most vulnerable and marginalised situations. We provide services in youth work, homelessness, community supports and food poverty. Crosscare’s work with young adults experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness since the introduction of the reduced age-related jobseeker’s allowance rates in 2014 has driven our campaign to raise awareness of the unfair and adverse impact they are having on people's lives. Adults aged under 26 who are unemployed and surviving independently without recourse to family or financial supports to supplement their living expenses are particularly at risk of falling into a poverty trap and long-term homelessness.
The lower rates of jobseeker’s allowance, at €112.70 weekly for adults aged between 18 and 24 and €157.80 for adults aged 25, are much too low and unsustainable for young adults who are homeless or living independently and struggling to access work, training or education. They are forced to manage paying the same bills and living costs as jobseekers aged over 26 and are becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty. For some, it can be detrimental to their well-being. Their capacity to sustain independent living is being sabotaged by an age-discriminatory and debilitating policy. This policy is essentially working against the Government’s social inclusion commitments.
Fundamentally, Crosscare supports full restoration of the full adult jobseeker's rate for all adults under 26 years on the basis of equal rights. Young people, in particular, are the most adversely impacted on by this policy. Crosscare's pre-budget submissions to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019 provided an evidence based analysis of young adults adversely affected by age-related payments. We recommended restoration of the full adult rate of jobseeker's allowance for all adults under 26 years, in particular, young adults who are the most impacted on by this policy. Each year the Government in the budget has failed to address this issue or recognise the significant adverse impact this age-discriminatory policy is having on the young people in question. Crosscare, therefore, continues to advocate for a review of age-related jobseeker's allowance, specifically for two key groups identified as being particularly disadvantaged. The first group comprises young people with international protection who have moved out of direct provision accommodation and are living independently. They often have come through devastating experiences and family separation. Their first introduction to life in Ireland is in a direct provision hostel, where they are dependent on it to provide food and facilities. Many are learning English and will go to a secondary school or community college. When they receive permission to remain in Ireland, they are sent on their way to fend for themselves. They do not receive any guidance or support to secure a tenancy or an income. Organisations and services such as the Crosscare Refugee Service can provide some support in accessing services and entitlements. However, the young people in question do not have support networks or family to support them emotionally or financially through this transition. For those who have a language barrier and are learning English, the experience is all the more isolating, intimidating and frustrating. Their first step is to find accommodation from a private landlord when they face various prejudices and disadvantages in competing with other renters. They can experience delays in accessing the housing assistance payment, HAP, or rent supplement and rent in advance. They will not have previous landlord references and in Dublin, in particular, will struggle to find any good quality accommodation that will accept the HAP or a reasonable rent within HAP rates. Many are left in limbo in direct provision hostels, delaying their overall integration and opportunities to participate in education, training or work. More recently, direct provision accommodation is being closed down in Dublin and people are being accommodated outside it, further isolating them from Dublin based support services such as the Crosscare Refugee Service which has noticed a reduction in the number of young adults accessing the service in the past year.
The second group comprises young people who are unable to live with family and experiencing homelessness. They often have experienced family difficulties and can no longer live with them. They do not have alternative support networks but are "housing-ready" and want to sustain independent living. They may be dealing with personal, family or social problems, as recognised in both the national action plan for social inclusion and the youth homelessness strategy. Some young adults may have mental health, confidence or social support needs, which may impede their capacity to take up work or participate in training or education. They are forced to manage their independent living expenses on a much lower rate of jobseeker's allowance, putting them at a further disadvantage and at risk of living in consistent poverty. Jobseeker supports and training opportunities through Intreo services have been designed as activation measures to engage adults under 25 years, with the aim of ensuring they are made an offer within four months of becoming unemployed. This policy does not allow for the circumstances some young people experience or where they are at personally in terms of their capacity to engage. Activation measures are also restricted by age, availability, educational attainment and length of time on social welfare payments. The weekly rent of those staying in emergency accommodation can be anything between €30 and €50, which is much higher than the weekly HAP or rent supplement payment of €10 to €20. Some of these adults also pay maintenance for their children, a cost that is not deducted from their jobseeker's allowance means assessment. For some, the combined cost in terms of their income of €112.70 per week leaves them with less than €50 per week to meet basic living costs. The transition to private rented accommodation in Dublin is further hampered by the ongoing housing crisis and high rents. Additionally, like the first group, the second group is competing for HAP tenancies and will be at a disadvantage being on the lower age-related allowance. They will remain extensively longer in emergency accommodation until they can transition to an alternative primary payment.
There are nine individuals residing in Crosscare hostels in Dublin who are under 26 years and receiving the lower rate of jobseeker's allowance. They include three females and six males, all of whom must pay a weekly fee to stay in the hostel and are experiencing extreme disadvantage in securing rented accommodation that is realistic for their budget while on the HAP and that will push them back into debt and homelessness once again. Crosscare has identified these individuals as being at higher risk of long-term homelessness and unemployment while trapped on an unsustainable lower rate of jobseeker's allowance.
Crosscare, with partner organisations - the National Youth Council of Ireland, the Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness, the Union of Students in Ireland, SpunOut, Treoir's teen parents support programme and Uplift - started a campaign over a year ago to raise awareness of young adults experiencing homelessness and poverty traps. The #Restoretheyouthsafetynet campaign started a petition with two animated videos produced by Crosscare staff and service users to gain support from the public for our recommendations for inclusion in budget 2019. The petition had more than 1,900 signatures and we presented it at a photocall outside Leinster House on 4 October. However, the budget announcements did not bring about any change to support this group of adults. Following this, we sent our submission to the committee in January this year. The campaign group advocates that the age-related jobseeker's allowance policy is based on an unfair assumption that young jobseekers have fewer needs and lower costs than older jobseekers, but that this is disguised as an "incentive" to young adults to find employment or enrol in training or education courses. This one-size-fits-all policy approach is not cognisant of the nuances of young people's needs. It is, in fact, discriminatory and resulting in groups of young adults being put at risk, left behind in the economic recovery and in a society that does not hear their voice.
There is an option that is open to the Government to review this policy and protect these groups of young adults fairly within the jobseeker's allowance exceptions to the age-related rates for a number of groups of young adults. These exceptions are already made. They include people with dependent children living with them; people who have left State care and do not qualify for the aftercare allowance - this was amended in last year's budget; and people transferring from disability allowance to jobseeker's allowance. These three groups have exceptional needs that have been recognised and are, therefore, provided with a more appropriate full adult rate payment. The two groups concerned in our submission are missing from the exceptional categories in the assessment of age-related jobseeker's allowance. We advocate the extension of the recognised exceptions to the age-related payments for adults under 25 years who are experiencing homelessness, people at risk of becoming homeless and those living independently with international protection. We ask the Government to issue the full adult rate of €203 per week to these groups of adults. That would support young adults in moving out of homelessness and sustaining independent living. It would prevent the risk of isolation and living in consistent poverty and enable them to start on a path towards achieving their full potential. Furthermore, in the absence of reliable research and data for the adults affected, we recommend a Government investment in accurate data collection and research to ensure an accurate poverty impact assessment for this group. Ireland has a duty to leave no one, especially those at risk, behind in our economic recovery and, in compliance with the national action plan for social inclusion, to protect those who are experiencing disadvantage.
I thank the committee for its interest in the campaign. I ask members to consider the issues raised and support our recommendations to the Department to restore the youth safety net.