Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy- A Review

Posted on Wednesday, 28 July 2021
SPC 2021

‘Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy - A review of the social inclusion aspects of Ireland’s National Reform Programme’ covers three of the five headline targets established in the Europe 2020 Strategy and addressed in the Irish National Reform Programme, namely, employment, education and ‘poverty and social exclusion’.  It is the latest in a series that since 2011 has tracked Ireland’s performance on achieving its own targets in the Europe 2020 Strategy.  The analysis in this report shows that policies pursued by Government over many years have resulted in the exclusion of people who were already on the margins of society and in many cases policies pursued continue to fail to reach many of Ireland’s national targets set under the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Furthermore, as the economy and the employment situation began to improve in Ireland towards the end of 2019, new challenges – such as precarious and low-paid employment – emerged as issues that must be addressed to achieve a fair society. These issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic and are still not adequately being addressed. Overall, current trends in Irish public policy are running counter to the promotion of ‘inclusive growth,’ which is one of the three key priorities which underlie the Europe 2020 Strategy.  Inclusive growth is not just about fostering a high-employment economy, it also aims to deliver social cohesion – it is integral to the Europe 2020 strategy, it will be integral to Europe and Ireland’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the success of the European Green Deal.

Main findings of report:


  • Job growth in the years up to 2019 is very welcome. Ireland’s employment rate (age group 20-64) rose to 75.1 per cent in 2019 and was similar to the Europe 2020 Strategy target. It had also exceeded the upper end of the 2020 target range of employment rates (of 69-71 per cent) that had been adopted by the Irish government in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy.
  • As we reach the end of the Europe 2020 strategy and the targets it set in the area of employment in 2010, a new set of challenges has emerged and old problems have been highlighted.  Amongst the issues that have emerged are high levels of underemployment, a high incidence of State income support amongst employees, an increased number of discouraged workers leaving the labour force, low pay in the labour force, precarious employment, and a significant number of workers earning less than a living wage.
  • EU’s Annual Growth Survey for 2020 suggested action was needed to ensure the enjoyment of social rights and to counter the risks posed by a growing social divide.  It also noted the need for fair working conditions with almost 1 out of 10 workers in Europe at risk of poverty and involuntary part-time work remaining high in several Member States.
  • With the deterioration in the employment situation and the growing number of people who are unemployed, underemployed or working in precarious jobs, more people are in need of social protection.  Aside from the impact this has on the well-being of individuals and their families, it also impacts on their financial situation and adds to challenges in relation to people who work and are still poor. There are also impacts on the state, given that the Working Family Payment and the structure of jobseeker payments tend to lead to Government subsidising these families’ incomes, and indirectly subsidising some employers who create persistent precarious employment patterns for their workers.


  • Overall, Ireland compares well relative to many European countries in terms of the two headline targets relating to education established under the Europe 2020 Strategy.  In particular, at 55.4 per cent in 2019 (the latest year for which rates are available), Ireland’s share of 30-34 year olds who have completed tertiary or equivalent education is amongst the highest in Europe.  The Irish Government had established an ambitious target of 60 per cent in regard to this in the National Reform Programme (well above the EU target of 40 per cent). Thus, by 2019 Ireland had well exceeded the European target (40 per cent) but has not reached its national target (60 per cent). 
  • Turning to the issue of early school leaving, another area where the Europe 2020 strategy set a target, the EU-28 average for 18-24 year olds classified as early school-leavers was 10.3 per cent in 2019 and the corresponding figure for Ireland was 5.1 per cent. The rate of 5.1 per cent was marginally up on the 2018 rate but this rate had been steadily falling in recent years.  Based on the latest available figures across Europe, Ireland’s ranking is 5th lowest.
  • In terms of participation rates in education or training (or lifelong learning) with a participation rate of 12.6 per cent, Ireland is slightly above the European average of 11.3 per cent, but well below the target of 15 per cent set in Europe 2020. Ireland lags very far indeed behind the rates reported in the highest performing countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark, all of whom have participation rates above 25 per cent.

Poverty and Social Exclusion

  • Ireland’s figures for those at risk of poverty or social exclusion (that is, the combined indicator used in the Europe 2020 Strategy), was 20.6 per cent or more than 1 million people – and still represented a very sizeable proportion of the Irish population in 2019.  Despite improvements in the recent past, Ireland still has a rate of poverty or social exclusion that is just below the European average.
  • The Irish target under its National Reform Programme was stated in terms of ‘consistent poverty’, an indicator that combines the ‘at risk of poverty’ and ‘deprivation’ indicators, calculating the proportion simultaneously experiencing both. Thus, it identifies a sub-group of the people experiencing poverty.
  • Ireland did not reach its interim target of 4 per cent consistent poverty by 2016 and a reduction of 3.5 percentage points would be needed to reach the 2 per cent target by 2020.  Another target (for combined poverty in nominal terms) was met by 2018 and relative to children there is limited progress toward reaching the target set to reduce the numbers in consistent poverty by 2020.

‘Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy’ is available to download here.