Ireland’s deprivation gap is large and increased over time

Specific interventions needed to support lone parents and adults with a disability

A new study found there is a significant gap in the rate of persistent deprivation experienced by vulnerable adults, including lone parents and adults with a disability, and the rate experienced by other adults. Out of 11 EU countries, Ireland’s gap was the largest and increased the most during the study’s time frame of 2004-2015.

This gap exists even in countries with generous welfare systems and a low overall rate of deprivation. Policies that reduce poverty among the general population do not adequately address deprivation experienced by vulnerable groups.

Targeted interventions are required to support vulnerable groups and to effectively tackle child poverty, which is more prevalent in households with a lone parent or adult with a disability.

Gap between vulnerable adults and other adults in Ireland

The research measured material deprivation across 11 EU countries: Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and Greece. The research measured deprivation in three sets of two-year periods: the years of economic growth (2005-2006), recession (2008-2009) and recovery (2013-2014).  This dynamic analysis, examining the situation of individuals over two years, made it possible to distinguish persistent deprivation from deprivation that was present in just one year.

  • In Ireland, the persistent deprivation rate is 26 percentage points higher among lone parents and 14 percentage points higher for adults with a disability than for other adults. In the UK, the gap is 23 and 11 percentage points, respectively. Across the remaining nine countries, the average gap is 16 and 8 percentage points, respectively.
  • In Ireland and the UK, the persistent deprivation gap between vulnerable adults and other adults increased significantly over time. This did not happen in the other nine countries.

Deprivation is always highest among lone parents and adults with a disability

  • In all 11 countries, lone parents and adults with a disability were more likely to be deprived than other adults.
  • On average across the countries and the three periods, 23 per cent of lone parents and 14 per cent of adults with a disability were persistently deprived compared with 5 per cent of other working-age adults.
  • The figures are much higher in Ireland where 33 per cent of lone parents and 21 per cent of adults with a disability were persistently deprived.

 Vulnerable adults fare worse even in countries with low overall deprivation rates

  • Persistent deprivation was lowest in countries with more generous and comprehensive welfare systems: Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.
  • However, these countries also experienced a gap between the level of deprivation experienced by vulnerable adults and that experienced by other adults. Persistent deprivation was 14 percentage points higher among vulnerable adults than other adults.

 Policy implications

  • Lone parents and adults with a disability face barriers when trying to access the labour market. Measures to address this could 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 that address the needs of the most vulnerable families may be more effective at tackling child poverty than policies that focus on solely on children in general.

Dorothy Watson, ESRI, commented: “Policies that successfully reduce poverty for the population as a whole are not enough to support vulnerable groups. Proactive steps are required to address the deprivation experienced by lone parents and adults with disabilities, and also to tackle the higher rate of child poverty associated with these households. Such interventions are particularly urgent in Ireland, as the data show that the deprivation gap is most pronounced here.”

Minister Regina Doherty said:The most recent data from the CSO on Income & Living Conditions shows that the headline consistent poverty measure fell from 8.7% in 2015 to 8.3% in 2016. The trend is in the right direction, and we must work to make sure this continues. As the economy continues to recover, with unemployment down from 11.3% in 2014 to 6.2% at present, I expect that the figures for 2017 will show further reductions in poverty.

But as this report shows, poverty is not just about income. It is multidimensional and it is complex. So the actions we take to address poverty and social exclusion in Ireland must take account of this diversity and complexity; and we will continue with our ‘whole of Government approach’.”