Ireland’s system of social transfers crucial in preventing poverty – Minister Burton

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The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, T.D. told the 2013 Social Inclusion Forum today (Tuesday, 26th March) that compared to other EU countries, Ireland’s system of social transfers is the most effective in reducing poverty and is far superior to that of other countries most affected by the economic crisis (Estonia, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Britain).

The Forum provides an opportunity for engagement between officials from Government Departments, community and voluntary organisations and people experiencing poverty in relation to the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016.

Addressing the Forum, which took place in the Croke Park Conference Centre in Dublin, the Minister spoke of social welfare playing a pivotal role in protecting the most vulnerable in society and reducing poverty during the economic crisis. “I am very conscious of how crucial our welfare expenditure is in protecting the most vulnerable and minimising poverty during the economic crisis. This is precisely why I protected the core weekly social welfare payments in Budget 2012 and again in Budget 2013,” the Minister said.

A particular issue that the Department and the ESRI have recently highlighted as a key risk factor for poverty and social exclusion in Ireland is jobless households. Jobless households, in which effectively no adult works, are far more prevalent in Ireland than in any other EU member state. They comprise 24 per cent of the Irish population from infancy to age 59 years. “The percentage of jobless households actually increased during the peak period of the economic boom, indicating a structural problem that was never sufficiently addressed by previous governments,” Minister Burton said. “It is essential we now act to tackle the issue, as jobless households have a high risk of poverty, despite being in receipt of significant welfare payments. We need structural reform of the welfare system to enable all working-age adults to access the labour market and to ensure that a large segment of the population is not permanently cast aside and consigned to a lifetime without work.”

This year, the Department will invest more than €1 billion in work, training and education schemes and supports such as Community Employment, Tús and JobBridge, benefitting approximately 85,000 people, with an emphasis on the long-term unemployed.

Speaking on the Government’s commitment to tackling poverty in the EU along with fellow member states, the Minister said that while achieving the national and EU targets will be challenging in the economic circumstances, “we are determined to succeed”. Ireland is engaged in significant reforms to address poverty and help jobseekers return to work. These range from Intreo - the Department’s new “one stop shop” service where jobseekers can get their income supports and employment supports in the one place for the first time - to improved access to services such as childcare.

Minister Burton expressed confidence that the social welfare reforms currently in train will help people on the path back to work, thereby increasing employment and reducing poverty.

“Developing an inclusive society will require a joined-up policy approach, linking together income support, inclusive labour markets and access to services. My Department has a central role to play in this,” she said.

Commenting on the Social Inclusion Monitor 2011, which reviews progress towards the National Social Target for Poverty Reduction, the Minister said: “While it is hardly surprising that the indicators reflect the impact of the worst economic and fiscal crisis for a generation, it is very welcome to see the strong performance of social transfers in protecting those on the lowest incomes as this remains a key part of the Government’s approach to protecting our citizens from the worst effects of the crisis.”

In 2011, social transfers to working-age persons and their families reduced the at-risk-of poverty rate from 40 per cent to 16 per cent, representing a poverty reduction effect of 60 per cent, rising to 68 per cent for the whole population when pensions are included.

Coinciding with Ireland’s Presidency of the EU, the Forum also discussed the social dimension of the Europe 2020 Strategy* (see Note for Editors below).

The Minister said “I strongly believe that the fiscal and economic crisis in Europe must not distract us from the equally important social challenge, which is to improve the living conditions and life chances of all citizens. A well-designed and administered social policy is an important and integral part of Europe 2020 and the response of the Irish Presidency reflects this.”

During the course of the day participants discussed the following areas in specific workshops:

  • Improving Outcomes for Children and Young People
  • Unemployment and Jobless Households
  • Older People and Access to Services
  • Income Adequacy and Prevention of Poverty


Note for Editors

The Social Inclusion Forum
The Social Inclusion Forum (SIF) was established by the Government as part of the structures to monitor and evaluate Ireland’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPinclusion) 2007- 2016. The Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection has been given the responsibility by the Government to convene this event on a regular basis. The Social Inclusion Division was assisted in organising this year’s Forum by the Community Workers Co-operative (CWC) and the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland (EAPN). The theme of this year’s event is: Implementing the Social Dimension of Europe 2020.

Europe 2020
The Europe 2020 Strategy is the European Union’s ten-year growth strategy. It is about more than just overcoming the crisis which continues to afflict many of our economies. The social dimension of the Europe 2020 Strategy includes the setting of an EU headline target for poverty, the development and monitoring of the national reform programmes and a commitment to the development of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion.

Europe 2020 contains as one of its five headline targets a target in relation to poverty: to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion by 2020. Member states are required to set national poverty targets, using appropriate national indicators, in support of the EU target.

Social Inclusion Division

The role of the Social Inclusion Division is to support the Minister and Government in developing and implementing Government strategies for preventing, reducing and ultimately eliminating poverty and social exclusion. The Division also promotes greater social inclusion and social cohesion in collaboration with other stakeholders including, in particular, people experiencing poverty.

European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland (EAPN Ireland)
The European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland is a network of groups and individuals working against poverty. EAPN Ireland is the Irish link to the European Anti-Poverty Network which brings together civil society organisations from all over the European Union in order to put the fight against poverty at the top of EU, national and local agendas.

The Community Worker’s Co-operative (CWC)
Established in 1981, the Community Worker's Cooperative is a national membership organisation that seeks to promote quality community work as a means of addressing poverty, social exclusion and inequality, and contributing to the creation of a more just, sustainable and equal society.

Last modified:26/03/2013