Ireland slips six places in UN human development rankings

Development levels ‘go backwards’ for first time in Ireland, Greece and Spain


Ireland has fallen six places in the United Nations Human Development rankings since 2008, according to the latest report from the UN Development Programme.

The 2014 Human Development Report, which ranks 187 countries according to life expectancy, education and income indices, also shows that Ireland’s overall human development level has dropped.

Ireland’s ranking has fallen from fifth in 2008 to 11th in 2013. Ireland is also one of three European countries, along with Cyprus and Greece, in the very high human development group, whose development level (as opposed to international ranking) has slipped.

“Three countries in Europe for the first time actually went backwards in terms of their actual levels. That’s never happened before in all the years we’ve been tracking it,” said the report’s lead author Khalid Malik.

Mr Malik said the report highlights the “slippage” in income levels in Ireland. The report says economic growth that does not generate sufficient decent employment is unlikely to foster human development and notes that in some countries such as Ireland and Spain, the long-term unemployment rate rose at least 20 percentage points between 2007 and 2012.

The report calls for a commitment to full employment, which it says is desirable for its social benefits. The loss of production and tax revenue associated with long-term unemployment can lead to higher public spending on social welfare, the report states, adding that unemployment also leads to social problems as well as increased health spending.

Mr Malik said Ireland’s performance “should definitely be a cause for worry”. He said he wouldn’t be too concerned about the country’s slip in rankings so much as its declining human development level.

“Normally in these countries you always see a slight increase or a large increase in development level and that influences the ranking a little bit because some countries might do better than others but the actual levels don’t go down,” he said.

The report says austerity programmes have contributed to a drastic drop in public investment in Europe. “Between 2008 and 2012 public gross fixed capital formation fell 65 per cent in Ireland, 60 per cent in Greece and Spain, 40 per cent in Portugal and 24 per cent in Italy.”

It goes on to say that health spending declined in a third of OECD countries, including Ireland, which lead to lower spending on prevention programmes, reductions in the supply of health services, increases in direct out-of-pocket payments and wage cuts in hospital.

It also says the crisis inverted the long-term trend of rising investment in education, with 15 OECD countries cutting their education budgets in 2011-2012.

Mr Malik said the report showed a systematic slowdown in terms of human development across all country groupings and he hoped the figures would lead to a discussion on how those levels can be improved. “The basic premise is that a lot of the vulnerabilities are a result of inadequate policies and not very robust social institutions,” he said.

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