Ireland ranks high for life quality but low for poverty

Mon, Oct 5, 2009, 01:00

IRELAND RANKS fifth in the world on a quality of life index but third worst among developed countries for poverty, a United Nations report has found.

The UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2009 puts Ireland behind Norway, Australia, Iceland and Canada in its development index of 182 countries and territories. This is unchanged from last year’s position and leaves Ireland ahead of all its EU neighbours.

The index charts people’s well-being based on an aggregate measure of life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and income levels. Ireland’s fifth place ranking is largely driven by very high growth in national income since 1990, though there have been improvements in life expectancy and educational attainment as well.

On the poverty index, however, Ireland ranks 23rd out of 25 OECD states, with more than 16 per cent of the Irish population recorded as living in poverty. Only Italy and Mexico perform worse. The UNDP notes a high level of functional illiteracy here, with more than 22 per cent of 16-65-year-olds unable to perform simple literacy tasks.

On “gender empowerment”, the document places Ireland in 22nd place, pointing out that the number of seats in parliament held by women was only 15 per cent of the total.

This year’s human development index is based on data from 2007 and cannot take account of changes since the global financial crisis began last year.

Overall, the index underlines the scale of the disparity in wellbeing across the world. The bottom three ranked countries this year are Niger, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. A child born in Niger can expect to live to just over 50 years, which is 30 years less than a child born in Norway.

Long-term trends since 1980 indicate some significant advances, however, with the strongest improvements recorded by China, Iran and Nepal. Progress has been much more significant in education and health than on the income front.

“While the closing of the gaps in many health and education indicators is good news, the persistent inequality in the distribution of world incomes should continue to be a source of concern for policy makers and international institutions,” said the report’s lead author, Jeni Klugman.