Invitation to Tender Document a declaration by the state that it is opting out of caring for the very poor and the most marginalized

Voluntary bodies urged not to tender or become complicit in assisting the state in off-loading its responsibilities through a cynical cost saving exercise

The plan by the Minister for Housing to privatize or outsource the provision of all housing support services for people who are homeless by Dublin City Council was condemned today (Tuesday, September 15, 2009) by Alice Leahy, the Director and Co-Founder of TRUST, delivering an address at the biennial national conference of the Irish Council of Social Housing. Describing the move as a cynical cost saving exercise, Alice Leahy urged all voluntary sector bodies not to participate in the tender process, which would only serve to leave the most vulnerable, and those least able to cope, much worse off.

Alice Leahy has worked in providing health and social services for people who are homeless for over thirty years, and said that in her experience this move would prove disastrous for many. Since TRUST was founded in 1975, people have always slipped through the net and been unable to fit in, and if the services are outsourced they would never get the help they need.

Alice Leahy said that the Minister for Housing and Dublin City Council may claim this is about providing support but the human cost involved is not understood.

Alice Leahy described the invitation to tender document as “a declaration by the Minister that the state does not want to care anymore for the very poor and the most marginalized, and that it is opting out and does not want to know.” TRUST has already taken a successful complaint against the Homeless Agency to the Data Protection Commissioner about the way in which the right to privacy of those, who often are no position to complain, was not properly protected. Alice Leahy said that the degree of information harvesting and exploitation, about the most intimate details of the lives of very vulnerable people, as envisaged in the invitation to tender document, was breath taking. Indeed, if this tender process proceeded, she said that she would have no choice but to lodge another complaint with the Data Protection Commissioner. However, she also emphasized that this was only one of many flaws in the proposed off loading of its responsibilities by the state in this area.

“The Minister for Housing, through Dublin City Council, is seeking to off-load to the voluntary sector the state’s responsibility to care for our most vulnerable citizens. Any suggestion that this work can be done more cheaply that way, when so many already do not get adequate services, represents nothing less than a scandalous betrayal of their rights. These people deserve time and attention. That work requires experienced people, and if the state cannot afford to do it properly then how can the voluntary sector provide these services without the necessary resources? We have already seen that once prophetic voices in the voluntary sector are now unable to speak out in case they jeopardize their budgets. If this goes ahead, who will speak out?” Alice Leahy said.

The Ryan Report on the relentless abuse of children over many decades shows what can happen when the state relinquishes its responsibility to outside bodies, Alice Leahy said. While acknowledging that many voluntary bodies are composed of people of the highest integrity and commitment, she urged them to think again before participating in this scheme given what is already happening in the health, social and homeless services.

“I have been regularly approached by many good people in recent years working for voluntary bodies in receipt of funds to provide services, which should be provided by the state, asking me to speak out on different issues. They tell me they cannot do it or they might compromise their budgets! Can such a system protect the rights of vulnerable people who are homeless, when those charged with providing care are afraid to speak out in their defense? The state cannot off-load its responsibilities without doing away with proper accountability and undermining the quality of care in the long term,” Alice Leahy said.

Over many years we have campaigned against the management culture in the health, social and homeless services, Alice Leahy said. There is an excessive reliance on ‘benchmarks’ and ‘performance indicators’ more appropriate to a manufacturing environment she claimed. Privatization and the outsourcing of services in the manner proposed will make the current situation much worse because the management culture that has caused the problem will be further imposed on the voluntary sector she said.

Alice Leahy claimed that the further privatization of services will only serve to make a bad situation much worse: “Most people have no idea how the management of public services impinges so directly on the quality of care. Today many people who are homeless spend their lives being moved from one service provider to another to create the impression that they are improving. If they stay in a hostel too long they are asked to move out to create the false image that they have been helped out of their “chaotic lifestyle”. In fairness, having written up their report the managers of the hostel usually inform the same person that he or she can come back in a few weeks if they cannot find anything better. The fiction of progress is maintained by dislocating, but never really helping the vulnerable person, who is often in no position to complain and many of these people are homeless because of the neglect of state services over many years.”