Senator Zappone has requested a debate with both Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald and Minister responsible for housing, Alan Kelly, on the on-going discrimination against Rent Allowance recipients in the private rented sector. Senator Zappone has called the Government to act to end this discimination.
Senator Zappone's speech at the Order of Business on Tuesday Feb 4th
It is good to hear all the good news. Unfortunately, there is some bad news. More than 1,000 children became homeless in Dublin last year, according to Focus Ireland. This indicates that the housing crisis has escalated to a homelessness crisis and a child welfare emergency. A total of 90% of these families had never experienced homelessness previously. These are families that have been priced out of the monopolistic market which operates on the landlords' terms and not in market equilibrium. The rental market must be regulated and I call on the Government and many others to move on this sooner rather than later.
The current rent supplement allowance is not adequate to protect families from losing their homes or becoming homeless. Many people who avail of it cannot access properties on the private rental market for two documented reasons. First, the vast majority of properties that are rented on the market are significantly above the threshold for rent supplement, as we have often heard. Second, some landlords are refusing to accept rent supplement payments. This is blatant discrimination against those in receipt of rent allowance and is simply unacceptable. Our existing equality legislation includes several grounds for protection against discrimination, such as gender and family status, but it does not provide protection from discrimination based on poverty or socioeconomic status. In light of the ongoing and unconcealed discrimination against people who are in receipt of social welfare payments in the private rental market, I ask the Leader to invite both the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House to debate this matter jointly.
Furthermore, the escalating crisis and its devastating impact on families and children provides yet another reason for guaranteeing economic, social and cultural rights in our Constitution. On 23 February last, the Constitutional Convention voted in favour of amending the Constitution to strengthen these rights, subject to the maximum available resources. Unfortunately, however, the Government has not committed to a referendum based on the convention's recommendations. I am perplexed by that decision. By offering a referendum to the people that would strengthen the enforceability of economic, social and cultural rights in Ireland, the Government could give people a chance to guarantee everybody in Ireland a life of dignity, including access to an adequate standard of living, which includes adequate housing. Will the Leader organise a debate with the Taoiseach or the appropriate Minister on why the question of economic, social and cultural rights is not being put to the people?
Seanad Leader's response to Senator Zappone:
Senator Zappone spoke about homelessness and rent allowance. I understand the Labour Party Private Members’ motion next week will be on housing and the rental sector. We will have ample opportunity to discuss all such issues at the time.
Senator Zappone also raised the issue of the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention. The Government has taken into consideration everything from the Constitution Convention but, of course, it is not bound by all the recommendations of it.