Since the onset of the recession the number of people in poverty in Ireland has increased by more than 100,000. Today there are more than 750,000 people living in poverty in Ireland; this is a major concern. More than 57 per cent of those in poverty are not connected to the labour market; they are people who are retired, students, people in caring roles or people who are ill or people with a disability.
Social Justice Ireland's policy briefing on Poverty, Deprivation and Inequality highlights some of the key challenges Government faces in relation to poverty and inequality in Ireland today:
- 18 per cent of adults living in poverty are employed – these are the working poor.
- The top ten per cent of households receives 24 per cent of Ireland's total disposable income while the bottom ten per cent of households only receives 3 per cent.
- Almost one in five children live in households with incomes below the poverty line.
- Most weekly social assistance rates paid to single people are €30 below the poverty line.
It is important to note that social welfare is of critical importance in addressing poverty. Without social welfare payments more than half of Ireland’s population would be living in poverty; such an underlying poverty rate suggests a deeply unequal distribution of income.
The policy briefing outlines the problem of income inequality in Ireland. Overall the share of Ireland’s total disposable income going to the top 10 per cent is more than 8 times the share going to the bottom 10 per cent. The richest 10 per cent of households received 24 per cent of the total disposable income while the poorest 10 per cent of households received just 3 per cent.
If Government wishes to address and close this income divide future policy must prioritise those at the bottom of the income distribution. These policies must be designed to address the wide variety of households and adults in poverty.
This Briefing sets out 10 policy proposals for addressing income inequality and reducing poverty rates. These include:
- Set a goal of eliminating poverty in the course of a single five-year Dáil term.
- Introduce a full Basic Income system – to replace the parts of the social welfare system that are no longer fit for purpose.
- In the meantime, benchmark social welfare payments – to ensure that poverty is eliminated among people depending on social welfare.
- Ensure equity of social welfare rates – to stop the discrimination against certain groups on an arbitrary basis such as age.
- Provide adequate payments for children – to end child poverty.
- Support the widespread adoption of the Living Wage so that inequality can be reduced and low-paid workers receive an adequate income and can afford a minimum, but decent, standard of living.
- Make tax credits refundable – to eliminate poverty among people with low-paid jobs.
- Introduce a universal state pension – to ensure all older people have sufficient income to live with dignity.
- Introduce a cost of disability payment – to ensure that people with disabilities are not driven into poverty by the additional cost of their disability.
- Prioritise the reduction of rural poverty – to redress the current imbalance between urban and rural poverty in Ireland.