Poverty: a widening gap

ESRI report shows vulnerable adults experience significantly greater level of deprivation

The publication of an important study by the Economic and Social Research institute (ESRI) which shows that vulnerable adults in our society experience a significantly greater level of deprivation than the wider population should trigger alarm bells in the Department of Social Protection and beyond.

The fact that the gap between the most vulnerable and the rest of society was wider in Ireland than in 10 other European Union countries that formed part of the study means there are specific problems that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Lone parents and people with a disability are among the group defined by the ESRI as vulnerable adults. A significant gap was found in the rate of persistent deprivation experienced by this group and other Irish adults.

The study points out that a gap exists even in countries with the most generous welfare systems and a low overall rate of deprivation. It means that policies which reduce poverty among the general population do not adequately address deprivation experienced by vulnerable groups.

In Ireland, the persistent deprivation rate is 26 percentage points higher among lone parents and 14 percentage points higher for adults with a disability than for other adults. The UK is marginally better than Ireland and the other nine EU countries significantly better. What is particularly worrying is that in Ireland and the UK the gap increased significantly between 2004 and 2015. This did not happen in the other nine countries.


A key problem identified by the study is that vulnerable adults face barriers when trying to access the labour market. It suggests that measures to address this could include access to affordable childcare, flexible work arrangements, protection of secondary benefits like medical cards, and support in seeking employment, training and work experience. It also suggests that policies focused on the needs of the most vulnerable families may be more effective at tackling child poverty than policies that focus on children in general. Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty should respond quickly to the findings.