Campaigner defends definition of poverty by measuring median income


JOINT COMMITTEE ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS:ONE OF Ireland’s best-known anti-poverty campaigners has defended the manner in which poverty is measured in this country.

Fr Sean Healy, a director of Social Justice Ireland, said criticisms of how poverty is measured was based on an erroneous impression of how the poverty line was calculated.

Fr Healy faced scepticism from members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs about what constituted poverty in Ireland.

Independent Senator Feargal Quinn said he had a difficulty with defining poverty as 60 per cent of the median income. He said that if the average household had a 60cm wide television and somebody else did not have it, it could be regarded as relative poverty.

There was “no comparison”, he believed, between the poverty experienced in the developing world and relative poverty in Europe and there would always be poverty in Ireland if measured relatively to average income.

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley said he agreed with Mr Quinn’s analysis and that poverty was a relative term which, if used in the wrong way, “can seek to misrepresent what real poverty is”. Fianna Fáil TD Beverley Flynn questioned if you could be poor in Ireland, but well off with the same level of income in Poland.

Fr Healy said there was a perception that the poverty line was 60 per cent of average income and that the creation of several billionaires would drag people who were not poor below the poverty line.

“It is not based on averages under any circumstances. If that were the case, it would be true that you could not eliminate poverty,” he told the committee. “If I live in Dún Laoghaire and I have an income of €100,000 a year, I am not poor because Bono lives up the road.” He explained it was based on the median income – taking the highest and lowest earning individual and finding the mid-point between the two.