Poverty: At work – and at risk
The number of people at risk of poverty has not fallen in recent years
More than 100,000 people in employment in Ireland fall below the poverty line, according to Social Justice Ireland. Photograph: Alan Betson
The economy may be growing strongly but the number of people at risk of poverty has not fallen in recent years and additional measures are required to address this serious social problem. Legislation that bans zero-hour contracts in most circumstances, at present before the Dáil, will go some way towards addressing the exploitation of low-paid workers. But Social Justice Ireland has recommended that tax credits should be made refundable for badly paid individuals.
Research has shown there is only a marginal difference in the risk of poverty experienced by many people at work and those who are unemployed.
There is nothing new in the exploitation of workers by ruthless employers
More than 100,000 people in employment fall below the poverty line, out of a deprivation total of 780,000, one-quarter of whom are children. The EU sets the poverty line at 60 per cent of national median income and Ireland performs badly in that regard, ranked among the least developed European countries.
One in six Irish people, or 16.5 per cent, live below the poverty line. In the absence of social transfers, such as State pensions, children’s allowances, unemployment assistance and other measures, that figure would rise to 45 per cent, which suggests serious underlying problems.
The risk of poverty is much greater in the Border, midland and west regions than in the east and south of the country, reflecting lower levels of development and agricultural production.
There is nothing new in the exploitation of workers by ruthless employers but, because of the recent recession and high job losses, governments were reluctant to intervene in the rapid casualisation of the working practices.
Now, however, with unemployment standing at 6 per cent, legislative action is under way to address abusive practices. Single parents and their children are twice as likely to experience poverty as employed and unemployed adults. Special measures will be required in removing employment barriers; providing affordable childcare and introducing training and work experience programmes.