State fails most vulnerable in society

For most people the 5th of November 2013 was a night like most other nights. Nothing that stands out or immediately comes to mind.  For people with children home, homework, supper and bed. Remarkable in its own unremarkability. But for 115 women and 155 children, home was a domestic violence refuge on the 5th November 2013. A night to remember and the night that preceded it, the night that forced them to flee from what is in the vast majority of cases the violence of men.

In January 2012 Respond opened Cuan Alainn, a Women’s Refuge based in Tallaght catering for women and their children fleeing from domestic violence in response to an identified need for the service in the area. Respond has funded the service from its own resources for the past three years, something it cannot continue to do into the future without State subvention.

“Male-on-female violence,” is according to Elaine Burnett, manager of Cuain Alainn, “classless and ageless. It respects neither location nor ethnicity, women of means or women of no means. That it happens is nothing short of shocking. That NGOs like ours are left to pick up the pieces reflects terribly on the State. That we have so few resources to do so, simply adds to the injury”.

In the last year, Respond spent €350,000 funding a centre for women and their children. From our own resources and without any subvention from the State. Without some State subvention then future normal service cannot be guaranteed. And if this centre does not survive, on any given night nine women and their children will have no place to go.

This week seven women and fourteen children are finding refuge here. The youngest: eight weeks of age. Eight weeks to encounter life’s harsh normality.

“To date a total of 49 women and 71 children have accessed our service”, a deeply frustrated Elaine Burnett stated. “We can cater for nine families at any one time. It is heart-breaking having to turn people away. Desperate people. And there is no way of knowing how many more people are out there, living in fear for their safety and that of their children.”

“The State must take its responsibility seriously and fund services for some of the most vulnerable members of our society” commented Ned Brennan, Chief Operations Officer with the Housing charity.

Women and children living in fear. And fear too, that the one place they can be sure of their safety may not remain open.

This should not happen.

Responding to Acute Levels of Educational Disadvantage on the Northside of Cork City.

Having commissioned and published a report last March charting educational disadvantage on the Northside of Cork City, Respond announces its response; the introduction of a higher level course for Cork, the QQI-Hetac Level 6 ‘Certificate in Community Studies’.

The announcement of the course follows an intensive period of research and reflection. Our report entitled ‘‘The Provision of Adult and Community Education in the Northside of Cork City”, was prepared by a team from the research body SharedInsight with colleagues from UCC. It reveals many neighbourhoods on the Northside of Cork City experience acute educational disadvantage. While on average across all age profiles about 25% of Cork City’s population are educated to degree level, in certain areas such as Knocknaheeny and Mayfield that figure falls to between 4 & 8%. This is particularly worrying as both neighbourhoods contain relatively young populations. The report also highlights the provision of Adult and Community Education programmes running on the Northside of Cork City, charting great vitality and activity in the sector. Respond Chief Operations Officer Mr. Ned Brennan commented:

‘The Certificate is designed to complement existing provision in the Northside and it will be one of only a small number of Level 6 courses available north of the river. The course will give students an opportunity to develop practical and academic skills necessary for community work. For some the course will act as a springboard to further study in university and the institutes of technology’.

Respond, under the leadership of Education Coordinator for the South and South East Dr. Lorcan Byrne, seek to complement what is already there by focusing on the provision of high calibre courses, aimed especially at community leaders and trainers, in such areas as Community Studies, Community Education, Housing Studies and related areas.

Dr Byrne commented:

‘We view adult education as one of the key pillars for ongoing regeneration programmes in Blackpool and the Northside as a whole. Education is central for realising political rights; the right to be included, the right to economic and cultural participation. Education is enabling, empowering persons to overcome social disadvantages, it builds capabilities for success. Adult education enriches the cultural, social, political and economic life of the entire community and our City’.

Respond recognises that like the flawed and unequal world in which we live, educational opportunities are unevenly distributed and those with fewest resources are often the ones given fewest educational opportunities. This course aims to make a significant contribution to overcoming those injustices. The course will run over the full academic year from September 2014 – April 2015. It will be delivered in St Francis Gardens, Thomas Davis Street, Blackpool. The course will be offered at a significantly reduced fee of €595.

List of Respond courses here

Respond Welcomes the New Emphasis on Social Housing from Tánaiste Joan Burton

Respond Housing Association enthusiastically welcomes the undertaking given by the new Leader of the Labour Party, Joan Burton TD, that she as Tánaiste would be seeking a much stronger response to the need for Social Housing in Ireland.

