Ireland has one of the worst levels of social justice among OECD member states

Posted on Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Ireland is the fourth most socially unjust of the OECD member countries according to the Bertelsmann Foundation. The study examines social justice as a measure of citizen’s participation in society and the policies of inclusion that a state implements in order to include as many citizens as possible in society.  It focuses on this approach to inclusion rather than on an approach which sees the implemention of compensatory policies as the key to securing inclusion for those who are excluded from participating meaningfully in society.

Five categories are used to measure social justice but poverty levels are viewed as the most important instrument of measurement. The other four categories measured are access to education; labour market inclusion; social cohesion and equality and generational equality. Poverty is weighted three times higher than the other categories in the study as the authors see the avoidance of poverty as an essential condition of social justice. Ireland performs poorly across all categories, and is ranked 27 in avoidance of poverty making Ireland the worst EU country in which to avoid poverty. 

Ireland also performs abysmally in terms of education; only Turkey and Greece perform worse than Ireland in terms of access to education; and Ireland ranks worst over all for early childhood education development. These data, combined with the data from the PISA report published in December 2010 are further evidence that Ireland’s education system continues to mediate the cycle of disadvantage and social exclusion.

Social Justice Ireland is not surprised by Ireland’s poor performance. We agree with the authors of the study that social participation can be implemented among disadvantaged groups through priority-setting and targeted support. Social Justice Ireland believes that all people should have a genuine voice in shaping the decisions that affect them and that all people should be able to contribute meaningfully to the development of society. In order to make Ireland truly socially inclusive the government must take the necessary steps to ensure everyone is in a position to contribute in this way and that the society's structures are re-designed to ensure real participation for all.  
Policies aimed at protecting bondholders and the market at the expense of citizens means that citizens are being excluded and the poor and vulnerable are ignored in dialogue that revolves around the market and economic recovery. 
In order to address poverty the government must address the issues of income distribution, maintain adequate levels of social and economic provision so that each person has sufficient income to live life with dignity and that people are not at risk of falling below the poverty line (EU poverty line is set at 60% of median income).   The government needs to address related issues; basic income, education, regional and generational and gender issues. The government must carry out an impact analysis on all policies to ensure that they do not push people into poverty or trap them in poverty.  

The government failed to carry out any impact analysis when devising the 4-Year National Recovery Plan or when producing Budget 2011. The increased cost of accessing services combined with the reduction in welfare rates will condemn Ireland’s poorest to penury and will push many more below the poverty line.   At present almost 40% of households at risk of poverty in Ireland are headed by somebody who is employed. By reducing the minimum wage, cutting social welfare rates and increasing the cost of services the government is on target to rank even lower in any future study of social justice among OECD member states

The full study is available only in German