I remind members of the joint committee that in order for this meeting to be duly constituted, they are required to join the meeting remotely from within the defined precincts of the Leinster House campus. Apologies have been received from Senator Róisín Garvey. I ask members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the recording equipment. As members are participating remotely from their offices, I ask them to click on the raised hand icon, at any point, if they wish to contribute during the proceedings of the meeting and to remain on mute until such time as I call them to speak.
The main item on our agenda is a discussion on the parliamentary budget cycle and this committee's consideration of submitting its own pre-budget submission to the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Minister for Social Protection in advance of the autumn budget. The committee has taken the decision that it will specifically submit proposals to Government for consideration as part of the budget 2022 process. Not only will we look at the spending measures but specific recommendations on how to deliver programmes across the Department of Social Protection, which has responsibility for community, rural development and the islands. In this regard the committee recently advertised for public submissions. I thank the stakeholders, groups and individuals who have submitted proposals. These will be hugely beneficial to us in our deliberations. This morning, we will hear from two of the stakeholder groups - the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Family Carers Ireland. Their representatives will give us a further insight into the submissions that we have received.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul throughout the entirety of the pandemic has quietly and professionally provided essential supports, to enhance the supports they traditionally provide, to families right across this country to support the most vulnerable and low-income households in communities. The society received, on average, 440 requests for help every single day during 2020 and, in the first three months of this year, demand increased to 500 requests every day for urgent assistance from individuals and families. Research commissioned by the society has shown that 43% of people reported experiencing at least one form of financial strain due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a quarter of them cut back on food or utilities, and 14% are behind with paying bills.
In terms of Family Carers Ireland, there are over 500,000 family carers in Ireland so that is one in every three households. As I have said before, carers are the hidden leg of the health service yet they are often forgotten about. In the past 14 months the pandemic has been incredibly difficult for family carers. It is not just the worry that the vulnerable person or persons being cared for will get sick but if the carer gets sick as a result of Covid then, for example, the older person being cared for or the person with a disability will be forced into hospital or long-term care thus putting further pressure on the already overstretched health system. With that in mind, and in addition to their written submissions, the findings from Family Carers Ireland's survey, entitled Caring Through Covid that explored the experience of 1,307 family carers during the Covid-19 pandemic, will also be examined. I welcome Dr. Tricia Keilthy, head of social justice and policy, and Ms Issy Petrie, research and policy officer, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; and, Ms Clare Duffy, policy and public affairs manager, and Ms Catherine Cox, head of communications and policy, Family Carers Ireland. They are all very welcome.
Members of the committees and the Houses have absolute privilege in respect of the statements made before either House of the Oireachtas or before the committee. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses present on the precincts of Leinster House are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are required to give to the committee.
If, in the course of committee proceedings, a witness is directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and he or she continues to do so, he or she is entitled, thereafter, only to qualified privilege in respect of his or her evidence. The witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, a person outside the House, or, an official, by name or in such a way to make him or her identifiable.
I call on Ms Petrie to make her opening statement.