To download the report from the 2016 preparatory workshops organised by Community Work Ireland and EAPN Ireland please click here
The Social Inclusion Forum (SIF) was established by Government as part of the structures to monitor and evaluate Ireland’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPinclusion). The Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection is responsible for convening the Forum and is assisted in this work by the Community Work Ireland (CWI) and the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland (EAPN Ireland). The Conference provides a forum for engagement between officials from Government Departments, Community and Voluntary Organisations and people experiencing poverty.
The 2016 Social Inclusion Forum was held on 14th September. The theme of this year’s SIF was Growing an Inclusive Recovery, echoing the focus of the EU Annual Convention for Inclusive Growth, which brought together policymakers and civil society to discuss what can be done to ensure all citizens reap the benefits of truly inclusive growth.
Community Work Ireland (CWI) and the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland collaborate annually to organise a series of workshops to support participation at the Social Inclusion Forum and to identify issues of concern to people affected by poverty and the organisations working with them. This year, three workshops and a focus group were held in Athlone, Mayo (including Clare Island) and Dublin. The main themes emerging from the workshops were;
Implementation, Progress & Feedback
As in previous years, the gap between policy in relation to poverty reduction and social inclusion on the one hand and policy implementation and actual visible positive change on the other was highlighted as a key issue. While the annual Social Inclusion Forum was welcomed as one of the very few opportunities to engage with government and senior civil servants, but there were doubts about whether it actually makes any difference.
In Work Poverty/Equality of Work
There was much discussion at all the workshops about unemployment, employment, in-work poverty, the quality of work and labour market activation.
Poverty and Rural Communities, Rural Isolation and Social Exclusion
Many of the participants from rural areas felt that the general issues and challenges being faced by Irish society are exacerbated in rural areas. They reported significant effects of the recession on towns and villages and said that the so called recovery is non-existent in rural areas.
Poverty and Urban Communities/Contributing Social Issues
The challenges in urban areas were highlighted including intergenerational unemployment and low education. While people in urban areas might be thought to have better access to facilities and services, these are often not available e.g. health and mental health services
Joblessness and Families in Poverty
There was consensus that the issues of in-work poverty and quality of work were intrinsically linked to joblessness and families in poverty. The issue of joblessness was considered to be a significant issue in both urban and rural areas. It was suggested that it participially affects women where they have a male partner as they are generally regarded as a qualified adults and not entitled to the same supports.
Migrants and Asylum Seekers
It was noted that all of the issues mentioned have an even greater impact on migrants, particularly those that have become undocumented and those living in or leaving direct provision.
Similarly, it was noted that Travellers continue to experience high levels of discrimination and racism. This affects all areas of their lives including education and employment. Literacy and joblessness are huge issues for Travellers and there are few Travellers in third level education.
The reduced rate of social welfare for young people was discussed at a number of the workshops. It was stated that this is having a hugely detrimental effect on young people and their ability to develop independence.
Housing, Rent & Homelessness
The issues of housing, rent and homelessness were discussed in a number of the workshops. Participants from rural areas stated that the issue is presented as an urban problem. However, homelessness, particularly hidden homelessness, is also an issue in rural areas. It was acknowledged that the homelessness crisis in urban areas, particularly Dublin, Cork and Limerick is huge and efforts to address it have to redoubled.
The increasing levels of debt being experienced by many was noted. Asylum seekers and others that need access to cash are vulnerable to money lenders that charge exorbitant rates. It was strongly felt that the State needs to bring tighter controls on the interest rates charged.
Mental health continues to be a significant issue in many communities at a time when services to assist people to maintain mental health and wellbeing and/or address their mental health concerns are cut.
The issue of older people being supported to remain in their homes for as long as possible was raised by participants who highlighted the expense associated with failing to provide cost-efficient community-based supports leading to older people being forced to remain unnecessarily in expensive hospital beds serving neither the older person nor the tax payer.
The difficult situation of carers was also mentioned. Many are isolated and many are aging with few supports or respite.
The importance of education was mentioned a number times. Participants felt that education is an important route out of poverty but noted the prohibitive costs for many. There was consensus that education should be available free of charge to people, including at third level. Free third level education should also be available to the children of asylum seekers.
The importance of community organisations was particularly highlighted. Many participants stated that since the demise of the Community Development Programme and cuts to other community projects, opportunities to address issues at an early stage had severely diminished.
Existing services such as Family Resource Centres and Money Advice and Budgeting Services were emphasised as being particularly important to individuals and communities facing a wide variety of difficulties. Many participants had direct experience of these originations and noted that these services have been subjected to significant cuts at a time when the demand for services has increased exponentially.
The type of demands being made on services has also changed and organisations are dealing with the fall-out from the lack of public services, including social work, the lack of step-down facilities for older people and people experiencing mental health difficulties.
The impact of local government reform was highlighted and there was consensus that it has been a very challenging experience that was ill-thought out. The impact of this and the trend towards tendering for community supports and services is thought to be extremely detrimental to a community sector that needs to be independent to thrive.
The issue of ‘red tape; and bureaucracy was mentioned as being detrimental to community supports. There were suggestions that funding streams could be made more user-friendly.
SICAP, FRC and other funding streams need to be improved. There was consensus that this funding needs to be maintained as grants as opposed to being contracted out.
A conference report will be prepared. This will be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas. Copies of the Report will be circulated to senior officials in Government Departments, relevant agencies as well as to those who attended the Conference.