As chart 1 shows, Irish people experience a below average risk of poverty when compared to all other EU member states. Eurostat’s 2008 figures marked the first time Ireland’s poverty levels fell below average EU levels. This phenomenon was driven by sustained increases in welfare payments in the years prior to 2008. Ireland’s poverty levels have remained below average EU levels since then. In 2021, across the EU, the highest poverty levels were found in the recent accession countries and in some of the countries most impacted by the economic crisis one decade ago ‐ Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain, Estonia, Italy and Lithuania. The lowest levels were found in Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic), Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia and Denmark.
While there have been some reductions in poverty in recent years across the EU, the data suggests that poverty remains a large and ongoing EU‐wide problem. In 2021 the average EU‐27 level implied that 73.7 million people live in poverty across all EU member states. As part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, European governments adopted policies to target these poverty levels and used as their main benchmark the proportion of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion. One of the five headline targets for this strategy aims to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty or exclusion by 2020 (using 2008 as the baseline year). This target is defined by the European Council on the basis of three indicators: the 'at risk of poverty' rate after social transfers; an index of material deprivation; and the percentage of people living in households with very low work intensity. It is calculated as the sum of persons relative to the national population who are at risk of poverty or severely materially deprived or living in households with very low work intensity, where a person is only counted once even if recorded in more than one indicator.
Since 2011 Social Justice Ireland has published regular reports analysing performance vis a vis these Europe 2020 goals. The most recent data indicate that by the end of 2019 (just before the pandemic struck) there had been limited progress towards the 2020 target. Missing this headline target poses a challenge for European policy makers, one side‐lined in the short term as the energy crisis and Ukraine war dominate. However, new commitments matched by actions, funding and progress are badly needed.
Chart 1: Poverty Rates Across the EU Countries, 2021 (Eurostat data)