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Income Distribution and Poverty


Budget 2021 has left Ireland’s poorest people behind as Government decided not to increase core social welfare rates. Despite allocating more resources than any previous Budget in the history of the State, the distribution of those resources was such that the gap between the poor and the better off will widen in 2021 and inequality will increase. This is a totally unacceptable outcome.


The deprivation figures published by the CSO show that almost 900,000 people still struggle to achieve a basic standard of living. The yearly increase was more than 140,000, and the fact that deprivation is increasing for almost every socio-demographic group is of real concern. 


Government should increase in core social welfare rates of €7 per week in Budget 2021 and set a three-year target for Government to reach the benchmark of 27.5 per cent of average earnings.  In the forthcoming Budget Government should also complete the equalisation of Jobseeker’s rates for young people under 26, introduce a cost of disability allowance and introduce a universal state pension.

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.

Restructuring agriculture and supporting and incentivising farmers to move to more sustainable agricultural practices is integral to a Just Transition in Ireland.  One of the fundamental principles of a Just Transition is to leave no people, communities, economic sectors or regions behind as we transition to a low carbon future.  A clear pathway for the farming community outlining how they will be supported as part of a Just Transition, and the benefits of sustainable farming practice to our environment, natural capital and to their household incomes is essential.

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. 

Poverty focus is an annual publication from Social Justice Ireland where we focus on the nature and experience of poverty in Ireland. Drawing on the available statistical evidence, we outline how poverty is measured, the value of the poverty line and consider many of the groups in our society who are most exposed to living life below the poverty line.

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. 

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