We advocate “A more radical solution than what Government has been proposing to date” states Patrick Cogan ofm, CEO of Respond

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Respond calls on Government to resist any dilution of Part V

Despite its nondescript name, it was a simple and straight-forward proposal – or so one might have thought. Irrespective of income, individuals and families are entitled to a home. Who could object?

This is precisely what Part V was about:

Planning authorities can reserve up to 20% of land zoned for residential development or up to 20% of the residential element of land zoned for a mix of residential and other uses, under Part V to meet the identified needs for social and affordable housing and under Part V this percentage of land can be made available to the local authority at existing use value.

 “When it was introduced in 2000, most people thought it was a really good idea”, Respond Chief Operation Officer Ned Brennan stated.  “Part V simply sought to introduce a level playing field in the provision of housing. Not just that, but that housing should be integrated, places where young and old, people of means and people of no means can live in integrated socially cohesive communities. To borrow a phrase from the ever fashionable world of culinary delights, the fruit cake mix rather than the segmented Battenberg mix”.

A win-win situation. Everyone gets a home, and builders get to build more and more homes. This policy not just made good economic sense but also good social sense. What seemed eminently practical and uncomplicated for most was anything but for some, the construction sector among the naysayers.  As a result, the proposal was stymied at every opportunity.

Between 2002 and 2011, only 5,000 social units and 10,000 affordable units were provided by Part V. In April of this year the CIF claimed that ‘the cost of the Part V levy for social and affordable housing can add anything from €6k-€30k per housing unit, depending on location.

This is at best a glass half-empty argument. The glass half-full argument is that in, for example, a development of twenty houses, four are designated for social housing. The Local Authority and the developer agree a price for these four houses – the construction cost plus a reasonable element of profit. Guaranteed price. Guaranteed sale. Guaranteed profit.

But in the Celtic Tiger days more alluring profits beckoned – perhaps as much as 20, 30 or 40%. Perhaps more. With the prospect of these kinds of potential profits, developers were not so keen on Part V. That was until the whole edifice came crashing down. By then it was too late. In retrospect, the social housing guarantee served the developers very well. And that remains the case today. Part-V needs to be re-instated. It’s in the construction industry’s interests and it’s in society’s interest.

The old adage of a bird in the hand comes to mind. But for far too long that bird was sacrificed for the allure of the two in the bush, birds that have long since flown.

Inequality – The biggest challenge for this generation

It may be a game changer. And this time for real. A well-worn word has been given a new outing. Inequality. The new word in town. “It’s not as if Respond and other civil society organisations have not been pounding this message for years”, said Respond Chief Operations Officer Ned Brennan.

“But even at this late stage in the day, we welcome the focus on inequality. The reality is that we live in an increasingly unequal world, globally and nationally and it is long time that we began to rebalance that inequality in favour of the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the working poor, older poor, people with disabilities all those whose lives are touched by poverty and lack of opportunity”.

Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population. The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world. Year-on-year global elites are increasing their share of the world’s wealth and increasingly that wealth is coalescing around a small number of people. Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years – Ireland included.

For years, many social commentators have being railing against inequality. And not just in Ireland. And then along came the globally celebrated and charismatic economist Thomas Picketty and the debate on inequality has taken a new turn. Up to recently it was seen by those who have the power – the Davos class of bankers, corporate brokers, politicians who meet in the Swiss mountain ski resort every January – as a non-issue.

Not any more. And not before time. In line with Pickettys’ mantra “Income inequality is the defining challenge of our time”, declared President Barack Obama.  “Inequality is the root of social evil”, tweeted Pope Francis.

Respond welcomes this renewed focus on inequality and welcomes Social Justice Ireland’s publication Policy Briefing on Poverty and Income Distribution. The headline figures speak for themselves: the working poor – 16% of adults living in poverty are employed; the top ten percent of households receive 24% percent of total disposable income while the bottom ten per cent only receive 3%.

And we in Respond come fact-to-face with this reality every day. People on housing lists for years, waiting lists that at current levels of provision will never be eliminated and the still shocking reality, despite its everyday visibility, of homelessness.

In his first post-Celtic Tiger budget former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan called for a national patriotic effort to tackle the financial crisis. Since then successive government politicians have talked about shouldering the burden equally. It was and remains a misrepresentation of what has happened.

A new beginning is promised, a renewed cabinet and a new agenda. Shouldering the burden equally? Confronting the underlying cause of inequality? Let’s see.