Ireland is a deprivation nation.
All manner of numbers and stats regarding growth and employment numbers are thrown around which feeds into the illusion of the ‘Celtic Phoenix’. But there is a grim reality – which doesn’t feature much in the popular debate: we are a society riddled with high levels of poverty and deprivation. And recent EU Commission data shows we have much higher levels than most other comparable EU countries.
We are familiar with the CSO’s deprivation measurement. This based on people experiencing at least two of eleven deprivation experiences (unable to afford food, heating, clothes, etc.). On this basis, they estimate that over one million people – or 28 percent of the population – experience multiple deprivation experiences and, so, are categorised as living in deprivation conditions.
The EU Commission uses two measurements ‘material deprivation’ and ‘severe material deprivation’. These are harsher benchmarks than what the CSO uses (they both work off the same database – the EU Survey of Income and Living Conditions). The EU Commission use nine deprivation experiences in which people cannot afford to
- Pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills
- Keep their home adequately warm
- Face unexpected expenses
- Eat meat or proteins regularly
- Go on holiday
- Own a television set
- Own a washing machine
- Own a car
- Own a telephone
For the EU Commission, ‘material deprivation’ measures the percentage of the population that cannot afford three of the nine items. ‘Severe material deprivation’ measures the percentage that cannot afford four of the items.
How does Ireland compare to other EU-15 countries?
This is pretty staggering. While it is not surprising to see Greece with the highest level of material deprivation, Ireland is right up there at the top – marginally behind Italy but ahead of poorer countries like Portugal and Spain. Material deprivation in Ireland is 58 percent higher than the EU-15 average.
- There are over 1.1 million people in Ireland living in material deprivation – a quarter of the population.
When we turn to ‘severe’ material deprivation (remember – that is experiencing four out of the nine indicators above), we see a similar pattern.
Ireland remains in third place – behind Greece and Italy – and over 33 percent above the EU-15 average.
- There are 450,000 people in Ireland living in ‘severe’ material deprivation – or one-in-ten people.
The growth in the number of people suffering deprivation has been substantial. Between 2007 and 2012, the numbers increased from 450,000 to over 1.1 million – doubling in the space of five years. There is a similar pattern among those suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation – rising from 190,000 to over 450,000 – again, more than doubling.
There are a number of social categories we could look at (and I’ll get to some of these again) but here I want to focus on children. In Ireland, children are particularly impacted by both material and severe material deprivation.
These are grim numbers.
- There are over 380,000 children living in material deprivation – nearly one-in-three children. This figure has more than doubled since the onset of the recession.
- There are 150,000 children living in severe material deprivation – one-in-eight children in the state.
Let’s cut to the chase: one million people living in deprivation, nearly one-in-three children suffering deprivation, is an economic, social and moral indictment of the priorities of a government that privileges tax cuts over poverty-reduction. There is no indication at all from Government Ministers that this is even an issue. All we get is practiced responses that avoid the issue. A cut in taxation for people on incomes of €70,000 is on the agenda; cuts in poverty and deprivation are not.
It is important for progressives who want to prioritise a new social agenda, one where poverty reduction is a national imperative, to not only point out the social obscenity of such high levels of deprivation. It is important to show that an economy cannot optimise its growth potential if it is burdened with these deprivation levels. In short, poverty is a cost on a productive economy – and in Ireland, it is a very high cost.
And it goes further than just increasing social protection payments; though given the real cuts (i.e. after inflation) in basic payments in the last four years, such increases would be extremely welcome. It requires a comprehensive response to improve people’s living standards: increased public services – especially in education and health, social housing and affordable private rents;, programmes that improve people’s labour and personal skills, easier access to work and stronger rights in work (in particular, part-time workers), debt reduction – and much more. It requires a national drive to eliminate the spectre of deprivation in society. This is a drive that would pay for itself in no time, raising the floor so that all of us benefit.
But the first step is to get the Government and the popular debate to acknowledge the painful reality of Ireland today.
We are a deprivation nation.