Government is failing to reach the key targets it set itself as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy immediately after it came to power in 2011. A new study from Social Justice Ireland published today, January 30th, 2012 shows that many of Ireland's major indicators on poverty and social inclusion are moving in the wrong direction. Poverty has increased by almost 60,000. Unemployment is not falling and the numbers employed are not increasing. Action in areas such as adult literacy is nowhere near what is required. There can be no doubt that both the Irish Government and the EU are failing Ireland's poorest and most vulnerable. It is essential that both institutions prioritise solidarity and ensure the Europe 2020 Strategy is genuinely inclusive.
The 54-page study, entitled 'Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Unemployment, Education and Poverty' reviews the social inclusion aspects of Ireland's National Reform Programme and the Europe 2020 Strategy and how these have been implemented to date in Ireland. It expresses major concern at the failure of policy-makers to understand that more is required to protect the vulnerable than promises that jobs will be available when the economy recovers. In this regards the study states:
"It is important to focus on job creation and on preparing people to be in a position to avail of an economic upturn as soon as it begins to create jobs. However, it is also important to recognise that Ireland is facing high levels of long-term unemployment for many years to come. It appears highly unlikely that sufficient market-based jobs will emerge in the short to medium term to provide the necessary positions that would substantially reduce unemployment in Ireland. Consequently, an intervention of scale is required that would dramatically reduce the numbers long-term unemployed.”
The study welcomes recent developments in relation to government policy on jobs but argues that these are not likely to have a major impact because of their lack of scale.
This review of Ireland's contribution to the Europe 2020 Strategy raises serious questions concerning a range of decisions made by the Government in their recent budget, many of which will impact negatively upon the most vulnerable in Irish society, increasing the level of exclusion already experienced by those households.
The report also concludes that Government should set targets aimed at reducing poverty among particular vulnerable groups such as children, lone parents, jobless households and those in social rented housing.
Some Recommendations from the Study
On employment the study recommends that the Irish Government should introduce two new sub targets under their current employment target in order to address in-work poverty and long-term unemployment. It proposes these targets should be:
- To reduce in-work poverty (by, for example, making tax credits refundable).
- To reduce the level of long-term unemployment to 1.3% of the labour force. In this report Social Justice Ireland has outlined a jobs proposal which is of a sufficient scale to have a real impact on reducing the number of people experiencing long-term unemployment.
On education the review proposes Government should adopt the following sub target on adult literacy:
- Reduce the proportion of the population aged 16-64 with restricted literacy to 5 per cent by 2016; and to 3 per cent by 2020. This will still leave approximately 150,000 adults without basic literacy levels in 2016. (Currently, more than twice this number have restricted literacy.)
On poverty and social exclusion the study recommends that the Irish Government should carry out in-depth social impact assessments prior to implementing policies in order to ensure that the position of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion is not worsened by the austerity measures being pursued. It also recommends that Government should set targets aimed at reducing poverty among particular vulnerable groups such as children, lone parents, jobless households and those in social rented housing.
The full text of this study may be accessed here.