Michael Taft: The CSO has produced the preliminary results from the annual EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions. And the results show an inexorable decline into poverty, deprivation and hardship (see also Sinéad Pentony's post here).
The headline figures show that those ‘at risk’ of poverty have increased from 14 percent in 2009 to nearly 16 percent last year. However, we should treat this cautiously for it is not an absolute measurement. This ‘at risk’ figure is based on 60 percent of the median income (that is, the figure at which 50 percent of the population is below and 50 percent above). When the median figure falls, as it will during the recession, so does the at-risk poverty threshold of 60 percent.
Since equivalised median income fell between 2009 and 2010, so did the threshold – by `10.2 percent each. This sets up the anomalous situation whereby someone on an equivalised income of €12,000 in 2009 would be below the at-risk threshold. If their income fell by 5 percent last year you’d assume they would be worse off (and they would be). However, since median income fell (and, so, the threshold) by a larger amount, that person is now not considered at-risk of poverty.
This doesn’t undermine the validity of the relative at-risk threshold – but we should always be careful about what relative measurements tells us and what they don’t. For instance, even with the threshold falling by 10 percent, there are still more people in the at-risk category.
There is, though, another measurement we can turn to that assesses in absolute terms another definition of poverty: the deprivation indicators. This measures how many people experience certain types of enforced deprivation. This tells a rather alarming story.
The most widespread deprivation indicator shows that one-in-five of our fellow Irish residents can’t afford to replace worn out furniture (this rises to 30 percent among those living in poverty risk but even those not living in poverty risk suffer nearly the national average).
Further, we are creating a nation whereby a number of people cannot afford simple social activities – an evening out, having friends over. These are top deprivation categories. That one-in-ten can’t afford heating at some stage (rising to nearly one-in-five for those living in poverty risk) tells a real story of unhealthy living standards.
The growth in just the past few years in people suffering these deprivation experiences tells the real story behind the growing impoverishment of Irish society.
More than one-in-five of all people suffer two or more of the above deprivation experiences. Almost as many who are not at risk of poverty also suffer these experiences. This is a serious indictment of the failed austerity policies. These proportions have risen dramatically since 2007.
It is likely that deprivation will increase. These numbers take us up to 2010. However, the last budget cut social protection rates, Child Benefit and Rent Supplement, while imposing extra taxation (though the USC and cutting personal tax credits) on the low-paid. This will drive more people into more deprivation experiences.
The idea that we can promote economic growth and repair public finances with policies that drive more people into deprivation is an economic nonsense and a social obscenity. In the run-up to the Budget all Government Ministers and backbenchers should memorise and internalise these figures.
And act accordingly.