Ireland’s social policy record ‘below EU average’

Report uses 38 indicators to assess factors such as poverty, education and discrimination


Ireland’s record on social policy remains below the average of its EU partners, despite notable progress in promoting social cohesion, a new study shows.

The State stands 17th in an EU table of “social justice”, according to a study from the German Bertelsmann Stiftung philanthropic group.

The report uses a Social Justice Index (SJI) combining 38 measures of poverty, education, the labour market, health, intergenerational equity, social cohesion and non-discrimination.

Across the six social policy indicators Ireland joins the ranks of the top 10 states only once (on social cohesion and non-discrimination), although it never sinks into the bottom five. Ireland achieves a 9/10 score for successfully fighting discrimination in the report, which pays tribute to the role of the Equality Authority (now part of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission) in this regard.

Substantial challenges

It is in education (where Ireland ranks 21st), however, that the report points to the most substantial policy challenges. Ireland spends just 0.1 per cent of GDP on pre-primary education, the least of all in the EU, it says.

Only 80 per cent of the working-age population have attained at least an upper secondary education, a share that has significantly increased since 2007. In first place on this metric is Lithuania at 94.6 per cent.

The report is critical of the class bias in “two-tier” secondary education. “A minority of pupils (about 10 per cent) attend fee-paying schools where State support is augmented by the revenue from fees that can amount to €6,000 a year,” it notes.

“These schools are socially exclusive and achieve higher academic results and higher progression rates to tertiary education than non-fee-paying schools...The resources allocated per pupil or student increase steadily the higher up the educational scale one goes, but access becomes more dependent on social class.”

Dropped out

But it says that Ireland’s PISA (school exam results) are among the highest in the EU, though socioeconomic factors continue to impact on the PISA results of students. And the rate of 18-to-24-year-olds who dropped out of education or training has been nearly halved since 2008 and stands at 6.3 per cent.

The State ranks 17th for the level of education parity attained by foreign-born students. The employment of foreign-born workers has been relatively on par with native workers for years, placing Ireland fifth among the 28 EU countries.

The Government’s integration policy is relatively highly rated but the study is critical of the fact that while more than 70 per cent of “immigrants to Ireland have the right to reside, work and own property in the country by virtue of their EU citizenship,” many are not employed “in occupations commensurate with their skills and education”.

In terms of gender equality more needs to be done, the report says, noting that Ireland is 17th for the share of parliamentary seats held by women. Women hold more than 40 per cent of national parliament seats in Sweden and Finland. It welcomes the enactment of same-sex marriage.