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Government and EU challenged to adopt ‘zero poverty’ as target for 2020

Social Justice Ireland has challenged Government to adopt a target of ‘zero poverty’ by 2020. In its most recent Policy Briefing, Social Justice Ireland states that “Government needs to change direction in its approach to reducing poverty. A good starting point would be for Ireland and the EU to adopt a target of ’zero poverty’ to be reached by 2020.” This would be a very appropriate way of marking the European Year against Poverty and Social Exclusion. There are almost 615,000 people at risk of poverty in Ireland. Almost 200,000 of these are children; 116,000 are employed (these are the ‘working poor’). All of these numbers are extremely disturbing.

In its Policy Briefing, which addresses the issue of poverty, Social Justice Ireland claims that Government has forgotten the lessons that had been learned in recent years and reversed the strategies that had been reducing poverty.  The Policy Briefing argues that: “increasing the lowest social welfare rates was the key to reducing poverty from 19.7% in 2003 to a record low of 13.9% in 2008. This approach was supplemented by a wide range of initiatives aimed at mobilising local communities to tackle poverty effectively in their local areas. Budget 2010 reversed this approach; it reduced welfare rates (by more than the fall in the cost of living for poor people) resulting in Ireland’s most vulnerable people being worse off in 2010 than in 2009; it also reduced the funding for addressing poverty and social exclusion at local level.”
 
Government has claimed it had no choice in making the decisions it made. But this is not true. Social Justice Ireland produced a detailed set of fully-costed proposals that showed how Government could have achieved the adjustments of €4bn it sought in Budget 2010 without reducing social welfare rates and without cutting the funding for organisations and programmes addressing poverty and social exclusion.
 
The full text of Social Justice Ireland’s Policy Briefing on Poverty is available here
 
Recent changes in direction by Government are even more regrettable given that 2010 is the EU Year against Poverty and Social Exclusion. It is now likely that Ireland will mark this ‘year’ by increasing poverty and social exclusion.
 
In its Policy Briefing Social Justice Ireland proposes that if Government is to reduce poverty in the period immediately ahead it should:
o     Stop targeting Ireland’s most vulnerable people and improve their situation, not worsen it as they did in Budget 2010.
o     Recognise the problem of the ‘working poor’ and adopt policies to address the situation of the 39.6% of all households in poverty which are headed by a person with a job. 
o     Provide substantial new measures to address the threat of long-term unemployment among those recently unemployed. This should include programmes aimed at re-training and re-skilling those at highest risk.
o     Set a target of ‘zero poverty’ to be achieved by 2020. Advocate that this target be adopted by the European Union as part of its actions to mark the European Year against Poverty and Social Exclusion (2010).
o     Address family poverty.
o     Adopt a new approach to measuring deprivation - one that uses regularly updated indicators reflective of society as it currently is.
o     Accept that persistent poverty should be used as the primary indicator of poverty measurement once this data becomes available.
o     Move towards introducing a basic income system. All initiatives in the areas of income and work should constitute positive moves towards the introduction of a full basic income guarantee system.
o     Continue to honour the NAPinclusion and Towards 2016 commitment that the lowest social welfare payment for a single person will be benchmarked to 30 per cent of GAIE (gross average industrial earnings) from 2007-2016.
o     Move towards introducing a basic income system. All initiatives in the areas of income and work should constitute positive moves towards the introduction of a full basic income guarantee system.

The full text of Social Justice Ireland’s Policy Briefing on Poverty is available here