In January 2020, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection at the time, Regina Doherty, T.D., published the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020 – 2025 which laid out the Government’s ambition for Ireland to become one of the most socially inclusive States in the European Union and ‘to reduce the number of people in consistent poverty in Ireland to 2% or less’.
It is worth noting the poverty targets set under the Roadmap’s predecessor, the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPSI):
- NAPSI 2007-2016 Overall Poverty Goal: To reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to between 2% and 4% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016, under the revised definition.
- Updated NAPSI 2015-2017 National Social Target for Poverty Reduction: The revised target is to reduce consistent poverty to 4 per cent by 2016 (interim target) and to 2 per cent or less by 2020, from the 2010 baseline rate of 6.3 per cent.
Over the period NAPSI and its update cover, 2007 – 2017, consistent poverty ranged from 4.2% in 2008 to 9% in 2013. The most recent figure is for 2018, when it stood at 5.6%. So, the current ambition is set for 2025, and it is very debatable whether the contents of this Roadmap will deliver on what has been a long-standing but unmet ambition.
It is welcome that on page fifteen the report notes “However we need to go further than that. A predominantly income-based metric, such as consistent poverty, cannot of itself adequately capture the multi-faceted dimensions of social exclusion which cuts across gender, age, civil and family status, ethnicity, membership of the Traveller community, disability and sexual orientation among other dimensions. If our goal is to truly move to the promotion of an inclusive society we need to increase our ambition and to expand and refine the metrics used to monitor and report on progress to reflect these dimensions.”
It is particularly disappointing the unemployed people or others experiencing poverty because of their socio-economic status and exclusion are not named in this quote. In many ways this reflects the gap in Ireland’s equality legislation; a gap that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Amongst the Roadmap’s seven High Level Goals there is a welcome one to ‘Extend employment opportunities to all who can work’. How this will be done will be critically important, and amongst the 66 Commitments made in the report there is one to ‘Improve employment services for long-term unemployed people and marginalised groups.’ This is a particular issue of concern for many of the INOU’s members and affiliates.
At the time of publication, a review of the Pathways to Work policy was well underway, and though the reference to ‘as the economy continues to recover’ on page 25 of the Roadmap may read as historic as we all struggle with the impact of COVID-19, the focus of the review remains pertinent if social exclusion is to be appropriately addressed, including:
- “Which categories of jobseeker should be prioritised for support and assistance as the economy continues to recover
- How the State’s public employment service (Intreo) can be extended to help increase labour market access and participation e.g. among ‘stay at home’ homemakers, people with disabilities, the Travelling community, the migrant community, early school leavers and among other disadvantaged groups including prisoners
- If and how the Intreo service can be extended to offer services to people in employment (particularly those in low-paid or casual employment) and to people on the cusp of entering the labour market in order to help them progress in their careers
- How the various services offered (job search assistance and advice, work experience programmes, occupational placements, training and education, recruitment incentives and subsidies etc.) can be adapted and improved to best address the changing labour market requirements”
In the current Programme for Government, entitled Our Shared Future, on page 75, under the heading Anti-poverty and Social Inclusion Measures, they state “As we emerge from the COVID pandemic, we must build upon the unity, which was fundamental in our response, to improve outcomes for those who are struggling on low incomes, struggling with caring responsibilities, having to raise their families alone, or living with a disability. Any changes made in social welfare provisions will continue to be gender- and equality-proofed. We will do this by rigorous implementation of the new social inclusion strategy, A Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025.”
The consistent poverty rate for people who are unemployed over the period 2007-2017 ranged from 9.7% in 2008 to 25.9% in 2015. However, in 2018 it had increased to 27.6%, the highest rate of any group. Many people will note that the best route out of poverty is a job, but this only holds true if it is a decent job, and jobseekers are given the wherewithal to acquire and maintain such a job. In the meantime, unemployed people and others surviving on inadequate social welfare payments must be provided with sufficient income to support them to meet a minimum essential standard of living.