Social justice study flags Ireland as among ‘worst performers’

Analysis acknowledges bullish growth but stinging criticism across key indicators

Ireland scores well compared to the European Union 15 countries on education, though the number of young people not in employment, education or training “is a cause for concern” at about 15%. File photograph: Getty Images

Ireland scores well compared to the European Union 15 countries on education, though the number of young people not in employment, education or training “is a cause for concern” at about 15%. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Ireland is one of the “worst performers” on a range of social and environmental indicators compared with 15 similar EU countries, a study has revealed. This is despite Ireland being one of the best on economic growth.

Published on Tuesday by Social Justice Ireland (SJI), Measuring Progress: Economy, Society and Environment in Ireland 2018 assesses performance across the United Nations’ 17 social development goals (SDGs).

It highlights Ireland’s “particularly poor performance on long-term unemployment, household debt and greenhouse gas emissions”.

Ireland “needs to drastically change its waste-based consumption patterns and recognise that short-term, economic-growth focussed policies are unsustainable”.

Social Justice Ireland

The first study of its kind here, it was conducted by researchers at University College Cork and St John’s University New York, using data from such sources as the World Health Organisation, World Bank and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

SJI will publish similar monitoring reports on Ireland’s progress on meeting SDGs, annually.

The report argues that solely focussing on economic growth, or gross domestic product, as a measurement of progress is highly flawed. It says societal wellbeing depends on a far wider range of indicators.

“Evidence now supports the view that a rising tide only helps people who already have strong boats. With lower overall growth rates, and with rising inequality funnelling the benefits of growth to fewer people, GDP, as a measure of progress is being re-examined from many different angles.”

The 17 UN goals focus on such issues as reducing economic inequality, protecting the environment, affordable clean energy, gender equality and addressing climate change.

Ireland scores well compared to the European Union 15 countries on education, though the number of young people not in employment, education or training “is a cause for concern” at about 15 per cent, being consistently above the EU15 average of about 12 per cent between 2007 and 2006.

“Ireland scores in the bottom third of the EU15 group for five social development goals – gender equality, reducing economic inequality, international development partnership, affordable and clean energy and responsible consumption and production.”

‘Policy formation’

SJI director Dr Seán Healy said the findings showed the need for social development goals to become “an integrated part of policy formation”.

Dr Catherine Kavanagh, of the Department of Economics in UCC and co-author of the report, said policies which “damage families and promote inequality” were “simply unsustainable”.

Economist Michael Taft, responding to the report, said there were “deep structural” obstacles to overcoming the negative impact of widespread low pay.

Low pay was concentrated in the private sector. Among the obstacles were the lack of investment in public services and the far fewer Irish workers covered by collective bargaining than in comparable countries such as Germany or Austria.