At the end of 2020, EAPN Ireland established the Basic Necessities Working Group. Consisting of national, regional and local organisations working within the Community and Voluntary Sector, to examine the increasing demand for basic necessities as provided by the Community and Voluntary Sector. Over the past number of years EAPN Ireland has noted and received feedback from members, around the growing number of low-income households relying on the community and voluntary sector for basic essentials.
COVID-19 has perpetuated inequality throughout Ireland. The Community and Voluntary sector has come together to respond to this national emergency by providing services and supports to those most in need in local communities. It has been observed within the sector, that the demand for food and other basic necessities such as heating, hygiene products, baby items, to name but a few, increased significantly during 2020. However, Community and Voluntary sector organisations are keen to highlight that the increasing demand for basic essentials preceded the pandemic and existed prior to the COVID-19 emergency.
While food bank and other related services provide an important emergency response to low-income households, EAPN Ireland has serious concerns about the increasing number of households that are unable to afford the basics necessities, this is due to inadequate incomes and increasing living costs. Not being able to afford basic essentials represents absolute poverty and a deep-rooted inequality that has no place in Ireland in 2021. The Basic Necessities Working Group has been asking questions around why this is happening and examining what can be done to address these issues.
The Survey of Income and Living Conditions in 2019 revealed that material deprivation in Ireland increased to 17.8% of the population in 2019. This represents approximately 876,000 people in Ireland currently experiencing deprivation. This means that there has been an increase in the number of households unable to afford at least 2 of 11 basic essentials, (the measure which defines material deprivation).
The root cause of material deprivation is income inadequacy. Research conducted by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice has consistently revealed that low-income households, those living on social welfare and low paid, minimum wage, jobs, cannot afford to meet the Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL).
MESL represents the standard of Living below which nobody in Ireland should have to live and the basket of goods and services required for households to meet all of their basic needs. When people cannot afford to meet basic needs, they must make difficult choices around household expenditure. This means households will cover rent and utilities but may not not have the money to then purchase essential items and as a result often seek out supports from Community organisations and charities.
In order to meet demand, community groups have found themselves repurposing funding to provide basic necessities such as food and care packages to local communities. We now have a situation where funding originally intended for the purposes of promoting equality and social inclusion, empowering communities through locally led long-term initiatives, has been redirected to provide food and other essentials. We cannot equate this with an impactful or sustainable response to poverty. If we normalise foodbanks and other related supports, where then lies the ambition or aspiration for the creation and implementation of anti-poverty policies and initiatives that address the underlying structural causes of social exclusion and inequality throughout Ireland?
The Basic Necessities Working Group has developed a briefing note in order to highlight, why income inadequacy is the root cause of poverty and why income adequacy is part of the solution that will lift people above the poverty line and help them achieve a Minimum Essential Standard of Living. In the recently published briefing, the group issues a series of recommendations to the Government on what actions must be taken in order to address poverty In Ireland. This includes benchmarking social welfare rates to the Minimum Essential Standard of Living, a move towards decent work with a living wage, and investment in affordable public services such as housing with a differential rent, universal healthcare, and education.
Ireland has signed up to a range of anti-poverty commitments; the European Pillar for Social Rights, the Global Sustainable Development Goals, and commitments within the Government Strategy ‘The Roadmap for Social Inclusion.’ As we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, we have an opportunity to address poverty in a meaningful manner that ensures we meet these commitments. The political will to address poverty must go beyond funding the existence of food banks and the provision of basic items through charities and community organisations. Instead, facilitating an in-depth examination of the root causes of poverty and how we can address them moving forward. The Roadmap to Social Inclusion aspires to ensure that by 2025 Ireland is one of the most ‘socially inclusive states in the EU’  however it will not be possible for this to come to fruition as long as a growing number of people in Ireland cannot afford to purchase basic necessities.