No new ideas from FF on homeless, says Focus Ireland
Focus Ireland ran a campaign last year seeking the commitment from all politcal parties that the homelessness issue would be included in their general election manifestos. The issues raised were:
* a commitment to continue with the homeless strategy
* a commitment to set new target dates within the strategy to end long-term homelessness
* to legislate for the right to aftercare
* to introduce a funding line for long-term housing support
* to introduce a new Youth Homelessness Strategy
* to introduce a national count of homelessness - on the lines of Counted in
* to make it easier for people to transfer from Rent supplement to the Rental Allowance Scheme
* to make suitable social housing available (this issue relates to a much broader range of policy than 'homelessness' so only featured in our lobbying where we considered it appropriate)
The commitments made by each of the five main political parties and the United Left Alliance on these issues are as follows:
Neither Fianna Fail nor the ULA published manifestos in the traditional form. Fianna Fail's Manifesto "The Plan" essentially reiterates the existing four year plan, emphasises Fianna Fail achievements in Government and introduces new ideas on political reform. It is notable that the significant achievements on homelessness during Fianna Fail's terms of office are not referenced. In a sense Fianna Fail's commitment is to continue doing what it has been doing, and thus Minister Finneran's undoubted commitment on the issue could be read as the party manifesto on the issue. However, as Minister Finneran will be retiring at this election and the Manifesto is silent, it is hard to draw any firm conclusions of Fianna Fails intentions or priority on this issue. The ULA is not a party but an alliance of individuals and parties, and has published a seven point 'Programme.' It would not be reasonable to expect homelessness to feature in such a high level document, though it is notable that the position of homeowners is dealt with in the programme.
Homeless Strategy and timeframe
Only the Green Party make a specific commitment to 'the full and timely implementation of The Way Home', while Fine Gael commit to 'review and update' the strategy. Neither Sinn Fein nor the Labour Party make any specific reference to the Homeless Strategy.
Three of the four parties make reference to ending long-term homelessness, while Labour only refer to 'alleviating' the problem. Only Sinn Fein commit to a two year timeframe, while the Green Party and Fine Gael give no specific timeframe.
Dedicated Funding Stream for long-term housing support
Sinn Fein commit to providing a 'dedicated revenue stream for supported accommodation for the homeless' while the Green Party commit to 'seek' to provide such a stream. The Labour Party commits to 'fund support staff to enable (formerly homeless people) to successfully maintain these tenancies over the long-term. Fine Gael are silent on this issue.
A new Youth Homelessness Strategy
Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and the Green Party all commit to preparation of a new Youth Homelessness Strategy. Labour is silent on this issue.
Sinn Fein commit to legislate to provide a right to aftercare, while the Green Party commit to 'develop a comprehensive national aftercare policy'. Fine Gael make no specific reference to Aftercare, but commit to 'implement the recommendations of the Ryan report', which emphasised the importance of access to aftercare. Labour is silent on this issue.
The Sinn Fein and Green Party commitments to a reliable annual count are clear and almost identical, Neither Fine Gael nor Labour refer to this issue.
Both Labour and the Green Party commit to helping people move faster from Rent Supplement to the Rental Allowance Scheme, while Labour make additional commitments in relation to Rent Supplement. Fine Gael propose to means test Rent Supplement so that it is no longer an unemployment trap.
Provision of Accessible housing
Only Labour and Sinn Fein make any reference to the provision of social housing in the context of homelessness, with Labour setting out detailed proposals. Fine Gael refer to social housing in the context of unfinished estates, while the Green Party refer to unfinished estates without making any reference to social housing.
Most of the manifestos make proposals in relation to maintaining the homes of mortgage holders who are in arrears. In addition Fine Gael mention the funding of services which 'cut the rate of homelessness' in the context of their proposed 'Social Investment Bonds'. This bond proposes to share the exchequer savings arising from particular social initiatives with the community/voluntary organisations which run the initiative.
Labour commits to a Housing First model to accommodate people who are homeless. Sinn Fein proposes to explore using NAMA property for housing and homeless shelters. The Green Party commits to 'continue to prioritise funding for homelessness programme.'
The commitments on ending homelessness included in the 2011 Manifesto need to be seen in the context of the historical commitments. In 2007, the only reference was a general name-checking of the 'MakeRoom' approach and those in 2002 were not much more extensive.
While there are some worrying gaps in the commitments given by the four parties which addressed the issue, there is a strong overall sense that the general approach should be to 'end long-term homelessness', although there is clearly a reluctance to place a timeframe on this at this point. Labour commitment to 'alleviate' rather than 'end' long-term homelessness is clearly a disappointment here, may be open to a stronger commitment in any 'programme for government'.
Both Labour and Fine Gael refer to an understanding that the homeless strategy makes sense not only from a social, but also a public expenditure perspective (Labour in reference to its 'comprehensive spending review' and Fine Gael in its Social Investment Bonds proposal).
The 2010 targets on ending long-term homelessness came to grief due to the failure to deliver an adequate supply of accessible housing. As noted above, the issue of general social housing provision did not feature highly in our own lobbying because of its complex and extensive nature. Nevertheless, given the historically high waiting lists for social housing, it would be expected to have emerged as a key issue in its own right. The Labour Party has a detailed section on this issue, but beyond this there is much to suggest that the simple unavailability of suitable housing may continue to undermine any other initiative to end long-term homelessness over the coming years.