There is currently much justified political commentary about our current, and growing, pension crisis. I say ‘political commentary’ because, while the matter is political in every respect, the discussion avoids the political ‘hot potato’ issues that underpin the crisis in the same way that Irish political commentary generally ignores most inconvenient truths. The inconvenient truth this time?
The labour and housing markets are both deliberately designed and constructed in a manner that can only perpetuate and grow a pension crisis.
The easy elements that make up the crisis are routinely discussed in a circular fashion that takes the issue nowhere. For example, many people quite rationally expect their state pension at age 65 and righteously oppose the age increases that have taken place. Moreover, the full pension (which not everyone gets) of €12,912 may be ‘generous’ by international standards, but it’s not that much over half of what a full time worker gets on the minimum wage (€20,685). How comfortable are the lives of our massive band of minimum-waged workers? Not very.
Laura Broxson: Do you have a management company where you live, and do you know what they do? Being stuck at home during the lockdowns gave me a huge insight as to what was going on in my estate, and more so, what our management company was not doing.
Within days of the first lockdown, I witnessed drug dealing, anti-social behaviour and a number of cars were broken in to – as well as the front door of my apartment block. Clearly the only way to eliminate all this is for a shift in society and for more resources and educational opportunities to be put in communities, but in the meantime myself and others were living in fear and needed to take action in terms of preventative measures.
“With life and work, it was easy to allow oneself be fobbed off”
Now, all the above mentioned activity obviously isn’t the fault of the management company, but myself and others had been requesting CCTV for years to at least help put people off – and we had been constantly ignored and fobbed off. With life and work, it was easy to allow oneself be fobbed off, but lockdown meant I now had the time to focus on this.
Conor McCabe: On 26 July 2021 Cork City Council called on ‘residents, workers, the business sector, community, sporting and voluntary groups in the city and beyond to have their say’ on the proposed 2022-28 Development Plan, with submissions open until 4 October. This was extremely nice of them, but it is also clear that as far as the Council is concerned all the major investment and planning decisions have already been made.
It has left a mere 12-week window from 4 October until 31 December to make any adjustments based on the ideas of the public. The decisions around transport, housing, the docklands, and other so-called regeneration projects are years in the making and have already been signed off on at local and national level.
Bernadette Maughan: Three reports published this year investigating conditions faced by the Travelling community in Ireland have once again brought to the fore a structural prejudice that has existed for decades (see, for example, this report on the experience of Travellers in the mainstream labour market). The most stark report, published by the Ombudsman for Children,No End in Site, described the living conditions on one site in Co Cork. Despite Cork County Council’s attempt to defend the lack of progress, the reality is that it is not an isolated case. In fact, it is the lived reality for the Travelling community on many sites across the country.
Laura Broxson: Driving is a life skill. Whether you want to get your own car or not, having a driver’s licence gives you options both at home and when on holiday. But when you took your driving lessons, did you give any thought to what’s involved in being an ADI (Approved Driving Instructor)? I know I didn’t, and it’s more complex than you would think.
A common question I get asked is: do we work for the RSA (Road Safety Authority)? No. We just do our exams with them, like members of the public would for driving tests. For those that don’t know, the RSA is a state agency formed by the Irish Government to promote road safety within the Republic of Ireland.
Brian McLoughlin: Last week brought homeless soup runs to the forefront of the media as long-time soup runs The Homeless Street Café and Friends Helping Friends received visits from the HSE Environmental Health section prior to setting up their tables for the week. The HSE workers informed them that an inspection regarding food safety compliance was unsatisfactory. They were provided with a list of steps that need to be taken and informed that failure to comply “may result in formal enforcement action being initiated by the HSE”. These included a hand sanitising station, monitoring food temperatures and using HSE-approved kitchens. The HSE also informed them that they were being classified as a food business/charity despite being neither.
