Fair Deal and homelessness: Ministers must join in tackling crisis

DO the math: 25,000 in nursing care, 65,000 homes vacant for five years or more and 5,000 homeless families. There must be some algorithm that can bring all those figures together to make social and economic sense.

It will take more than a simple accountancy exercise to tackle the housing crisis which is quickly turning into a homeless crisis despite the Government’s much-trumpeted Rebuilding Ireland programme. But looking at those figures would be a start.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy believes many of those 65,000 properties are vacant because their owners have moved into care and have no motivation to rent out their home. 

The reason for that is the government’s Fair Deal scheme under which a nursing home resident must hand over 80% of any rental income they get in return for their care. That, obviously, puts most people off from entering the rental market.

There is also levy of 7.5% of the value of the home and a further annual levy of 7.5% on any other assets, such as savings and investments, with the first €36,000 exempt. These levies have become – unkindly – known as the ‘dementia tax.’

The problem is particularly acute for farming families because, under Fair Deal, the working land is treated as an asset and not a business or a means of livelihood.

Minister Murphy wants to exempt a proportion of rental income from the Fair Deal scheme to make more houses available but his colleague, Health Minister Simon Harris last week said the scheme fell under the remit of his department and he would not have it used in that way.

Minister Harris insisted the “overriding objective” of the planned shake-up of Fair Deal is to provide more supports for the elderly and their families – not to tackle the homeless crisis. “If that has a knock-on benefit to providing additional support in meeting the housing challenge, well that’s an added bonus.” 

Describing any serious attempt to alleviate homelessness as a ‘bonus’ reveals Minister Harris to be – shall we say – not the most sensitive of souls. It also shows him incapable of seeing the connection between the homeless crisis and the so-called ‘bed-blockers’ in public hospitals.

According to Eunice O’Raw, the HSE’s senior legal adviser, some families who want to avoid having their parent’s assets used to fund a nursing-home place are leaving them in hospital. 

The problem is particularly acute for farming families who face their whole enterprise being wiped out if an elderly parent is in a nursing home for an extended period of time.

Considering that two of our most senior ministers are at such odds, it is little wonder that homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has described the Government of being “ideologically incapable” of addressing the homeless crisis.

It is time for both ministers to realise that they have shared interests and come up with a solution that makes Fair Deal more equitable and also alleviates homelessness. If they can do that and solve the homeless crisis, nobody would be more delighted at being proven wrong than Fr McVerry himself.


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