Living on the Edge: Millions of Irish People Will Struggle to Pay Bills as Recession Deepens

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Nearly half of the population would struggle to pay an unexpected bill of €1,000 in the next twelve months, according to a new Eurobarometer study. Forty-five per cent of Irish respondents to the Europe-wide survey indicated that there is a high or moderate risk that they would be unable to cope with such an unexpected expense. The Eurobarometer study surveyed 25,000 people across the European Union on their attitudes to the social and economic crisis.

According to Anna Visser, Director of the European Anti-Poverty Network, 2010 will be a make or break year for hundreds of thousands of families and individuals across the state.

“Many, many people are just barely getting by and simply can’t afford to plan for unexpected expenditure. The results of the poll also show that employment does not necessarily ensure financial stability. The number of people who indicated that they would struggle to manage an unexpected bill of €1,000 is over thirty per cent greater than the unemployment rate.”

Danish respondents were the most optimistic with just thirteen per cent stating that there was a moderate or high risk of not being able to pay an unexpected bill of €1,000. At the other end of the scale, seventy-eight per cent of Latvian’s surveyed indicated that there would have difficulty in meeting unexpected expenditure of €1,000.

The survey also found that nearly one third of Irish people will struggle to pay their ordinary bills in the next year. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents indicated that there is a high or moderate risk that they will be unable to pay ordinary bills or buy food or other daily consumer items in the coming twelve months. According to Ms. Visser, “It is incredibly worrying that the Government is planning to remove or reduce crucial social supports at the very time that people are most at risk.”

“The survey shows that many people in this country are at the edge financially and simply can’t afford to take further income reductions. Social welfare benefits reduced Ireland’s poverty rate in 2007 by twenty-five per cent. Removing vital supports at this time will push thousands of individuals and families below the poverty line. This will have devastating social and economic effects for decades to come.”

The Eurobarometer poll was conducted in advance of the 2010 European Year for Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion. Ms Visser stated that the European Year, “represents a unique opportunity to tackle poverty in Ireland and across Europe and to create a more cohesive, equal and sustainable society.”

2010 Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion

Last month, The EAPN Ireland Employment Working Group published the EAPN Working Group Plan for Tackling Social and Economic Crisis, a series of recommendations for tackling the social and economic crisis including:

• The Government’s pilot ‘Short time Working Training Programme’ should be urgently rolled out rightacross the country beyond the existing 277 places.
• The Government needs to implement immediately the recommendations on improving the skills of vulnerable individuals and sectors, as set out in the Government’s National Skills Strategy.
• Training and education programmes should integrate labour market experience, such as the  traineeship model, based on international best practice.
• A broader tax base, including taxes on wealth and property, is required to secure a more stable and equitable income stream for the state. Income should not rely on volatile expenditure taxes nor should it undermine the maintenance and creation of jobs.
• Reform the social welfare system so that it includes integrated training and education responses to labour market activation and eliminates poverty traps.
• The Government should invest and promote job growth in areas like social infrastructure and childcare, ‘green’ jobs, and the food industry.

Poverty in Ireland

People or households are considered to be at risk of poverty when their income is less than a particular threshold. In the EU, the threshold has been set at 60% of the median income (mid-point in the scale of the highest to the lowest of all incomes in Ireland). Whether persons below the 60% threshold are actually experiencing poverty will depend on a number of factors. These include:

• The degree to which income is below the relevant thresholds;
• The length of time on this relatively low income – a long period can lead to real deprivation, as a person’s assets run down and cannot be fully maintained or replaced;
• Possession and use of other assets, especially one’s own home.

The most up-to-date data available on poverty in Ireland comes from the 2007 EU-SILC survey, conducted by the CSO (published in early December 2008). Using the EU poverty line set at 60% of median income, the findings reveal that in 2007 almost 16 out of every 100 people in Ireland were at risk of poverty. The 2008 edition of the CSO’s Statistical Yearbook indicates that out of approximately 1,050,000 children in Ireland aged less than 18 years, 19% are classified as being at risk of poverty.

This amounts to approximately 200,000 children. More than half of all those at risk of poverty in Ireland today (55.9%) live in households headed by a person who is outside the labour force (i.e. people who are older or ill, or have a serious disability or are in caring roles).

These are Ireland’s most vulnerable people and they depend completely on social welfare payments for survival. There was an increase in the ‘at risk of poverty’ rate for older people. The rate rose from 13.6% in 2006 to 16.6% in 2007 (Source: EU-SILC survey, 2007).


One Response


    November 11, 2009 4:27 pm

    Hi Mark,
    as an economist I can only fully support your analysis 100%. Establishing a budget deficit approach in an economic recession context will only exacerbate the recession over time and will not, quite the contrary, reduce the economic inequlaities in Ireland. There are many and recent cases where this “shock therapy” has not worked and made things worse : like the eastern european economies and some Asian countires during the 1990s.
    It may make some sense to reduce the deficit but by increasing the tax revenues, not with increasing current taxes % but generating policies of growth and development. unfortunately the current government is not propoding any option in relation to this.