Ireland among OECD's worst for social justice


IRELAND HAS one of the worst levels of social justice of all OECD member states, ranking 27th out of 31 countries in a new German study.

Just Chile, Mexico, Greece and Turkey are more socially unjust, according to Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation.

“Ireland has performed so badly because of its poverty levels, the category with the heaviest weighting in the study,” said Daniel Schraad-Tischler of the Bertelsmann Foundation. “Avoiding poverty is viewed as the most important criteria for social justice in a society.”

The German foundation based its study on the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; the poverty figures are from 2009.

The Bertelsmann Foundation was founded by Reinhard Mohn in 1977. It acts as both a thinktank and an agent for social change. Its non-profit work is funded predominantly by income earned from its shares in Bertelsmann AG.

The study looks at social justice as a measure of a citizen’s participation in society and the measures a state employs to include as many citizens as possible rather than compensating those who are excluded.

Overall, the Nordic countries performed best in the study, with Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland topping the overall social justice list. They were followed by the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Austria. The figures show Germany to be firmly average, floating narrowly above and below the OECD average in most categories.

Of particular concern in Germany – the focus of the Bertelsmann study – is a rising income gap and the growth in child poverty, already above the OECD average.

In the study, researchers have pooled OECD data into five categories believed to have a considerable influence on the “fairness” of a society: poverty avoidance; education access; labour market inclusion; social cohesion and equality; generational equality.

These are in turn based on a pooling of 18 qualitative and quantitative indexes and the transformation of them into a linear scale.

“The avoidance of poverty is a sine qua non for social justice . . . thus it has been weighted heaviest, by a factor of three, in the final rating,” say the authors.

Even when the special weighting for poverty is removed, Ireland moves just five places up the list to 22nd out of 31.

Only in the US did poverty have a similarly drastic effect on final ranking, dropping from 20 on the unweighted list to 25th on the final ranking.

Ireland is a consistently poor performer across the survey’s categories. It remains stuck at 27 in the avoidance of poverty index, with 4.02 points from 10 compared to an OECD average of 6.66 making Ireland the worst EU country in which to avoid poverty.

“Poverty in rich countries is in no way fate but can be fought successfully,” write the authors.

“Social participation doesn’t depend on economic strength . . . but can be implemented among disadvantaged groups through priority-setting and targeted support.”

The OECD defines as poor a person living on less than 50 per cent of a society’s median average net income.

On child poverty Ireland performs marginally better, between Italy and Portugal in 24th place.

Looking at access to education, only Greece and Turkey perform worse than Ireland. Ireland finishes last of all 31 OECD countries in the study on early childhood education development.

Only in two categories – labour market inclusion and social cohesion – does Ireland finish above the OECD average, in 18th and 13th place respectively.

The Bertelsmann study is part of a wider Sustainable Governance Project which rates, in relative terms, how strongly countries need political and economic reform. Ireland performs better in this ranking, coming 11th among 31 OECD members.