By Eoin Carroll, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Extern

If we want evidence that social change is needed across Ireland then all we need to do is look around. Every day, Extern’s teams are immersed in the challenges faced by people, in particular, those who are living in disadvantaged and marginalised communities.

However, the overarching questions which need to be asked in regards to this are, just how will Brexit make it worse? And can the recently-unveiled Budget 2020 for the Republic of Ireland make it any better?

While the uncertainty of Brexit has affected us all, its impact will certainly not be proportionate, for it will be poorer households – and the people we work with daily – who will be most deeply affected.

Stability in the price of goods and services is always important, but even more so for households living on, or below, the breadline. Following Budget 2020, welfare payments remain unchanged, yet the cost of basic goods, including food, will likely increase as a result of Brexit.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) recently published a report which found that a hard Brexit – still very much a possibility, whatever deals may have been struck - could increase the cost of living for households by between €892 and €1,360 a year. (Poorer households would be most affected because they spend a greater share of their income on food products). Increased border tariffs and other trade costs could result in the price of bread and cereals rising by as much as 30 per cent, while milk, cheese and egg prices could rise by up to 46 per cent.

Budget 2020 announced a €1.2bn package to cope with Brexit, which included measures to support business, trade, tourism, employment and agriculture. However, there was no Brexit fund for charities and organisations working in the community, or a community hardship fund. To this end, Extern will be working with other organisations to campaign for the sector to be supported in the same way as private industry.

In the run-up to the Budget, Extern joined the Investing in Community campaign, run by The Wheel (similar to NICVA in Northern Ireland), which calls on Government to increase support to community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises. Key ‘asks’ of the campaign include:

  • multi-annual (three-year) funding arrangements to create better services, enable long-term planning and allow for more effective staff recruitment and retention;
  • fund services on a full-cost-recovery basis, taking into account the need for organisations to fund core costs, and pay staff adequately, as well as provide training and professional development;
  • Streamline regulatory and funding-related compliance requirements and provide for the costs of compliance.

Budget 2020 provides increased funding for services but, in many cases, it is unclear where exactly it will go. In the worst case scenario, it may be used solely for increased running costs in various Departments and state agencies. More optimistically, though – and in keeping with general practice – there should be a modest uplift in funding.

Some core areas where Extern may benefit include:

  • Justice – a 4.4% budget increase, with specific reference to an additional €0.8m to expand the ground-breaking Bail Supervision Scheme developed and managed by Extern since 2016.
  • Community – an additional €300k to promote social enterprises.
  • Health/HSE – a 6-7% budget increase, which includes an additional €25m specifically for disability services (including an autism plan, respite and emergency protocols, and day service places for new school leavers).
  • Employment – a €2m addition for Community Employment Scheme.
  • TUSLA – a €31.2m increase (3.5-4% increase to budget).
  • Housing – an 11% increase.

Like all budgets, though, the devil is in the detail, and it will not be until the so-called ‘revised estimates’, published in Spring 2020, when we will have a more detailed budgetary breakdown.

During 2020 charities will continue to struggle to receive full-cost-recovery for many of the services they provide, however, there is growing confidence within the sector that multi-annual funding will become the norm."

There is an onus therefore on Extern and other charities to bring our concerns, including issues around funding  – and the concerns of our service users – to commissioners and policymakers.

To influence Brexit, Budget 2020 and other policy processes we must use our most valuable resource - our staff and their wealth of experience and knowledge. Organisations like Extern, which combine service provision and political advocacy, have much greater impact on the lives of service users, and on society. We are able to bring our learning, as evidence, to affect policy decisions, to change legislation, access resources and, crucially, to maximise our impact.

The more we advocate and serve, the greater the impact we can have in transforming lives and society for the better.