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Policy issues concerning Inequality

The commitment to using wellbeing indicators alongside economic indicators in the Programme for Government is welcome.  Creating a sustainable Ireland requires the adoption of new indicators to measure progress. To reflect this, the wellbeing indicators that the new Government has committed to developing must include new indicators measuring both wellbeing and sustainability in society, to be used alongside measures of national income like GDP, GNP and GNI.

An open and transparent policy evaluation process, with meaningful engagement from all stakeholders, would ensure that we learn from our successes and from our mistakes. Such a process would ensure that we evaluate both and offer a framework to take our policy successes and replicate them across Government.  Social Justice Ireland believes strongly in the importance of developing a rights-based approach to social, economic, and cultural policy.  A key policy measure to deliver an open and transparent policy evaluation process is to measure the socio-economic impact of each budget.  This should be a statutory responsibility for Government.

Government should strive to create a new economic model based on fairness.   This would ensure that the benefits accruing from a vibrant economy would be distributed in a more equal manner.  Addressing poverty and social exclusion will play a key role in this regard.  The new Government should set an ambitious national poverty reduction target and make persistent poverty the primary indicator of poverty measurement.

Life on a low income is the norm for a large proportion of our society. Prior to the current public health crisis, one in every seven people in Ireland lived with an income below the poverty line; about 680,000 people. Looking ahead, these numbers look set to rise as the very uneven impact of the Covid-19 crisis unfolds. 

On Friday, 8th May 2020, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published the results of its survey on the Social Impact of COVID-19. This, as might be expected, makes for concerning reading.  The self-reported well-being of the population as a result of the COVID-19 crisis was worse than in 2013, at the height of the impact of the 2008 Financial Crash, with just 12.2 per cent reporting a high life satisfaction rating in April 2020, compared to 31.4 per cent in 2013.  The report highlights again the need for a new Social Contract to pave the way for recovery from the impact of COVID-19 and beyond.  The impact of job losses on well-being, social inclusion and financial stress are severe and the changes in consumption, particularly the increases in alcohol and tobacco consumption, indicate a potential personal debt and health crisis that must be tackled if society is to function.  

To unravel the two-tier welfare system that has been temporarily created as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and to truly deliver a fair and sustainable economy the new Government should develop a programme to index social welfare rates to the Minimum Essential Standard of Living over a five-year term. 

Education systems across the world are being impacted by COVID-19. This disruption will impact the livelihoods of individuals, and the prospects of their communities.  As education systems move to online platforms in the short to medium term, it is vital that all steps are taken to avoid deepening educational and social inequality as a result. 

Early childhood is the stage where education can most effectively influence the development of children and help reverse disadvantage. The most striking feature of investment in education in Ireland relative to other OECD countries is its under-investment in early childhood education.  High quality educational experiences in early childhood contribute significantly to life-long learning success.  This sector needs to be supported by Government, financially and through policy, to ensure that all children have equal access to this success and all of the benefits of quality education.

Digital technology can improve our lives but it also poses a major risk of widening social inequality particularly for people without the skills to navigate digital platforms.  As we move towards a future where digital transformation will disrupt the labour market, having the greatest impact on people with lower levels of education and skills, it is important that this cohort are not left behind.   

The Central Statistics Office recently published the Household Finance and Consumption Survey 2018.  This is the only household survey that collects combined information on asset, income and debt levels of Irish households.  It provides us with a valuable data and insight into where wealth and assets are concentrated (both in terms of location and income deciles), and the levels of debt of Irish households. 

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