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Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 – Too Little Too Late

Since 1997, the definition of poverty and social exclusion used in the Government’s various Action Plans has been:

People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally. As a result of inadequate income and resources people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society.

Social Justice Ireland were instrumental in developing this definition which linked poverty, in all its forms, to social exclusion.  The Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 (the Roadmap) has replaced this definition with

Social Inclusion is achieved when people have access to sufficient income, resources and services to enable them to play an active part in their communities and participate in activities that are considered the norm for people in society generally.

By focusing on social inclusion, the Roadmap states, it “allows for better alignment with the ‘Active Inclusion’ approach adopted by the European Union.  However, without specifically addressing poverty within its definition, which requires that it remain a focus of any social inclusion policy, we can never hope to achieve real inclusion for everyone.

The Targets on Poverty

The Roadmap contains a series of EU and National Targets (Tables 1A and 1B), based on Eurostat and CSO datasets.  While on the face of it these targets appear to be making progress, in reality the numbers do not match up to the stated ambitions.

EU Measures and Targets - Poverty

Risk of Poverty and Social Exclusion.  The stated ambition here is to “become a top five country” by reducing the proportion of the population at risk of poverty and social exclusion from 21.1% in 2018 to 16.7% in 2025.  Using the Population and Labour Force Projections available from the CSO (M1F2), this was equate to lifting 160,000 people out of a risk of poverty and social exclusion over seven years (2018-2025), leaving 879,000 people behind.

Income Quintile Share Ratio.  This measures the ratio of total income received by the top 20% of earners (the highest earners) to the total received by the bottom 20%, the lowest earners.  In Ireland in 2018, those in the top 20% earned 4.2 times as much as those in the bottom.  The Roadmap targets a ratio of 3.8 times the lowest income.  This ratio has fluctuated between 4.2 and 5 year on year since 2005.  To reduce this ratio below 4 in the most equitable way possible will require a concerted effort to increase the income of those most at risk of poverty.  This necessitates an increase in basic Social Welfare rates across the board and a move to benchmark Social Welfare payments to the Minimum Essential Standard of Living[1].  It requires supporting those at-work and in poverty, by introducing a Refundable Tax Credit, and ensuring that our older people have a reasonable income in older age by introducing a real Universal State Social Welfare Pension.  None of these supports are included in the Roadmap, which begs the question as to how this target might be achieved.

The Roadmap will address income poverty by:

  • Reducing the share of people at risk of poverty before social transfers (incl. pensions) from 41% (2018) to 37.9% (2025) – leaving almost 2 million people reliant on our welfare system to bring them out of poverty.
  • Reducing the share of people at risk of poverty after social transfers from 14.9% (2018) to 12.8% (2025) – leaving over 673,000 people in poverty and making no substantive change to the current number of people in  poverty in 2018 (there were 689,000 people in poverty in 2018).
  • Reducing the in-work at risk of poverty rate[2] from 4.8% (2018) to 3.5% (2025).  The population “at work” was estimated by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training to increase to approximately 2.3 million people by 2025[3], which would mean leaving over 80,000 people with jobs in poverty.
  • Reducing the AROPE rate for children under 18 from 23.9% (2018) to 16% (2025), which would leave 191,000 children behind.
  • Reducing the AROPE rate for people with disabilities from 36.9% (2018) to 28.7% (2025).  Projections are not available for the number of persons living with a disability in 2025, however given that Ireland has an ageing population, and the prevalence of disability increases greatly with age, it is likely that this number will remain significant.   

National Measures and Targets – Poverty

Under National Measures and Targets, the Framework restates the original commitment to reduce the percentage of the population living in consistent poverty to 2%.  Social Justice Ireland acknowledges that the Government did not increase this target to 4%, as proposed in the consultation on the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion in 2018.  While this would have the effect of reducing the number of people living in consistent poverty by 170,000 on 2018, it would still leave 105,000 people behind.     

The Framework also re-commits to the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures (BOBF) target of lifting 70,000 children out of consistent poverty by this year, a reduction of at least two-thirds on the 2011 figure.  As of 2018, there were over 97,500 children aged 0-17 living in consistent poverty in Ireland.  While the target to reduce this number to 37,000 this year would be a very positive achievement, there is insufficient detail within the Framework as to how this objective might be achieved.

The Roadmap also contains targets on health, education and housing and while we welcome the acknowledgement that tackling poverty and social exclusion requires a whole of Government approach, more is required from each individual Department to achieve greater equality in these areas. 

Health

Social Justice Ireland has consistently highlighted the need to strengthen the resourcing of home care and home care packages, and has consistently advocated for a statutory basis to the right to home care.  We welcomed the recent publication of a Report on the Provision of Home Care Services by the Oireachtas Committee on Health, however the recommendations made within this report need to be expedited so as to ensure that hospital discharges in acute centres, already experiencing overcrowding and waiting lists are not delayed further, and that older people and people living with disabilities can enjoy a reasonable standard of living and be socially included.

Education

We further welcome the commitments in the Framework to address educational disadvantage, however continuing with the DEIS plan will be insufficient if the recommendations of subsequent reports of the Educational Research Centre are not also incorporated.

Housing

The number of social housing units proposed within the Roadmap (12,000 annually) is insufficient to meet current demand.  There are currently 68,693 households on social housing waiting lists across the country as of 2019.  This figure does not include those households in the private rented sector whose landlords are receiving the Housing Assistance Payment. It does not include all homeless families enumerated as accessing emergency accommodation.  It does not include victims of domestic violence.  It does not include asylum seekers granted protection orders and living in transitional accommodation.  And it does not include the over 6,200 people in Direct Provision centres. These are the households most at risk of poverty and social exclusion, for whom the Framework is providing very little.

It is also concerning that the 12,000 units will not be purpose built, but delivered through construction, refurbishment, acquisition and leasing programmes, at greater cost than allowing Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies to develop social housing.

The Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 took over two years to develop and, at the end of its term, will leave Ireland with almost exactly the same number of people in poverty and very little of substance in terms of additional supports.

[1] www.budgeting.ie.  Social Justice Ireland has previously proposed reintroducing the benchmark of 27.5% of Average Weekly Earnings as a step towards this.

[2] The share of those aged 18-65, in employment, and at risk of poverty

[3] https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/country-repo...