Coordinated response across a number of policy areas needed to address challenges of poverty and poor quality of life among vulnerable groups

Publication Link

A new report published by the ESRI and the Department of Social Protection today (16 November 2016) finds that income support, inclusive labour markets and access to quality services are required to address the challenges facing people in social risk groups and those in lower social classes.

The report examined trends in poverty and deprivation in Ireland over a ten-year period (2004 to 2013) covering the boom years, the recession and early recovery. The report also examined quality of life issues for the year 2013. The study uses nationally representative data for over 130,000 individuals, collected by the CSO.

Trends in Basic Deprivation

  • Basic deprivation is one of the national indicators of poverty. It involves an inability to afford basic goods and services such as adequate food, clothing, home heating and basic social activities.
  • Basic deprivation fell from 15 per cent in 2005 to 12 per cent in 2007. However, this increased sharply in the recession, reaching 31 per cent by 2013.

Deprivation trends by social risk groups and social class

  • Levels of deprivation increased across all social classes. Deprivation in the unskilled manual class increased from 29 per cent during the boom (2004-2007) to 47 per cent in 2013. Deprivation in the professional/managerial class trebled to 14 per cent over the same period.
  • In 2013, the highest rates of deprivation were experienced by lone parent families (58-60%) and families of an adult with a disability (49-50%). Older people experienced the lowest rate of deprivation (16%).
  • There was no evidence of a further polarisation of deprivation during the recession. The gap between the most disadvantaged and least disadvantaged groups actually got a little smaller. This is because the recession resulted in higher deprivation for all and because the social protection system acted as a safety net preventing a further worsening of poverty and deprivation for vulnerable groups such as lone parents, people with disabilities and the unskilled working class.

Quality of life

The research examined how 11 types of quality of life (QoL) problems were experienced across social classes and social risk groups. The problems were income poverty, being unable to afford basic goods and services, financial strain, poor health, mental distress, housing quality problems, crowded accommodation, neighbourhood problems, mistrust in institutions (such as the political system, legal system and police), lack of social support and feeling unsafe in the local area.

Patterns by social risk group

  • In 2013, 28 per cent of the population experienced multiple (more than three) QoL problems. Multiple problems were more common among working age adults with a disability (55 per cent), their children (53 per cent), lone parents (46 per cent) and their children (48 per cent).
  • Among lone parent households, the most common issues were financial strain and material deprivation. For families of working-age adults with a disability, health and mental distress were the most common issues.
  • Among older people, the most common issues are poor health and lack of safety. For other adults, the most common issues were crowded accommodation and financial strain.

Patterns by social class

  • There is a strong relationship between multiple QoL issues and social class. Detailed analysis in the report shows that the level of multidimensional QoL problems was five times higher in the most disadvantaged social class than in the most advantaged social class (unskilled manual and higher professional/managerial, respectively).
  • The higher professional/managerial social classes had the lowest rates of multiple QoL issues in 2013, at 10 per cent.

Poverty and QoL

  • There is a strong overlap between having multiple QoL problems and lacking material resources, especially as measured by basic deprivation. Most (68%) of those who are experiencing multiple QoL problems also experience basic deprivation.

Policy implications

  • The high levels of poverty and QoL issues among families of lone parents and families of adults with a disability implies that interventions are required to address the specific labour market barriers they face in addition to ensuring adequate income and access to quality services. Such measures include access to affordable childcare, flexible work arrangements, protection of secondary benefits (e.g. medical cards) and support in seeking employment, training and work experience.
  • Policies across a range of areas, including health, mental health and housing, must consider the complexity of problems experienced by vulnerable groups. Comprehensive measures that include income support, inclusive labour markets and access to quality services are required to effectively address such challenges.
  • Lone parenthood and adult disability are associated with high poverty rates for children. When addressing child poverty, interventions should take account of the family context of children.

The report was launched by the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, who said: “I welcome the publication of this report. It’s important to point out that a lot has changed for the better in Ireland since 2013 as unemployment has dropped by almost half. Nevertheless the over-riding objective for the Government is to increase employment and ensure that work pays, build real and sustainable economic growth, and protect the most disadvantaged people. Cash transfers provide only part of the solution as no family should be better off on welfare than at work. Also important is improving access to, and reducing the cost of, services like healthcare and childcare. Real progress has been made in all these areas in the last three years ranging from free GP care for kids, paternity benefit and free pre-school provision.”

Dorothy Watson, an author of the report, commented “The results highlighted the significance of lone parenthood and working-age disability.  As well as being major risk factors for poverty and deprivation, they make it more likely that the family will be faced with multiple quality of life problems. The complexity of challenges faced by vulnerable groups requires a coordinated response across a number of policy areas. As well as income support and access to work, the response must include high quality services in areas such as health, mental health and housing.”

© 2015 The Economic and Social Research Institute. All rights reserved. Website by JET Design