Understanding Poverty

“People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is acceptable by Irish society generally. As a result of inadequate income and resources people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities considered the norm for other people in society.”

The definition above has been in use since its inception in the 1997 National Anti-Poverty Strategy. This definition highlights that while poverty is about income, it is also associated with access to services, resources and outcomes for people who experience poverty and social exclusion. As the second part of the definition highlights there is a direct link between poverty and social exclusion.

Many of these issues are covered in EAPN Ireland’s 2022 Poverty Watch 

Nelson Mandela said that “poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings” This is crucial in understanding that the causes of poverty are structural and that they can be changed if the right decisions are made.

The EAPN (Europe) Explainer What is Poverty and How to Combat it? explains poverty as follows:

  • People experiencing poverty and social exclusion lack adequate income, resources and
    access to public and private services that are fundamental to a decent life.
  • Poverty can prevent full personal and family development and participation in social life
    and deprives society of people’s full potential to contribute to it and undermines social
    cohesion and vibrant inclusive, sustainable development.
  • When people cannot access the living standard and style of life considered acceptable in the
    society in which they live, they face more difficulties in living a life in dignity, without
    shame, stigma or fear. However, people in poverty are rarely passive. They are resilient and
  • Poverty is a denial of fundamental human rights – economic, social and cultural. There is a
    moral and political imperative to challenge and change it, with and for people at risk of poverty
    and social exclusion.

The Explainer highlights the importance of a multidimensional understanding of the nature of poverty and that people experience poverty as many deprivations, not only as ‘not enough money’ – or other things, but experiences, opportunities, services and environments that others accept as normal. A multidimensional understanding of poverty is essential in recognising the wider psychological, social and cultural as well as economic effects of poverty and that they are inter-related and cumulative. Some groups and communities in society are also at greater risk of poverty.

Poverty is a direct outcome of inequality and the unequal distribution of and access to resources, power and opportunities, including the opportunities to participate in and influence the decisions that impact on your life. Addressing inequality is fundamental to addressing the structural causes of poverty and social exclusion.

Measuring Poverty

While this wider understanding of the causes of poverty and how it is experienced is crucial there are three primary ways of measuring poverty levels in Ireland:

Relative/At Risk Of Poverty:

According to the former statutory body Combat Poverty Agency, “Relative income poverty is having an income that is less than what is regarded as the norm in society, giving a lower than normal standard of living. It is “relative” because it is measured by how much less it is relative to the income of the majority of people. It is usually expressed as a percentage figure, e.g. the 60% relative income poverty line is 60% of the disposable income of the median (or middle) household. This is the most common measure of poverty used across the EU, where it is often referred to as the ‘at risk of poverty’ level. 13.1% of the population in Ireland were at-risk of poverty in 2022.

Material Deprivation:

Those in material or enforced deprivation in Ireland are those who cannot afford at least two of the eleven goods or services considered essential for a basic standard of living. 17.7% of the population experienced material deprivation in 2022. The current 11 indicators are:

  • Two pairs of strong shoes
  • A warm waterproof overcoat
  • Buy new not second-hand clothes
  • Eat meals with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day
  • Have a roast joint or its equivalent once a week
  • Had to go without heating during the last year through lack of money
  • Keep the home adequately warm
  • Buy presents for family or friends at least once a year
  • Replace any worn out furniture
  • Have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month
  • Have a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight, for entertainment
Consistent poverty:

This is the poverty measurement preferred by the Irish Government and developed independently by the Irish Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). This measure identifies the proportion of people who are both relatively poor (less than 60% of median income) and who are materially deprived because they cannot afford two of the eleven agreed items. 5.2% of the population in Ireland were in consistent poverty in 2017.

Poverty Targets

Ireland has no relative poverty target. The current poverty reduction target of the Irish Government adopted in the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 is by 2025 'To reduce the national consistent poverty rate to 2% or less of the population', which repeats the commitment in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion for 2019. There is also a second commitment 'To make Ireland one of the most socially inclusive States in the EU'.