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9 things we learned about poverty in Ireland this week

A major study released by the CSO this week gave facts and figures about income in Ireland today. This is what it found.

File photo
File photo
Image: Empty wallet photo via Shutterstock

THIS WEEK THE annual Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) was published by the Central Statistics Office.

SILC is a mine of information for anyone interested in what life is like in Ireland right now. It provides details about how many people are managing to get by just above the breadline and how many have already dropped below it. It details what kind of things people are having trouble affording –  furniture topped the list this year – and who is most likely to be living in poverty.

The figures are reached by interviewing more than 11,000 individuals around the country and as well as providing evidence-based data on household income for Ireland, it also provides information about key poverty indicators.

Here are ten of the most interesting facts and figures from the study (which you can read here in pdf).

1. Without social welfare payments, half the country would be at risk of poverty

One of the most striking findings of the study was how social welfare payments are the only thing keeping a huge number of people out of poverty in Ireland. Without social welfare, 50.7 per cent of the population would be at risk of poverty – a figure which has jumped more than 10 per cent over the past decade. Instead, the risk of poverty rate is at 16 per cent – still high, but not as dramatic as it would be without social transfers. Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the SILC figures were a testimony to the importance of welfare in protecting the most vulnerable.

2. The number of people earning less than €11k a year has grown

SILC found that the the number of people earning less than €11,000 a year grew in 2011. This figure is significant: it is 60 per cent of the median income, and it is used to measure the number of people who are at risk of poverty in Ireland. Ireland’s figure grew from 14.7 per cent to 16 per cent in just one year, which works out at 733,000 people according to Social Justice Ireland. This means almost three quarters of a million people are living very close to the breadline.

3. Poverty has increased as the recession has dug in

In 2008, Ireland’s consistent poverty rate was 4.2 per cent. In 2011, it was 6.9 per cent. The figure has risen every year since the recession began, although the CSO points out that the slight increase for 2011 is not a statistically significant change.  Being in consistent poverty means that a person has an income of 60 per cent below the median income, which translates as an income of €10,889 or less, and also lives in a household which lacks two or more basic necessities – such as being able to heat a home or afford a waterproof coat –  from a list of eleven.

4. Despite this, income inequality actually dropped slightly in Ireland

Given the previous figures, this one may be unexpected. Despite the increase in poverty in Ireland, the distribution of income hasn’t changed massively – in other words, rich people, poor people and the people in between still have pretty much the same share of income as they did in previous years. In fact, income inequality went down slightly in 2011. The Gini coefficient which measures inequality decreased ever so slightly in 2011, and Ireland’s Gini figure is very close to the EU average. This matters because inequality has been shown to have an effect on everything from happiness to life expectancy in a country.

5. People with third-level degrees have the most money

Unsurprisingly, SILC found that people with degrees have the highest average income at €33,244. At the opposite end of the scale, people renting cheap accommodation or rent free have the lowest income of all the categories at just €13,831 and are most at risk of poverty.

6. One quarter of the population is living in deprivation

The CSO found that almost exactly one quarter of people in Ireland don’t have the money to afford at least two goods and services which are generally considered the norm for other people in society, putting them into the category of deprived. The figure has almost doubled in just five years after hitting a low of just 11.8 per cent in 2007.  The acknowledged definition of deprivation means that someone can’t afford basics such as being able to heat their home, buy presents for family or friends, have a warm coat or buy meat.

7. Buying furniture is not an option for a lot of people anymore

When it comes to not being able to afford the basics, the one that tops the poll is furniture: one in five people said they didn’t have the money to replace worn-out furniture. The same amount of people were unable to afford a morning or evening out, while one in eight people were unable to afford heating at some stage in the past year.

8.  The average amount of disposable income in Ireland in 2011 was €21,440

The survey worked out the gross income per household, subtracted tax and social insurance contributions, and then divided it to get the mean amount of disposable income per person. This figure doesn’t take into account other payments which have to be made – household bills, mortgage payments, food, transport, the cost of children, for example –  but gives an indication of how much is left after statutory payments have been made.

9. One in seven of people at risk of poverty has a job

Social Justice Ireland noted that 14.2 per cent of people who are at risk of poverty (i.e. earning less than €11,000) has a job. Men saw the biggest increase with their risk of poverty rising two percentage points between 2010 and 2011, followed by students, people whose highest level of education attainment was from secondary school, and people living in households where no-one was at work.

(Images: Sam Boal/Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland, Furniture photo via Shutterstock)

Read: Here’s how much disposable income the average person in Ireland has >

Read: Rising food poverty hinders students’ ability to learn >

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