The case for including animal rights in ‘left’ campaigns
Laura Broxson: Animal rights, often last on the list of social justice campaigns, is actually where I began my journey as a ‘left’ activist, over eighteen years ago. With almost 120 million – yes, million – animals killed in slaughterhouses in Ireland in 2020, according to figures obtained from the Department of Agriculture following an FOI request, isn’t it time we included a fight against speciesism in our campaigns?
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how catastrophic zoonotic diseases can be for the human population, and has made a lot of individuals re-evaluate their choices in terms of what they consume. Climate change has also resulted in a reflection in this regard. But let’s take away pandemics and climate change, and look at this from a purely anti-speciesist perspective.
Brian McLoughlin: In March 2017, then housing minister Simon Coveney officially opened the first family hub in Dublin for families experiencing homelessness. He said this was a response to the negative experiences of homeless families being accommodated in commercial hotels. Coveney then confidently stated that the use of commercial hotels to accommodate homeless families would end in July 2017.
In Inner City Helping Homeless, we knew this was yet another empty promise that couldn’t possibly be delivered, but Coveney persisted with the publicity tour. When asked by The Journal if he really thought the goal of no longer using hotels for homeless families was achievable, he stuck to his guns that it was possible and that people were working hard to make it happen.
Fast forward four years, and the use of commercial hotels and B&Bs for homeless families continues as more and more hotels pop up around the city. A recent DRHE report stated that in April 2021 there were 113 families still being accommodated in commercial hotels. Families cramped in to one room with their children, their children’s toys, school books – all at a huge cost to the state. While we were all told to stay at home during Covid-19, these families had to spend day after day sharing one room, putting huge mental health pressure on both the children and their parents. It is well documented that living in emergency accommodation impacts a child’s development, creating physical and mental health issues for children in primary school. Homelessness is creating a trauma for a generation of children, and we will be seeing the fallout of this for years to come.
“There’s nothing nice about how I feel” – Charlie, aged 6
In 2019, the Ombudsman for Children brought out a report called No Place Like Home. For the report, they spoke to children living in emergency accommodation, from small children right up to teenagers. They asked them to explain what life for them was like in their own words, and some of the answers would break a heart made of stone. Children feeling like they were prisoners and were being punished when all they are guilty of is becoming homeless in a country that would rather pay huge money to hotels, B&Bs and family hubs than develop a proper public housing building plan to give these children homes. When asked what they liked about where they live, the answers spoke for themselves:
“I like nothing about living here, I have none of my friends here, I can’t do a sleep over … [it] makes me feel sad. There’s nothing nice about how I feel”. (Charlie, aged 6)
“It’s like a prison …. It’s just horrible” – Rebecca, aged 10
“The rules are very strict. The worst is that you are not allowed to have friends in your room. They just expect you to sit on your own. And not being allowed to be anywhere without your mam, you’re not even allowed to sit in the room for ten minutes by yourself. I know it has safety issues but nothing is going to happen … If we break the rules we will get kicked out. It’s like a prison … it’s just horrible”. (Rebecca, aged 10)
“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up” – Rachel, aged 10
“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up because I didn’t want to face this day … I am tired in school. Some days I would just sit there and not even smile”. (Rachel, aged 10)
When there are ten-year-old children having suicidal thoughts we as a society are failing these children. Many speak of not being allowed to have visitors or sleep-overs – even prisoners are allowed to have visitors. Why are we allowing this?
“Children … were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room”
In 2018, Temple Street Children’s Hospital experienced a big spike in children being released to ‘No Fixed Abode’ and wrote a report on the impact of homelessness on children. The report stated that homeless children are most likely to get sick from their cramped accommodation. The main reasons children presented to Temple Street were burns (kettles in hotel rooms), scabies from dodgy mattresses, injuries from falls, and respiratory issues. Even more shocking is the fact that homeless children were not developing quickly enough: they were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room and even the development of their swallow was effected due to the food they were having to eat as their parents had no available cooking facilities. Research shows that homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life, from conception to young adulthood, and that the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural development of children.
