Eighteen years ago, Ireland signed up to the European Social Charter. By doing so our country agreed to uphold human rights with respect to everyday essential needs related to employment and working conditions, housing, education, health, and social protection. The Charter also places specific emphasis on the protection of vulnerable groups such as older people, children, people with disabilities and migrants.
Members supporting individuals and families across the country, will not be surprised to hear that a monitoring report published in late January 2018 said Ireland is failing to live up to 13 legal obligations to citizens under the Charter. It detailed how certain restrictions introduced during the economic crisis had not been reversed or lifted, despite having better than expected economic growth. The report also said that levels of social welfare assistance for single people without resources are “inadequate”, particularly for those under the age of 26. Poor access to health and social services was also highlighted as another failing.
Such inadequacies are reflected in the latest data from the CSO which shows poverty rates have remained stubbornly high and compared to 2008, 70,000 more children were living in poverty in 2016.
These issues stem from – as the Council from Europe put it – “the lack of a co-ordinated approach to fighting poverty and social exclusion”. This statement is now more pertinent as we currently have no national plan to tackle poverty. The National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPSI) came to an end in 2017 and but thankfully, after some delay, the consultation for the new plan is currently underway.
While we welcome the opportunity to engage with government on the new Plan, we are concerned at the way in which some of the questions are framed and what this indicates about the commitment by those in government to address poverty. For example, the section on targets for poverty reduction suggests that being overly ambitious may be “unrealistic and/or unachievable”.
Why will SVP be strongly advocating for an ambitious Plan? Firstly, an ambitious target sends a strong message about the kind of society we want– where everyone is afforded the ability to live with dignity and free from poverty. Secondly, the target also holds the Government to account on their commitment to protect vulnerable people from the experience of poverty and exclusion. Crucially, however, ambition needs to be backed up with specific supporting actions across Government, the requisite level of resources and political will.
We know that poverty can’t be addressed overnight as the causes and consequences are interconnected and complex; low wages and insecure work; high cost of living; unemployment; low educational attainment; the way the social welfare system works; discrimination and stigmatisation; social isolation and exclusion; stress and illness; and economic stagnation and recession. So, while having an adequate income is critical, tackling poverty is not just a matter for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Every government department has a responsibility in addressing poverty and greater cross-governmental work is required to enhance our social infrastructure which allows everyone to access an adequate income and quality, affordable services.
Poverty is unacceptable, especially in a wealthy country like Ireland. Poverty not only hurts the individual affected; it hurts communities, it hurts the economy and it hurts society. As the largest organisation of social concern in Ireland, supporting thousands of struggling households across the country, it is SVP’s duty to continue to highlight the reality of poverty in Ireland through a variety of platforms at national and local levels including public facing campaigns and the annual pre-budget submission. In 2018, the new National Social Justice and Policy Committee will continue to work to make sure that the fight against poverty is embedded in all government policy and budgetary decisions. As a first step we will work to make sure the new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion is ambitious, integrated and properly resourced.
You can read SVP’s submission to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion here.