Minister Joe O’Brien opened the consultation process for the mid-term review of the Roadmap for Social Inclusion on September 6th 2022. The press release noted that “The Roadmap for Social Inclusion is a whole of Government strategy for addressing poverty and social exclusion. The Roadmap contains ambitious targets to reduce consistent poverty to 2 per cent or less by 2025, and to position Ireland within the top five countries in the EU under a number of leading social inclusion measures.”
The INOU’s submission to this review explored the Roadmap for Social inclusion 2022-2025 and reflected on the issues raised in the questions posed in the online survey, including the progress made to date or not, and the priorities over the coming years.
In setting the context, the INOU noted that according to the Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2021 the at-risk-of-poverty rate would have been 8.3 percentage points higher without the COVID-19 pandemic income supports: 19.9% instead of 11.6%. The SILC data is presented under a number of different categories including Principal Economic Status (PES). Under PES, for people who identified themselves as unemployed their at-risk-of-poverty rates decreased by 10 percentage points to 23.2%. However, without the COVID-19 pandemic income supports this figure would have been 44.1%, and that would have been the highest at-risk-of-poverty rate.
The Roadmap for Social Inclusion contains seven High Level Goals and the following text captures some of the issues raised in the INOU’s submission.
Goal One seeks to “Give everyone who can work the opportunity of employment as a means to improve their well-being”. (p15) There is a lack of ambition to seriously address socio-economic exclusion and discrimination in the labour market in the eleven commitments listed under this goal. There is a lot of cross referencing of other policies, some of which no longer exist, and little sense that the Roadmap for Social Inclusion will really hold these other policies to account.
Goal Two seeks to “ensure that workers are treated fairly and paid fairly and that work continues to be the best route to social inclusion”. (p26) The INOU strongly believes that access to decent work is vitally important for people who are unemployed and distanced from the labour market. Though, there are helpful commitments to address elements of the labour market that are not conducive to decent work, there is a lack of ambition on how Ireland will ensure we create and maintain an inclusive labour market. Yet such a labour market is essential if this Roadmap is to deliver for people who are underrepresented in it and / or over-represented in low paid and insecure employment.
While welcoming the focus of Goals three to five to improve the income of older people, families, children, and people with disabilities, it is disappointing that the Roadmap contains no goal to improve the circumstances of people of working age per se. However, commitment twenty-five under Goal Three states: “Consider and prepare a report for Government on the potential application of the benchmarking approach to other welfare payments.” It would be vital that this work is undertaken as soon as possible in a constructive manner, and that it strives to truly address the poverty facing unemployed people and other social welfare recipients.
Under Goal Four which seeks to “reduce child poverty in Ireland and to ensure that all families have the opportunity to participate fully in society” there is a commitment to “Review the current system of classifying second adults in households as ‘dependent adults’ with a view to individualising welfare payments and supports.” It will be equally important to ensure that every one of working age can access appropriate employment supports and services, otherwise Goals One and Two will hold little relevance for this group of people, who invariably are women.
Goal Five seeks to “Improve social inclusion of people with disabilities by reducing poverty rates, improving employment outcomes and delivering better services”. Under this goal there is a welcome declaration to “Changing the narrative – from disability to ability”. For this to become a meaningful reality for people with disabilities the Government must spell out clearly how Irish society and its economy will become more equitable and inclusive. To that end strong actions are required to ensure that people with disabilities can access decent work, and ideally a job of their choosing.
Goal Six seeks to “Empower communities to address social exclusion”. This is a welcome aim as many people who experience inequality and social exclusion live in communities that are less well-off, seeking to address a complex range of challenges. There are nine commitments under this goal, yet there is no real sense of the resources required to ensure that the aim of this goal will be realised; nor of the negative and ongoing impact of reduction or freezing of funding to community groups during the 2008 financial crisis.
Goal Seven aims to “Ensure that all people have access to quality services”. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of public services and people being able to access them; it also demonstrated that people and communities with more resources were better able to manage the impact of economic lockdowns. To that end the proper implementation of the policies or their replacements in the commitments under this goal are critical.
The INOU’s full submission to the RMSI mid-term review can be found (linked here).