Minister ‘determined’ to reduce consistent poverty rate to record low

Minister of State for Social Inclusion Joe O’Brien says he will seek to reduce rate to 2%

Joe O’Brien of the Green Party. Photograph: Alan Betson

Joe O’Brien of the Green Party. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Minister of State for Social Inclusion Joe O’Brien will tell an Oireachtas committee on Tuesday he is determined to lower the consistent poverty rate in Ireland to its lowest ever rate of 2 per cent.

Mr O’Brien, a Green Party TD, will appear before the Joint Committee on Social Protection to set out a roadmap for social inclusion in Ireland.

The 2 per cent goal has been a long-time goal for successive governments in Ireland but has never been reached.

The lowest percentage was just before the economic crash in 2008 when it fell to 4.2 per cent. By 2013 it had risen to 9 per cent before dropping again to 5.5 per cent in 2018.

Mr O’Brien said the 2 per cent target of consistent poverty was included in the programme for government but had “gone under a lot of people’s radars”.

However, the rate of consistent poverty for certain groups in society is much higher than that. According to the Central Statistics Office, the consistent poverty rate was 7.7 per cent for people under the age of 18, more than four times higher than the rate of 1.7 per cent for people aged 65 and over.

It is over three times the national average for two other groups: lone parents (17.1 per cent) and people with a disability (18 per cent).

Pandemic unknowns

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the levels of consistent poverty is not yet fully known, as the data for 2020 will not be ready for publication until later this year.

However, Mr O’Brien will tell the committee that although research carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute showed unemployment caused by the pandemic had lowered household incomes by 7 per cent across the population (and significantly more for those who lost jobs), Government incentives such as the pandemic unemployment payment, wage subsidies and VAT cuts had cut the drop to about 3 per cent on average.

Speaking ahead of his appearance, Mr O’Brien, a TD for Dublin Fingal, said there was a responsibility on the Government to redouble its efforts to ensure the 2 per cent target could be achieved by the end of 2024.

“The roadmap is a wider one with additional targets such as housing, social participation and educational attainment,” he said.

He said it would require significant investment by the State. “We had a few good years until 2019 but the level of consistent poverty did not really change. Deprivation actually went up in 2019.

“It’s a question of putting resources into the groups [such as lone parents, children, and people with a disability].”

Mr O’Brien said the strategy did require significant investment but it would actually make sense economically in the long term.

“I do think that poverty is damaging across society and carries big costs socially and economically,” he said. “Investing in eradicating poverty will have long-lasting benefits for society.”