More than 559,800 people are still living in poverty in Ireland, of which 176,912 are children

Posted on Thursday, 7 March 2024
Main Image
Persistent Poverty
Page Content
  • 559,850 people in Ireland are living in poverty, of which 176,912 are children.

  • 145,561 people living in poverty are in employment - the “working poor”.

  • 64,943 older people are living in poverty.


559,850 people are living in poverty in Ireland today. Of this number, around 176,912 are children under the age of 18 and over 64,943 are aged over 65. These Central Statistic Office Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2023 figures give us an insight into the ongoing impact of rising energy costs and inflation on poverty in Ireland. Without cost of living supports the at risk of poverty rate would have been 13 per cent. 

While these measures supported vulnerable households, particular people aged over 65, the majority of these measures are one off in nature. This makes today’s figures very concerning and points to the long term economic and social impact on households as these temporary measures wind down. In addition, inflation has meant that the real value of household income has fallen, which is very concerning for households reliant on fixed incomes.


Impact of cost of living measures on poverty

Today’s figures give us an insight into the long-term damage caused by the cost of living crisis which continues to impact those on the lowest incomes the most. Without additional cost of living measures, the poverty rate would have been 13 per cent in 2023. The additional one-off cost of living measures had the greatest impact on reducing poverty among people aged over 65. The cost of living measures reduced the poverty rate for older people from 16.9 per cent to 8.3 per cent. Without these temporary measures, the poverty rate among older people would have doubled from over 64,000 to over 132,000 older persons. This is particularly concerning as these cost of living measures are temporary. Older people are particularly vulnerable due to their overwhelming reliance on a fixed income to make ends meet. Adequate social welfare rates, access to services and ensuring older people have energy efficient homes are key policies to support this group. 

A lesson from past experiences of economic recovery and growth is that the weakest in our society get left behind unless welfare increases track increases in earnings elsewhere in the economy. As temporary cost of living measures wind down, Government must commit to benchmarking core social welfare rates to 27.5 per cent of average earnings in the next Budget to protect vulnerable households. 


Impact of social welfare payments on poverty

Social welfare payments play a crucial role in reducing poverty. Today’s figures show that without the social welfare system 34 per cent of the population would have been living in poverty in 2023. However, welfare payments reduced the poverty rate by 24 percentage points to 10.6 per cent. Social Justice Ireland called on Government to increase core social welfare rates by €25 per week in Budget 2024 and to commit to benchmarking core social welfare rates to 27.5 per cent of average earnings over two years. Government’s failure to heed either of these proposals means that many of those depending on social welfare payments will fall further behind the rest of society in the years ahead. Today’s figures show without temporary cost of living measures households on the lowest incomes are falling further behind. As pay agreements conclude and wages rise, these households will fall further behind if core social welfare rates are not benchmarked against average earnings. 

The figures in relation to vulnerable groups of the population are also very concerning. In relation to people unable to work due to long-standing health problems, the rates of poverty and deprivation for this cohort remain stubbornly high. There is a very strong case to be made for the implementation of a cost of disability payment for this cohort, and improved services and other supports detailed in the ‘The Cost of Disability in Ireland – 2021’ report. The Department of Social Protection must act on the findings of this report and implement the recommendations. 

In 2023, one in seven children lived in households that were below the poverty line and 264,064 children were living in households experiencing deprivation. This is simply unacceptable. We welcomed the establishment of the Child Poverty and Wellbeing Unit in the Department of the Taoiseach and the commitment to make child poverty a focus of Budget 2024. Unfortunately, despite welcome initiatives around school books, childcare and hot school meals, Government failed to address the core problem of income adequacy in the Budget. Fundamentally, child poverty cannot be separated from the poverty experienced by the families to which children belong. Child poverty solutions hinge on issues such as adequate adult welfare rates, decent rates of pay and conditions for working parents, and adequate and available public services. Child benefit also remains a key route to tackling child poverty. It is of particular value to those families on the lowest incomes. Children cannot be lifted out of poverty unless their families are lifted out of poverty. 


In-work poverty

The CSO figures show that in-work poverty is 5.9 per cent. This equates to more than 145,500 people in employment living below the poverty line. Many working families on low earnings struggle to achieve a basic standard of living. Specific interventions are required to tackle the issue of the ‘working-poor’. One of the most effective policy interventions would be to make tax credits refundable. Until Government makes tax credits refundable, it will not have an efficient mechanism by which it can address the issue of the working poor.

Budget 2024 did little to help low-income working families, providing the least for the large cohort of workers earning around €15 to €20 per hour. Year after year this large group of workers hears of gains from the Budget but experiences little if any of them; something that cannot persist both due to its distributive effects and the socio-political reality that we cannot keep ignoring these workers and families. 

The in-work poverty figure has remained consistently about 100,000 for several years now, indicating that in-work poverty is a trend which policy-makers and successive Governments have thus far failed to make any impact on. The idea of a job as an automatic poverty reliever is clearly contradicted by this data. The job must be well paid with decent conditions and adequate hours. 


Policy recommendations:

If poverty and deprivation rates are to fall in the years ahead, Social Justice Ireland believes that in the period ahead Government, and policymakers generally, should:

  • Benchmark core social welfare rates to 27.5 per cent of average weekly earnings in 2024 as a first step towards indexing social welfare rates against wages.
  • Acknowledge that Ireland has an on-going poverty and deprivation problem.
  • Adopt targets aimed at reducing poverty and deprivation among particularly vulnerable groups such as children, lone parents, jobless households, and those in social housing.
  • Examine and support viable alternative policy options aimed at giving priority to protecting vulnerable sectors of society.
  • Carry out in-depth social impact assessments prior to implementing proposed policy initiatives that impact on the income and public services on which many low-income households depend. This should include the poverty-proofing of all public policy initiatives.
  • Recognise the problem of the ‘working poor’. Make tax credits refundable to address the situation of households in poverty which are headed by a person with a job.
  • Support the widespread adoption of the Living Wage so that low paid workers receive an adequate income and can afford a minimum, but decent, standard of living.
  • Introduce a cost of disability allowance to address poverty and social exclusion of people with a disability.
  • Recognise the reality of poverty among migrants and adopt policies to assist this group. In addressing this issue, replace direct provision with a fairer system that ensures adequate allowances are paid to asylum seekers.
  • Accept that persistent poverty should be used as the primary indicator of poverty measurement and assist the CSO in allocating sufficient resources to collect this data.
  • Move towards introducing a basic income system. No other approach has the capacity to ensure all members of society have sufficient income to live life with dignity.
  • Acknowledge the failure to meet repeated policy targets on poverty reduction and commit sufficient resources to achieve credible new targets.

The ‘Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2023 Results’ on which these numbers are based, was published today by the CSO.