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A quarter of population can't afford winter coat or night out with friends

AVERAGE disposable incomes have dropped for the fourth year in a row, as the number of people at risk of poverty increases.

After taxes are paid, the average amount left in people's wallets is €21,440 a year, down 12pc or €2,940 since 2008.

Anti-poverty groups have warned that one in four of the population are unable to afford at least two items generally considered necessary, including a warm winter coat, a night out, a roast once a week or home heating.

The Income and Living Conditions report from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) paints a stark picture of life for many in Irish society, with social welfare payments often the only thing keeping large numbers of families out of poverty.

The report shows:

• Average disposable income has fallen for the fourth year in a row, down from €23,610 in 2007 to €21,440 in 2011.

• The highest average income is in Dublin, and the lowest in Donegal.

• The number of people at risk of poverty has increased to 16pc of the population, or 733,000 people, the third year-on-year increase.

• More than 232,000 children – almost 19pc – are at risk.

• Seven per cent of the population live in consistent poverty, up from 4.2pc in 2008.

• The most common types of deprivation were not having the money to replace worn out furniture (21.7pc), followed by unable to afford a night out (21pc), unable to have friends over for a meal or drink (14.8pc) and unable to afford home heating (12.2pc).

• If social welfare payments were discounted, almost 51pc of the population would be at risk of poverty.

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Campaigners said the fact that 733,000 people lived in poverty pointed to a "major failure" of government policy.

"This clearly identifies a major policy failure by Government which has imposed a disproportionate part of the hit for current budgetary adjustments on Ireland's poor and vulnerable people," director of Social Justice Ireland, Fr Sean Healy said.

"Government should give priority to ensuring that everyone in Ireland has the income and services to live life with basic dignity, which is not currently the case."

The European Anti-Poverty Network added that the figures were "shocking but not surprising" and called on the Government to "get serious on fighting poverty".

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said the CSO report showed the crucial role played by social welfare to protect the most vulnerable.

She said the gap in income between the wealthiest and poorest had remained the same since 2007, before the crisis, and that payments were helping keep many families afloat.

"I have been very conscious of how crucial our welfare expenditure has been in protecting the most vulnerable and minimising poverty during the economic crisis. This is precisely why I protected weekly welfare payment rates in Budgets 2012 and 2013," she said.

"The Government is committed to ensuring that the least well off in society are protected from the social impact of the crisis and are enabled to benefit from the economic recovery and new employment opportunities."

The CSO report also says those with third-level qualification have the highest disposable income at €33,244. Those with a secondary education or below had €16,205.

Those with €10,889 are at risk of poverty. Some 20pc of people living in the border, midland and west region were at risk, up from 13.8pc in 2010.

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