Study seeks to uncover true extent of rural deprivation


ALTHOUGH the image of poverty in Ireland is associated with large suburban housing estates, most poor people live in rural rather than urban areas. Yet this is often disguised, according to a new study of poverty in rural Ireland.

Mr Trutz Haase, one of the editors of Poverty in Rural Ireland, published by the Combat Poverty Agency, said the north-west and along the Border were the worst-affected areas.

While "the west" was associated with poverty, there was a higher concentration of social deprivation in Donegal and Mayo than in Limerick and Kerry.

"There is a greater concentration of poverty to be found at the outskirts of small villages or towns which accommodate the housing estates for those who no longer earn their living from farming and who do not possess any land at all," he said.

According to the study, poverty is not confined to lack of income, although this is important. Mr. Haase drew up a range of factors to indicate deprivation, including the age-dependency ratio; the proportions of people working on farms of fewer than 30 acres, or, on the other hand, of households with two or more cars; the proportions of people with different levels of education and/or in the different social classes, and the average number of persons to a room.

Based on these and other factors, he drew up a map which showed the areas with the greatest concentration of deprivation.

But he stressed that poverty was not linked to place but to people. The circumstances into which people were born, their access to land and education, affected whether they would be poor.

The study authors say the decline in agriculture, accelerated by the CAP, has contributed to the growth in rural poverty and the gap between rich and poor in rural Ireland. The lack of opportunities for employment in agriculture has led to out-migration (to cities and abroad), which leads to an unbalanced age structure and sex ratio which, in turn, leads to a low marriage rate and low birth rate and, therefore, to a decrease in demand for services. Thus the fabric of rural life is affected.

Mr Haase stressed this was not inevitable and policy change could help. While it was important to keep post offices and other services open, it was not enough. It was necessary to generate economic activity to produce wealth and support the services.

"Cash transfers have not done it, and a lot of that goes to large farmers anyway," he said.