Risk of poverty among workers would have doubled last year without Covid supports

CSO data shows 6.7 per cent of people employed were at risk of poverty in 2020

The risk of poverty among workers would have more than doubled last year and child poverty would have increased by 10 per cent without Covid-19 income supports, data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has shown.

In a report published on Friday on poverty trends from 2018 to 2020, the CSO said the rate of people “at risk of poverty” among those who described themselves as employed would have risen from 6.7 per cent to 15.1 per cent if supports such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, or other welfare transfers, were not in place.

The Poverty Insights 2018-2020 report is published as part of the CSO’s frontier reports series. Some of the results were based on methodology still in development and therefore should be “treated with caution”, the office said.

It said risk of poverty remained high among disabled people, lone parents and adults living on their own, and increased among pensioners. Those already dependent on welfare saw minimal changes to their incomes during the pandemic, it added.


To be at risk of poverty is to be in a household where the income is less than 60 per cent of the median income. Last year the median was €43,893 – meaning those on incomes of €26,335 a year or less were at risk.

The at-risk rate last year was 13.2 per cent, unchanged from 2019 and slightly down on the 2018 rate of 13.4 per cent.

Without Covid-19 income supports the at-risk rate would have been almost 21 per cent – more than seven percentage points higher, the CSO said.

The highest rates last year were among those unable to work due to “long-standing health problems” including disability. More than one in three (34 per cent) of this cohort were on incomes that put them at risk of poverty.

Single adults under 65 were also struggling, with 33.4 per cent at risk of poverty, as were unemployed people (32.6 per cent) and single parents (28.6 per cent). And though rates remained low among the retired, aged 65 or over, they increased year-on-year since 2018, from 6.7 per cent to 7.9 per cent and 8.6 per cent last year.

Two-adult households where at least one adult is aged 65 or over had the lowest at-risk-of-poverty rates every year, at 5.3 per cent in 2018, falling to 3.8 per cent in 2019 and rising to 5 per cent in 2020.

Social Justice Ireland said the "sheer scale" of poverty remained "worrying". Without the cushioning impact of Covid supports, "almost four in every 10 of the Irish population would have been living in poverty".

It said, according to the CSO data, 661,518 people in Ireland were in poverty, of which 210,363 were children. Of these, 133,627 people were in employment, it noted, calling them the “working poor”.

“Today’s figures show we are not making progress in addressing poverty and social exclusion. The scale of poverty is still far too high and presents some serious policy challenges.”

"The issue of child poverty deserves particular attention," said Susanne Rogers, research and policy analyst with Social Justice Ireland. "The fact that such a large proportion of our children are living below the poverty line has obvious implications for the education system, for the success of these children within it, for their job prospects in the future and for Ireland's economic potential in the long term."

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times