1,230,000

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1,230,000. This number should be burned into the debate.  This the approximate number of people included in the CSO’s enforced deprivation rate.  This is the number of people who suffered two or more deprivation experiences in 2012.  This is more than one-in-four – 26.9 percent – of all people in the state.  This is a number that should drive the debate from here on.

The CSO sets out eleven enforced deprivation experiences:

Without heating at some stage in the last year * Unable to afford a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight  * Unable to afford two pairs of strong shoes * Unable to afford a roast once a week * Unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day * Unable to afford new (not second-hand) clothes *  Unable to afford a warm waterproof coat * Unable to afford to keep the home adequately warm * Unable to afford to replace any worn out furniture * Unable to afford to have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month * Unable to afford to buy presents for family or friends at least once a year

Those who suffer two or more of these experiences are officially categorised as deprived.

Deprivation has been rising since the beginning of the recession.  In 2007, 11.3 percent were categorised as deprived.  In 2012, it rose to nearly 27 percent – more than doubling.  In absolute numbers, it has increased by nearly three-quarters of a million.

In this overall number there are approximately 375,000 children, aged 17 and under.  Since 2007, this number has increased by 180,000.

There are sections of society that are under severe pressure.  The following is the deprivation rate for particularly vulnerable sectors:

  • Social housing tenants:  50.7 percent
  • Lone parents:  49.5 percent
  • Unemployed:  49.4 percent
  • Not at work due to illness or disability:  48.5 percent

In these groups, one-in-two people live in deprivation.

It should never be forgotten that deprivation is not an experience confined to social protection recipients.  Over 16 percent of those in work are categorised as deprived.

Dep1

But for one-income households, over 30 percent – nearly one-in-three – suffer multiple deprivation.  Even two-income households are not exempt from this social scourge:  one-in-eight households with two incomes are deprived.

Social Justice Ireland has highlighted another poverty measurement – relative poverty, or ‘at-risk of poverty’.  This measures the number of people whose income is 60 percent of median income.  Median income is the mid-point in income distribution– where 50 percent earn above that amount and 50 percent earn below.

Using this measurement, SJI points out that 757,000 are at-risk of poverty, or 16.5 percent of the population.  Of this number, 220,000 are children.

This is a helpful measurement but like all such measurements, it has limitations.  The main limitation is that this poverty line is linked to median income.  And when the median income falls, so does the poverty line.  The following graph shows how this works.

Dep2

Median income has fallen by 14.7 percent; therefore, the poverty line threshold has also fallen.  That’s why the number of those categorised at-risk of poverty has remained fairly stable (in 2008, 14.4 percent were at-risk).  The Government and the IMF has made much of this – how the austerity programme has shielded the most vulnerable.

However, because median income has fallen, we have this weird situation whereby you could be in relative poverty in 2008, have your income cut, but find yourself statistically out of relative poverty – simply because median income fell faster than yours.  Example:  you had €12,400 equivalised income in 2008; as the chart above shows, you would have been categorised as at-risk of poverty.  Now, let’s say your income fell by 10 percent by 2012.  Using this measurement, you’d no longer be considered at risk of poverty.  Why?  Because even though your income fell, median income fell faster,

The CSO provides a little twist to this measurement.  How many people would be at-risk of poverty if the median income hadn’t fallen; or was frozen at 2007 levels?  Over 24 percent – or more than one million people.  This would correspond to the numbers suffering deprivation.

One final deprivation stat.

Dep3

While the CSO’s deprivation rate includes those who have suffered two or more such experiences, we find that the number suffering one deprivation experience has increase from 11.3 to 16.1 percent.  Therefore, in 2012, over 40 percent of the population suffered at least one deprivation experience – up from a quarter in 2008.

Deprivation, relative poverty, consistent poverty – this should now drive the debate.  When we have over one million people living in deprivation and poverty, public policy and political discussions should be wholly focused on how we end this disgrace.  Yes, there will always be people who have less than others – whether that’s income or property.

But is anyone going to rationalise a society where people go without food or without home heating or a winter coat or a pair of shoes?  No, there isn’t (at least I hope there isn’t).  But what may happen is that all this will be ignored, that those living in poverty and deprivation will be air-brushed out of the public debate, that there won’t be any need to rationalise it – because for all practical purposes it won’t exist.

And when that happens we will have truly lost not only our grasp on rational economics but our moral compass as well.

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