The CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions has been published. It shows that despite some small improvements in poverty and deprivation rates, more than 790,000 people are living in poverty in Ireland, of which over 250,000 are children. Despite an increase in average incomes and other signs of economic recovery, these figures show that a significant proportion of the population is still living in very difficult circumstances. These figures are unacceptable in a rich, developed country like Ireland.
As well as this, there are one million people in Ireland experiencing deprivation, and 105,000 people living in poverty that are in employment; the “working poor”.
It is important to note how critically important social welfare is in addressing poverty. Without social welfare payments 44.9 per cent of Ireland’s population would be living in poverty, instead of 16.5 per cent. Such an underlying poverty rate suggests a deeply unequal distribution of income.
It is also extremely worrying that despite falling unemployment and Ireland allegedly having the fastest growing economy in Europe, there is little relief for the working poor. There has been no change in the number of people in employment who are at risk of poverty.
It is clear that a rising tide does not automatically lift all boats, and that specific interventions are required to tackle the problems highlighted. If Government wishes to address issues of reducing poverty and ‘making work pay’, 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.
The newly released CSO data also shows that poverty in the Border, Midlands and West region is more than 50 per cent higher per capita than in the Southern and Eastern Region. Social Justice Ireland has highlighted, on a number of occasions over the last few years, the imbalanced nature of Ireland’s recovery from a regional perspective. The data on poverty complements that on employment which shows that certain areas of the country are benefiting far less than others.
Government must make the right policy choices and commit to the elimination of poverty. Social Justice Ireland has previously published 10 policy proposals for addressing income inequality and reducing poverty rates. These are:
- Set a goal of eliminating poverty in the course of a single five-year Dáil term.
- Benchmark social welfare payments – to ensure that poverty is eliminated among people who depend 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.
- Make personal tax credits refundable – to tackle poverty among people with low-paid jobs and create a more equitable tax credit system.
- Support the widespread adoption of the Living Wage – so that inequality can be reduced and low-paid workers receive an income sufficient to afford a minimum, but decent, standard of living.
- 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 measures the reduction of rural poverty – to redress the current imbalance between urban and rural poverty in Ireland.
- Introduce a full Basic Income system – to replace the parts of the social welfare system that are no longer fit for purpose. The introduction of a universal state pension and refundable tax credits should be the first step towards such a system.