That Seanad Éireann:
- the most recent Central Statistics Office, CSO, survey of income and living conditions that shows the number of households suffering deprivation has risen from 24.5% in 2011 to 30.5% in 2013 and the number living in consistent poverty has risen from 6.9% to 8.2%; and
- that the CSO also shows that the levels of deprivation and persistent poverty among one-parent families are even worse as the number of one-parent families suffering deprivation has risen by 13.7% in just one year to 63.2% in 2013 and the number living in consistent poverty has risen from 17.4% to 23% in the same period;
- the consistent rise in poverty, deprivation and hardship among families in Ireland that has resulted in up to 5,000 families and children being homeless and housed in temporary accommodation across cities and towns; and
- the policies that have created a situation where the latest statistics from 2013 show that 12% of children aged 0-17 years are living in consistent poverty, up more than 137,000 from 9.9% in 2012 and double the 6 per cent figure of 2008;
and calls for:
- urgent action to be taken to reduce the number of children being housed in emergency hotel accommodation;
- all local authorities to prioritise renovations to houses that need refurbishment in order that children can be taken out of emergency hotel accommodation;
- funding to be made available to implement the recommendations from the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, particularly to enable short-term and co-ordinated actions to be taken to deliver more housing for families;
- an emergency building programme to directly build, as a matter of urgency, more social and affordable housing; and
- to increase rent support to a level that ensures no one is made homeless or forced into poverty by unaffordable accommodation costs.
I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his election. With my Kerry connections, I am delighted to a see a Kerryman in the position. I wish him the best of luck for the coming term.
I propose the motion on behalf of my Fianna Fáil colleagues, as we believe the scandal of over 2,000 homeless children in the State needs to be addressed and resolved immediately. I thank the Minister of State for making himself available to listen to this debate.
At a pre-budget submission by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul yesterday, it was noted that it received, on average, 2,300 calls per week from families that requird its assistance to meet essential basic costs such as heating, food and clothing and that at a time of growth and recovery. One in nine children is living in consistent poverty, which means that these children live in households where the income is below 60% of the national median income. Children in lone-parent households are at particular risk of consistent poverty and deprivation and this deprivation can mean going 24 hours without a substantial meal, or being cold owing to the fact that the parent cannot afford to heat the home.
Given these increases in poverty levels, homelessness among families has risen to what is now accepted to be a crisis level. As I mentioned, more than 2,000 children are without a home and in emergency accommodation. This figure does not include the many more thousands living in overcrowded homes and thousands more still are one small step away from losing their homes. Urgent action is needed to end the practice of housing homeless families in hotel rooms. In recent weeks Focus Ireland warned that the record number of homeless families, combined with the pressure on hotel rooms due to increased economic activity, meant that the risk of families sleeping rough had re-emerged. This is putting additional stress on parents and children in an already stressful position.
Hotel accommodation is wholly unsuitable for families, as children do not have space to play, a table on which to eat a meal or complete homework, or the privacy to develop and grow as individuals. Educators and charities supporting children living in emergency hotel accommodation report that children are not able to get a proper night's sleep and are arriving at school sleep-deprived, which naturally has a knock-on effect on their ability to learn and thrive in school. Often, hotel accommodation is far from schools and this leads to days being missed more frequently. This disruption to education has a lasting and long-term effect. Children often report they feel the stigma of homelessness more acutely owing to the fact they live in a hotel, as others who see them in their school uniform in a hotel know instantly that they are homeless.
We are all aware of the existence of empty local authority housing in our constituencies and priority must be given to refurbishing these housing units in order that families with children can be moved from hotel accommodation as quickly as possible, thereby giving these children the security of a permanent and high-quality roof over their heads. Only with this stability and security can they enjoy a happy childhood and thrive. I very much look forward to the publication of the report from the Committee on Housing and Homelessness this Friday and take the opportunity to thank the members of the committee for their diligence and commitment in the past few weeks. However, the recommendations of the committee regarding homeless families in emergency accommodation will only carry meaning and worth if the funding is provided to enable immediate and swift action; otherwise, they are moot.
It is acknowledged the lack of available housing has caused this crisis and it will only be solved on a long-term basis by the construction of more social and affordable housing. We are calling for an emergency building programme to do this. My colleague, Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, will speak further about this. Families experiencing poverty and deprivation but who are currently in private rented accommodation need to be given assistance to remain in their homes in a climate where rents are ever-increasing. It is much easier to keep a family in its home than to help a family that has lost its home.
Childhood is short. The experiences we have as children shape the adults we become. Children living in poverty and children living without the security of a permanent home live life on the margins of society. They are unable to participate fully in the cultural activity of their community and struggle to reach their educational potential. This has an impact on their health and opportunities in life. Children who have experienced homelessness are far more likely to experience homelessness as adults and find it extremely difficult to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. In the centenary year of the Easter Rising, in particular, we must ensure all children have a home to call their own. Therefore, I call on the House to support the motion.