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.

Many of these issues are covered in EAPN Ireland’s Poverty Briefing 2018

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.

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. 15.7% of the population in Ireland were at-risk of poverty in 2017.

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. 18.8% of the population experienced material deprivation in 2017. 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. 6.7% of the population in Ireland were in consistent poverty in 2017.

Poverty Targets

Ireland has no relative poverty target. In 2012 The Irish Government adopted a ‘national social target for poverty reduction which is “to reduce consistent poverty to 4 per cent by 2016 (interim target) and to 2 per cent or less by 2020, from the 2010 baseline rate of 6.2 per cent”. This replaced the poverty target in Ireland’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016.

An new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion is due to be published in 2019.