Saturday 16 December 2017

Poverty threat for one in six families

Lone-parent households most vulnerable as more dip below the breadline

Aine Kerr and Grainne Cunningham

ONE in six households was stuck in a poverty trap before the recession even hit, a major study by the Government's economic think tank revealed last night.

Research by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) showed that at the very end of the boom years, the level of poverty in Ireland was stuck at 16pc, with lone parents emerging then as the most vulnerable.

Overall, the levels of poverty actually dropped by 3pc during the Celtic Tiger years of 2004 to 2007.

Since 2007, however, the numbers on the Live Register have rocketed by 313,000 to 450,000, while the demand for welfare benefits has surged and led to massive backlogs.

While welfare payments were increased during the boom years, they have since experienced cuts across the board -- putting higher numbers of people under greater financial pressure.

The blind pension, disability payments and the carers' allowance have all been cut since the 2004-2007 survey by the ESRI. The institute last night warned that levels of poverty would rise if people remained long-term unemployed during the recession.

And the economic think tank now fears poverty rates could soar because hundreds of thousands of people are reliant on welfare benefits.

Dr Helen Russell of the ESRI said that if people remained unemployed for 12 months or more, they would start to experience "deprivation".

"If your household has nobody in employment, that's the really big risk factor," she said.

During the boom years, despite child benefit payments being hiked up and more parents out working, a fifth of children still remained at risk of falling below the breadline.


"In 2004, children in lone parent families accounted for 53pc of children in consistent poverty, while in 2007, 65pc of children in consistent poverty were in such families," the report -- entitled 'Monitoring Poverty Trends in Ireland 2004-2007' -- concluded.

According to the ESRI's survey of 13,961 people in 5,600 households, anyone earning less than €229 a week in 2007 -- including those dependant on benefits -- were deemed income poor.

Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Pat Carey said the report would act as a "timely reminder" of the continued importance of tackling poverty as the Government prepared for the December Budget -- which must find another €3bn in cutbacks and the whole area of social welfare may not escape the axe.

Meanwhile, a group of community and voluntary organisations last night claimed that one in seven Irish people was now at risk of poverty, with families of four struggling to make ends meet on an annual income.

The danger of falling into poverty continued to exist in one-third of homes where the head of the family had a job, according to Dr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland. Dr Healy led a meeting of the 17 members of the Community and Voluntary Pillar of Social Partnership which offered the Government a five-point integrated recovery strategy for the forthcoming Budget.

"Ireland's total tax take is one of the lowest in the developed world and it continues to fall as a percentage of national income," Dr Healy said.

He stressed that, despite the economic setback, Ireland was not a poor country and if those who could afford it, paid more, "there will be less hardship for thousands of vulnerable people".

The group called on the Government to increase the overall tax take, through broadening and deepening the tax base, as recommended by the Commission on Taxation.

They also called for the securing of better value for money in the delivery of public services and a reform of the public sector, along OECD guidelines.

While acknowledging that expenditure cuts were necessary, Dr Healy said it was important to ensure that vulnerable people were protected.

"One very obvious area where this could be done would be in tackling the social housing problems that Ireland currently faces with 60,000 households on waiting lists," he said.

Irish Independent

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