Progress made on several social inclusion targets, but some poverty and social inclusion indicators could be improved

In recent years, Ireland has made progress on its social inclusion targets but some indicators used to measure poverty and social inclusion may not fully reflect the totality of people’s experiences, a new ESRI report concludes.

The Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020–2025, published by the Irish Government in 2020, provides an overarching structure for Ireland’s strategy to tackle poverty and social inclusion over the period up to 2025. This strategy includes a variety of targets across a wide range of domains related to employment, education, housing, health, and income distribution. Several indicators relating to poverty and social inclusion are based on national and European measures with targets expressed in absolute levels (%) and EU ranking, mostly aiming to bring Ireland into the top five EU countries.

The ESRI report, funded by the Department of Social Protection, presents an overview of Ireland’s progress on the social inclusion targets and reviews the indicators used to monitor progress.

Key findings include:

  • Most chosen indicators were convenient, regularly collected and harmonised, and designed to allow for comparisons across EU countries. However, they are not always best suited to the national context. Additional or alternative indicators in education, housing and health would be more suitable for monitoring progress.
  • Based on data available at the end of 2022 Ireland had reached three out of 22 of its absolute social inclusion and poverty targets for 2025. Improvements in the absolute levels were recorded for 13 of the social inclusion indicators. Deterioration was documented for five indicators. Progress on four of the targets could not be measured at this time.
  • The three targets that were reached were in the domains of income inequality, healthcare needs and childcare.
    • In 2021, the income quintile share ratio was 3.8:1 for Ireland, meaning that, on average, the total income received by people in the top 20 per cent of the income distribution was 3.8 times as high as the total income received by people in the bottom 20 per cent. In 2018, this ratio was 4.2:1.
    • In 2021, the share of the population with unmet healthcare needs due to cost or expense was 0.1 per cent, representing a decrease of 0.8 percentage points compared to three years earlier. However, the report highlights that this indicator is likely to underestimate unmet needs.
    • In 2021, about 75 per cent of children above the age of three were in formal childcare for between 1 and 29 hours per week, exceeding the 2025 target of 69.4 per cent.
  • A long-standing goal of the Irish government has been to reduce the consistent poverty rate to 2 per cent or less, and this is also the 2025 target. In 2021, the consistent poverty rate was 4 per cent, which is 1.6 percentage points lower than in 2018.

Bertrand Maître, an author of the report said:

“Documenting the extent of poverty and social exclusion in society and monitoring progress is a critical part of any strategy aimed at tackling poverty and promoting social inclusion. Our review finds that in many cases the chosen indicators are useful and meaningful but also demonstrates that there is still room for improvement, especially in terms of the indicators that focus on education, housing and health.”

Dr Stefanie Sprong, another author of the report said:

“Our report shows that some of the chosen indicators do not seem to capture some of the greatest challenges faced by people in Ireland. One of the indicators, for example, shows that Ireland is among the top-ranking countries in the EU when it comes to housing costs, which does not reflect the documented issues around affordability, especially in the private rental market. We therefore argue that it is important to carefully consider how poverty and social inclusion targets in Ireland can be improved and to continue to assess if the chosen indicators are still adequate and sufficient.”

The Department of Social Protection said: "This research forms a key component of the mid-term review of the Roadmap for Social Inclusion. It is useful to know which indicators remain relevant and identify those which can be improved."