Low-income families 'struggling'


Low-income families and those who are unemployed do not have enough money to achieve a basic standard of living, according to a report published today.

A Minimum Income Standard for Ireland, funded by the Department of Social Protection and carried out by the Policy Institute at Trinity College in conjunction with the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, followed an international budget standard to establish the cost of a minimum standard of living for Irish families.

It established the cost of a minimum essential standard of living for individuals and households across the entire lifecycle; from children to pensioners. Subsequently it calculated the minimum income households require in order to afford this standard of living. A minimum essential standard of living is defined by the United Nations as one which meets a person’s physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs.

Representative focus groups were established made up of different household types across the country. They were asked what they needed for a basic standard of living. A distinction was made between needs and wants.

At the end of the process, 2,000 different items from an electric cooker to bread and milk were found to input into a basic standard of living.

The report found that in a household with two adults and two children with both adults working, for example, the minimum expenditure needed to achieve a basic standard of living was around €540 a week. The figure would be higher if the children were in secondary school.

This figure was then compared with the income of that household. The report found that those with low incomes or who were unemployed found it impossible to reach the €540 figure and were cutting back on basics to make ends meet.

Dr Michéal Collins, one of the authors of the report, said its findings would be a useful benchmark to assess the adequacy of welfare payments and the minimum wage.

“We hope this report will feed into many areas. When and if we’re making further cuts we need to be conscious of the fact there are households struggling already and further cuts will make that struggle even more complicated,” he told RTÉ radio this morning.

“We need to look at how we provide public services to low income households and perhaps assist individuals in low paid work. The report will also have implications for households in debt. The courts are currently trying to work out how much you need to have a basic standard of living. How much you should be left over with.”

Sr Bernadette Mac Mahon of The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice said income inadequacy meant many households lived below a level defined as socially acceptable by Irish society.

"The consensual budgets standard method provides a socially agreed upon minimum measure below which households should not be expected to live. Failure to ground the national minimum wage and social welfare transfers in a tangible measure of adequacy, such as defined in this research, means that poverty and social exclusion will continue to be a reality in Ireland.”