IRELAND IS ENJOYING a little bounce from the financial pages of international titles because of its newly-won place among the richest nations in Europe. Alongside many of the pieces runs some statistics that point to one-fifth of the Irish population living in poverty. That statistic does not reflect the true picture. There is no way that 22% of those living in Ireland are impoverished. The statistic is designed to be relative and a guidepost for continued government welfare funding. However, when it percolates outside of the country, it often becomes misconstrued as an absolute accounting of those living in abject conditions. I remember Mississippi tin shacks--those were abject conditions.
We are all poor relative to someone else. Drawing some actuarial line across wage packets is not going to define a real problem because that is not a real way of measuring people in need. Moreover, throwing money at people across the board does not ensure you target those living in consistent poverty. Relative poverty covers those who live on 60 per cent of the median income. That might be worth documenting but knowing that number does not help in reducing child poverty.
Welfare spending in 2001 reached €8 billion in Ireland and it has ballooned to €12 billion in 2005. Much of that money goes to child benefit and for family programmes. All studies point out that in Irish society, those most at risk are families with children--mainly single parents or kids in large families--as well as the disabled, and elderly living alone. The best way to tackle the needs of those people is to increase their benefits and to provide all sorts of handholds to get people back to work.
Consistent poverty is based on a list of 11 deprivations. For example, whether you have a winter coat and two pairs of strong shoes. This listing changes year-to-year so when I read about the need to have an annual holiday or be labelled as improverished, I was a little surprised. Where I grew up, we took a family holiday once every five years. I doubt that this lifestyle choice deserves subvention by other taxpayers.
The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Seamus Brennan, told The Irish Times that consistent poverty is regarded as those deprived of basic goods and services with household incomes less than 60% of median disposable income. The government is already working the sums and may announce a second-tier child benefit for children in low-income households.
Having lived in three different countries, my perception is that Ireland has its poverty but also offers more safety nets than many other countries.