In March 2020 the CRA published its Report Card 2020 which evaluates which evaluates the Irish Governments performance and progress in relation to children’s rights. This year’s Report Card evaluated and graded the Government’s performance in relation to six specific rights including the right to an adequate standard of living encompassing the issue of child and family homelessness. Under this theme the Irish Government was given an ‘F’ grade by the CRA for the performance in 2019.
The MLRC has expressed consistent concern over the growing number of children and families facing homelessness. In December 2019, we published a report on ‘Lived Experiences of Homeless Families’ and made several urgent recommendations to address concerns about high levels of family homelessness.
The Report Card finds that the government has failed to uphold its commitments made in May 2016 to end the use of unsuitable long-term emergency accommodation for homeless families in part by providing 1,500 rapid-delivery housing. In fact, since the Programme for Government concluded, the number of homeless children has increased from 2,177 in May 2016 to 3,422 in December 2019.
The overall recommendations and important issues raised by Report Card 2020 are briefly outlined below.
The Report Card highlights the reliance on the private rental sector as a means of responding to social housing as an issue. The report refers to a Focus Ireland study from 2019 which researched the experiences of homeless families, identifying that the majority had stable housing prior to becoming homeless and were in recent of HAP or rent supplement. The CRA Report Card noted that despite the flow into homelessness from private rented accommodation, the reliance on the private rental sector as a means of responding to social housing need continues.
The budget plan for housing in 2020 seems to paint the same picture. In comparison to tenants of local authority or voluntary social housing, tenants in the private rental sector have no long-term security of tenure and there is no guarantee the accommodation secured will meet minimum standards. The CRA stresses the need for investment in affordable rental and social housing owned by local authorities and voluntary housing bodies and argues that this is essential to provide people with long-term and sustainable homes.
The Report Card also highlights issues surrounding the use of family hubs. It was intended that families would spend no longer than six months in family hubs before moving into a home. However, currently no data is being collected by the Department on the length of time families are actually spending in family hubs. The CRA noted the importance of such data being collected and published so we can better understand what families are experiencing in family hubs and for appropriate policy changes to be made. In 2019, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office carried out a study on family hubs which showed that while some parents expressed a number of positive features of this form of accommodation they also pointed out that the rules of the hub, noise levels and the lack of space and privacy impacted negatively on parenting routine and family life. In the Report Card, the CRA recommends that an independent evaluation of the suitability of family hubs as an approach to providing emergency, temporary accommodation to families be commissioned.
In its 2020 Report Card, the CRA endorses the recommendations of the reports on homelessness issued by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs who published two sperate reports in November 2019. Mercy Law Resource Centre, together with the CRA and other organisations, presented before these Committees and the majority of our recommendations were included in the report and are welcome and urgently need to be implemented. The reports most notably, recommended placing a limit on the time a family may have to spend in emergency accommodation, the ending of self-accommodating and ‘one night only’ accommodation for families, the phasing out the use of hotel and B&B accommodation for families and ensuring that the best interests of the child are taken into account when responding to families. The CRA proposes that the recommendations of the reports issued by the two Oireachtas committees be implemented as a matter of urgency.
MLRC continues to be very engaged in advocacy in relation to legal protection of the right to housing. In the Report Card, the CRA recommends that housing legislation and policy measures in Ireland be based on a recognition that housing is a human right as is seen in international human rights treaties such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (see Article 27) which Ireland has ratified.
The overall recommendation of the Report Card is that more sustainable solutions are essential to provide families with a permanent home. Delivering social and affordable housing should be top priority in terms of resources and investment as opposed to relying on emergency accommodation and the private rental sector. This would help ensure that families would be less at risk of entering homelessness in the first place and that families exiting homelessness would be moving into more secure and affordable housing. As of May 2020, 55% of MLRC’s current clients are families with minor children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In our work at the MLRC we see first-hand how homelessness has affected families across Ireland we therefore, welcome the recommendations made by the CRA in their 2020 Report Card.