The latest SILC figures on poverty and deprivation, published yesterday by the Central Statistics Office, are not surprising. They point to the increasing hardship which SVP sees every day. More than 1 in 4 people in Ireland are now going without basics like adequate heating, suitable clothing and furniture because they cannot afford them.
In 2012, the at-risk of poverty threshold for a single person was €10,621. Anyone with an income below this level is considered to be living in income poverty. 16.5% of our population is living in income poverty, and 7.7% are in consistent poverty. These are technical measures, but what really matters is what it is like to live in poverty, and what can be done to tackle our increasing poverty rates.
Living in poverty means having to go without. The SILC figures show that almost 600,000 people had to go without heating at some stage in the last year due to lack of money. In 2012 SVP spent over €11 million helping people to pay their energy bills, whether for gas, electricity, oil or solid fuel. We are advocating for budgeting tools for those on low incomes to help them to manage their energy costs, including the roll out of prepayment meters and reasonable repayment plans for people in energy arrears and we are looking at the possibility of an oil stamps saving scheme. But further reductions in people’s incomes will make it more difficult for them to afford to heat their homes adequately.
When looking at poverty rates we see that education levels matter. Those with third level degrees and higher qualifications have twice as much disposable income as people with primary school education only. SVP spent over €4.6 million in 2012 helping with the cost of education at preschool, primary, secondary, third level and further education. We see education as a key route out of poverty for adults and children, a priority which is borne out by the statistics released today. We are working hard to make sure that SOLAS, the new Further Education and Training Authority, reflects and meets the needs of adults who want to access education and training to acquire relevant skills through the provision of courses which are tailored to suit their interests, ability and potential. However, we can see a digital divide emerging where students from low income families have less access to ICT. We are also very concerned that the loss of Child Benefit for children who are aged 18 and who are still in full time second level education is a serious problem for low income families struggling to meet the cost of keeping their children in school.
Other inequalities and injustices become clear when we look at income and poverty. For example, the average yearly income of a household headed by a woman was almost €10,000 less than the average income of a household headed by a man. One parent families are the largest group requesting assistance from SVP and the vast majority of these families are headed by a lone mother. One parent families continue to have the highest poverty and deprivation rates of any group in Ireland and have been subject to the harshest cuts during the recession. In 2008 the wealthiest 20% of the population held 39.2% of all income. In 2012 they still held 39.2% of income, in spite of the recession and austerity programme which followed. However, the poorest 20% of the population held 8.6% of income in 2008, but by 2012 their share had declined to 7.9%.
SVP’s 11,000 volunteer members will continue to provide support and friendship to the hundreds of thousands of individuals and families who are struggling throughout Ireland. We will continue to work for a more socially just Irish Society. But we need Government to set out a roadmap for the right kind of recovery, which allocates the resources to tackle poverty and social exclusion. Any plan for Ireland’s recovery must tackle the inequalities that are preventing our people from reaching their potential and which are storing up human, economic and social costs for the future.