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Opening Address by the Taoiseach Mr. Bertie Ahern, T.D.

at the launch of Second Annual Report of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy

Inter-Departmental Policy Committee 1999/ 2000

29 September, 2000

Progress to date

Tackling poverty and social exclusion is one of the major challenges facing Irish society. We need to ensure that the benefits of sound economic management and growth are distributed fairly and, in particular, are used to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and social exclusion.

The National Anti-Poverty Strategy is the key Government mechanism for building an inclusive society and has provided a valuable means of co-ordinating policy responses to complex problems.

In the relatively short space of time since the NAPS was launched in 1997, our economy has continued to expand rapidly and we have made significant progress on a number of fronts. The initial targets set under the Strategy have been met and new, more ambitious targets set. For example, the number of people in consistent poverty has been reduced to approximately 6-8%; having decreased from 9-15% at the time the NAPS was launched. In practical terms this means that the number of people unable to afford an acceptable standard of living in areas such as food and clothing has been reduced very significantly.

Key to this has been the success of efforts implemented under the Governments Employment Action Plan to expand employment opportunities, particularly for the long-term unemployed, who had previously benefited little from economic growth. As a result of the active labour market programmes in recent years, the level of unemployment has been reduced to 4.3% and the level of long-term unemployment has been reduced to 1.6%.

New phase of the NAPS

The overall socio-economic position today is substantially different to that which existed at the time the original NAPS targets were drawn up. We now have a booming economy and low unemployment, providing us with the resources to break cycles of poverty and deprivation and to make this a country where everybody feels they belong. Economic growth is the means to an end, however not the end in itself. It has provided us with an opportunity to progress our strategy on social inclusion. It has given us a solid base to attack the root causes of poverty and exclusion. The National Anti-Poverty Strategy has built on this base and provided a focus for co-ordinated action towards social inclusion.

This is not to say that we have found the solutions to poverty and social exclusion. It does tell us however that we are doing something right. But each of us knows there is no room for complacency and we need to work harder to reach those people who are still being left behind.

Building Blocks

The National Development Plan and the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness provide the building blocks for an inclusive Ireland. They also provide the background for the next stage of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy process. We have entered a period of review and consultation during which the Strategy will be strengthened and targets reviewed and revised, to ensure that they remain relevant in the years ahead.

As we consider the next stage of the NAPS, there are many difficult challenges which we must face child poverty, womens poverty, poverty experienced by older people, health, housing and accommodation. These issues are not new but they have become more relevant than ever before. The possibility of introducing new targets in these areas will be considered, in line with commitments contained in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. The main objectives when setting such targets will be to ensure that they represent an appropriate balance between the need for ambition and realism. If targets are realistic and based on solid research they can make a valuable contribution and maintain the focus and credibility which the NAPS has developed.

One of the core strengths of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy is that it focuses attention on long-term solutions and moves debate away from short-term and reactive responses. It also recognises that anti-poverty action has to involve more than traditional responses and must include, for example, creating a pro-employment environment, expanding access to high-quality education and training and targeting investment towards communities.

The Government is working on a number of fronts to drive forward the social inclusion agenda. This report from the Inter-Departmental Policy Committee shows a wide variety of initiatives touching every aspect of Government. Quite a number of highly innovative policy responses such as the Integrated Service Process are also being developed which have the potential to make a difference in peoples lives.

Looking forward

The elimination of poverty is not just a noble aspiration. I believe it can be a practical reality and it can be a practical reality. A socially inclusive society empowers individuals and communities to make a contribution to the fullness of their potential. Sustainable prosperity will be dependent on opening up the opportunity for everyone to make the fullest possible contribution. The long term economic, social and political vitality of our country rests on whether we can become truly inclusive. This Government will provide the necessary supports to make this vision a reality.

Last modified:05/11/2008

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