What is poverty and social exclusion?

Print page

What is poverty?

Poverty and social exclusion can affect all age groups. It is multi-faceted and combating it requires a multi-policy response. This is reflected in the definition of poverty and social exclusion which the Government first adopted in 1997:
People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally. As a result of inadequate income and resources people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society.


This definition continues to be valid and underpins the Government’s strategic response to tackling poverty and social exclusion as set out in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007 – 2016 (NAPinclusion).


What are the terms used?

Many words concerning poverty and social exclusion are used interchangeably. However, they do have different meanings, as defined below:
  • Deprivation is defined as unmet basic human needs;
  • Poverty is deprivation due to a lack of resources, both material and non-material, e.g. income, housing, health, education, knowledge and culture. It requires a threshold to measure it;
  • Social exclusion is being unable to participate in society because of a lack of resources that are normally available to the general population. It can refer to both individuals, and communities in a broader framework, with linked problems such as low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments and family problems;
  • Inequality is a comparative or relative concept. It does not measure deprivation or poverty and does not require a threshold. It is possible for inequality to exist with or without poverty. Similarly, poverty can exist with or without inequality;
  • Resources can be personal, within the family, or within the society.


How can we measure poverty?

There is no one measure that gives a complete picture of the situation regarding deprivation, poverty and social exclusion. This is particularly true for a country like Ireland that has experienced rapid economic growth over the last ten years. Therefore, a number of indicators are used to measure progress in achieving social inclusion covering areas such as income, levels of deprivation, early school leaving, jobless households, long-term unemployment, and life expectancy.
Indicators such as these are also used at EU level to obtain a picture of the situation regarding poverty and social exclusion across Member States. In June 2006 EU Member States adopted a revised set of common indicators of social protection and social inclusion. The main social inclusion indicators are as follows:
  • At risk of poverty rate
  • At risk of poverty rate anchored at a fixed moment in time
  • Persistent at risk of poverty rate
  • At risk of poverty gap
  • At risk of poverty rate before social transfers
  • Dispersion around the at risk of poverty threshold
  • In-work poverty risk
  • S80/S20 income ratio
  • Gini co-efficient
  • Long-term unemployment rate
  • Regional Cohesion (dispersions of regional employment rates)
  • Jobless Households
  • Employment gap of immigrants
  • Making work pay indicators (unemployment trap, inactivity trap, low-wage trap)
  • Early school leavers
  • Persons with low educational attainment
  • Low reading literacy performance of pupils
  • Healthy life expectancy
  • Child well-being (to be developed)
  • Housing (to be developed)
  • Material deprivation (to be developed)
  • Self reported limitations in daily activities
More information on EU social inclusion indicators can be obtained from the European Commission website at: http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_inclusion/indicators_en.htm

What targets have been set to reduce poverty?

The target set in the Revised National Anti Poverty Strategy (2002) was to reduce the numbers of those who are consistently poor to 2.0% by 2007 and, if possible, to eliminate consistent poverty, as then defined.
A major discontinuity between the Living in Ireland Survey (LIIS), previously used for monitoring progress, and the new EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), which was introduced from 2003, meant that it was not possible to compare trends in consistent poverty between the two surveys.
However, continuing low levels of unemployment and the substantial resources devoted to social welfare and other social services support the view that the downward trend, (from 8.3% in 1994 to 4.1% in 2001), would have continued and the target would have been reached.
The overall goal of the new NAPinclusion is to make a decisive impact on consistent poverty.  This is underlined by the fact that a new target is being set, using the new set of up-to-date indicators, which are more realistic and in keeping with living standards today. The new target is:
To reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to between 2% and 4% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016, under the revised definition.
The new target reflects experience and expert advice that it may be difficult to bring consistent poverty down to zero. This is due in part to the subjective and sensitive nature of the survey questions used to identify deprivation. This is borne out by the fact that, in addition to those below the 60% poverty threshold, a significant minority of people with incomes above that threshold also report deprivation.  This may occur for a variety of reasons such as consumption patterns and choices, or temporary and unexpected heavy spending. It is accepted, however, that the consistent poverty measure does clearly identify those who are most vulnerable.
There are difficulties in setting poverty targets for a number of reasons, as recognised in the national social partnership agreement Towards 2016, including the relatively recent status of EU-SILC. Nonetheless, the Government and the social partners have agreed that it is important to set real and achievable targets.
In this context, the overall approach to effective poverty measurement will be reviewed by Social Inclusion Division, supported by its Technical Advisory Group, which advises the Division on the development of its data strategy. ​
Last modified:18/12/2012

 Related Topics


 Application Forms