An additional 4 in every 10 people would be at risk of poverty if the Government had not safeguarded the very strong social welfare safety net throughout the economic crisis, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton T.D., has said today (1st April 2014).
The Minister was speaking at the 2014 Social Inclusion Forum, held in the Croke Park Conference Centre and convened by the Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection with the assistance of the Community Workers Co-operative (CWC) and the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland (EAPN).
This Forum is part of the institutional framework put in place by the Government to support the development of the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016. It provides an opportunity for wider public consultation and discussion on social inclusion issues, particularly with people experiencing poverty and social exclusion and the groups that work with them. This year’s Forum had a specific focus on community participation.
Addressing the Forum, Minister Burton said it is crucial that the most vulnerable in society benefit from the economic recovery and the increase in employment – a central element of the Pathways to Work strategy to help the long-term unemployed return to work.
“Economic recovery has to lift those people who are in jobless households out of welfare dependency, offer genuine hope and opportunities to our young people and ensure that joblessness does not become an inter-generational problem.
“We are moving firmly in the right direction. Through Pathways, we have undertaken significant structural reform to tackle unemployment and enable people become job-ready. That work is now paying off.
“The number of people in work increased by 61,000 last year. Unemployment has fallen from a crisis peak of 15.1% to 11.9% now. But that is still too high, and that is why I am absolutely determined to increase the pace of progress we are making.
“Full employment must be the central target - because my conviction since entering politics has been that decent, secure and fairly-paid work is the strongest protection against poverty.”
The Minister said helping people back to work significantly reduces the pressure on the overall welfare budget.
“Every 10,000 people we help off the Live Register saves around €95 million in welfare expenditure per year. That in turn creates the room to protect key services, supports and schemes in other areas of the Department.”
The Minister said that in her view, the Government’s safeguarding of the very strong social welfare safety net had helped preserve social cohesion during the crisis.
“About 87% of households in Ireland receive some social transfers - such as Jobseekers’ payments, pensions, and Child Benefit. A recent report - Social Transfers and Poverty Alleviation in Ireland* – demonstrated the importance of this in terms of reducing the risk of poverty.
“Basically, the research is telling us that 4 more people out of every 10 in our society would be at risk of poverty without the helping hand of social transfers.”
The Minister said Ireland’s system of social transfers was at the top of the range in the EU in terms of reducing poverty.
This is separately supported by the OECD which, in its “Society at a Glance 2014” report on Ireland, published earlier this month, said: “Income losses in Ireland would have been far greater without a functioning and adequately resourced social protection system. Spending on unemployment benefits more than doubled and also increased markedly for other income support programmes. Much of this spending was targeted to the poor. In fact, despite big losses overall, relative poverty - which counts people with incomes below half of the median - did not increase.”
Minister Burton said: “Now that spending on unemployment benefits is reducing as a result of getting people back to work, I am confident that we can continue to maintain the social welfare safety net for those who need it, while at the same time, continuing to reform the system in a progressive way.
“Investment in social protection will, in the years ahead, promote active participation in society through the provision of income supports, employment supports and other services.”
* The “Social Transfers and Poverty Alleviation in Ireland: An Analysis of the CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions 20014-2011” report shows how Ireland compares to other European countries and how the role of social transfers (social welfare payments) changed in the years from 2004 to 2011 inclusive, as Ireland moved from high growth to deep recession. The performance of social transfers increased from 53% in 2004 to 71% in 2011, lifting almost 40% of the population out of at-risk-of-poverty in 2011.