Leaving Nobody Behind: Protecting Citizens’ Rights and Entitlements Post COVID-19
CIB Highlights Citizens’ Concerns ahead of Budget 2021
Citizens Information Board (CIB) pre-budget submission.
The Citizens Information Board Pre-Budget Submission, Leaving Nobody Behind: Protecting Citizens’ Rights and Entitlements Post COVID-19 covers a wide range of issues informed by queries from the public to CIB funded delivery services during the pandemic. Covering both pre- and post-COVID-19 concerns raised by citizens to frontline staff, this submission focuses on critical policy areas around alleviating poverty and helping people return to work.
The current crisis has demonstrated that the need for income support is considerable across the population and it has also shown the value and importance of having responsive, effective, flexible, quality-driven public services.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government acted quickly and introduced a package of social protection and labour market measures to support workers and their families. These measures, in effect provide an acknowledgement that pre-COVID-19 social protections and processes were inadequate and do not correspond with the real cost of living. The submission states that it is imperative that those households most at risk of poverty are prioritised in policies addressing the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19.
Recommendations for welfare-related reforms
The submission identifies some key priority areas for welfare-related reforms.
- a comprehensive system of sick leave to cover the entire workforce that includes legislative provision for a sick pay scheme;
- benchmarking social welfare rates in line with the Minimum Essential Standard of Living;
- the need to revert to a three-day waiting period with regard to Illness Benefit;
- re-instating the Bereavement Grant;
- reviewing pension issues including contributions, calculation methods, and eligibility;
- reviewing the requirement to be genuinely seeking work’ for COVID-19 claimants;
- phasing out the age-differentiated reduced rate payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance for young people aged between 18 and 24 years;
- reviewing the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, in particular in relation to means-testing and exceptional need;
- aligning Housing Assistance Payment rents with market rents on a national basis;
- adequately resourcing employment rights enforcement and inspection functions;
- resourcing Home Supports and Personal Assistance service.
Debt resolution and financial inclusion recommendations
In the pre-budget submission, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) set out the requirement for a ‘hybrid’ approach to debt resolution. This includes:-
- a robust and time-bound framework for enabling borrowers in early arrears to reach arrangements with their creditors (with the assistance of MABS where that is necessary);
- improved access to, and throughput from, personal insolvency and bankruptcy (where needed) for all borrowers, but particularly low income borrowers and those in late stage mortgage arrears;
- a stronger footing and role for voluntary/informal and ‘out of court’ arrangements.
Some specific debt and financial inclusion recommendations include:
- regulatory and creditor commitment to the additional protection of consumers in vulnerable circumstances;
- the interest on deferred payments for borrowers who lack affordability be reconsidered, or charged at a nominal low rate;
- increasing awareness of the Central Credit Register so that borrowers fully understand what is recorded and how lenders may use it in lending decisions - and consider the reduction in the recording period from five to three years;
- developing appropriate investment /savings options for low income households and a ‘rainy day’ fund capacity;
- introducing a ‘breathing space’ for informal debt resolution and freezing interest, charges and enforcement for the duration of the breathing space;
- establishment of a Small Business Debt Line for self-employed workers, modelled as a joint initiative between MABS and local enterprise structures
The full report can be accessed at http://www.citizensinformationboard.ie/en/publications/social_policy/prebudget_submissions.html