“As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years”
These children are this country’s future generations, and they are being let down over and over again by an incompetent government who lack empathy, compassion and vision. A government which continues to outsource state responsibilities to private developers, vulture funds, commercial hotels, B&Bs and privately-operated hostels. Not only do we have a government who lack empathy and compassion, but they are also economically incompetent. Report after report has highlighted what we are doing to children’s development by keeping them in emergency accommodation. As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years.
And what does family emergency accommodation cost? What is the price the taxpayer pays to put children into these environments that cause so much pain?
Fact: it costs more to accommodate a family in emergency accommodation than in a luxury apartment
The figure for accommodating a family of four in emergency accommodation for a year is a staggering €69,000-€80,000. To put a family in one room, to put a huge strain on the mental and physical health of both the children and their parents. For context, American real estate fund Kennedy Wilson are renting out units in Dublin’s Capitol Dock Development, originally marketed as Dublin’s Most Desirable Address. On-site amenities include a concierge service, gym, fitness studio, business lounge, residents’ lounge, chef’s kitchen and a cinema room. Nearly half of these apartments are vacant today, potential homes sitting empty as families struggle through life in emergency accommodation. And the cost of renting one of these apartments is considerably less than what the taxpayer is paying per family for emergency accommodation. The biggest unit in the Capitol Dock building is a three-bed and the monthly cost is €4,017-€4,410. This is between €20,000 and €30,000 cheaper annually than putting a homeless family into a hotel or B&B for the year. Is this acceptable to people?
We owe it to these children to fight for them, to tell the government that we will no longer accept their hyperbole and broken promises. These children deserve a safe and secure home, something stated in the original constitution, and we have gotten further and further away from that in the last ten years. We all need to work together to get a referendum on the Right to Housing, and as Covid restrictions lift we need to see feet on the street for water-charges-level protests to shame the government into immediate action.
As the Manic Street Preachers song says, If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next.
Brian McLoughlin is Head of Communications for Inner City Helping Homeless and one of the four contributors to Unite’s Take Four group blog, along with Conor McCabe, Ber Grogan and Laura Broxson.
Conor McCabe: On 14 October 2015 Taoiseach Enda Kenny stood up in the Dáil to speak against government intervention to tackle the rising cost of rents.‘It is very clear that interference in the market to its detriment is not something that we should do’ he said, adding that ‘if you interfere in the wrong way you make the matters worse’.
It is no surprise to anyone that Fine Gael is a right-wing neoliberal party, so his comments while shocking were not entirely unexpected.
However, there is a wider context to his remarks, one that shows that what is at play here is not just ideology but the protection of a state-sponsored strategy that has led to profits of hundreds of millions of euros for private investors, to the detriment of social cohesion and stability.
When Kenny stood up in the Dáil to denounce rent freezes, it had been two years since Fine Gael and Labour had introduced legislation to allow Real Estate Investment Trusts [REITs] to operate in Ireland.
They had done so on the suggestion of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), which had been a champion of REITs since at least 2009. ‘NAMA executives have been talking about a REIT structure for over two years’ wrote the Irish Independent in 2013, ‘but sign-off from the Government is absolutely essential for such an event to happen.’
The motor trade is suffering from a lack of regulation. How has it got to this point and what needs to change?
Jimi Donohoe, Chair, Unite Mechanics Branch: Motor mechanics were once held in high esteem and valued as skilled workers but over time that has changed. I spoke to an old stalwart whom I worked alongside during my apprenticeship recently and he recounted how “blessed” he was to get an apprenticeship to become a mechanic when he finished school back in 1958. I remember an old black and white photograph he showed me when I was serving my time and it was of him and his workmates standing proudly outside the workshop. Cars were still a commodity back then, a luxury only a well-off family could afford. The novelty of owning a vehicle would have shaped a different picture of mechanics than the one we are familiar with today.