Written Answers. - Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Jim Mitchell

Question:

146 Mr. J. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his response to the report by NESF on the National Anti-Poverty Strategy; his views on the findings that the budget was not poverty proofed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20341/00]

The National Economic and Social Forum's opinion on the National Anti-Poverty Strategy contains a number of recommendations in relation to targets for the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, its extension to other areas of the public service, and the further development of the poverty proofing process, which have already been taken on board.

Since it was formed in 1997, this Government has demonstrated a commitment to the process of social inclusion and has introduced policies to help ensure that every individual has the opportunity to participate fully in society. The latest information from the Economic and Social Research Institute, based on the 1998 living in Ireland survey, shows that the number of people in consistent poverty has almost halved from 15%, when the National Anti-Poverty Strategy was launched based on 1994 data, to approximately 8% today, based on 1998 data.
Our commitment to an inclusive society is reinforced by the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, PPF, which provides for an updating of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, including a review of the underlying methodology, a review of existing targets and consideration of new targets.
The National Economic and Social Forum opinion makes a number of recommendations in relation to the extension of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy to local level. These will be considered in the context of the roll out of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy to local authorities, being jointly undertaken by my Department, the Department of Environment and Local Government and the Combat Poverty Agency, under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. Four seminars were held earlier this year to initiate this process and the response from local authorities and other relevant bodies has been encouraging.
In relation to poverty proofing, a review of the poverty proofing process is currently being carried out by the National Economic and Social Council with a view to strengthening that process. Following this review, poverty proofing will be extended on a phased basis to local authorities and health boards.
The poverty proofing guidelines oblige Departments to "indicate clearly the impact of the proposal on groups in poverty or at risk of falling into poverty" when preparing a significant policy proposal. As regards the social welfare budget package, the principles of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy are incorporated into ongoing policy development in my Department. This means that key principles like income adequacy, improving work incentives, addressing poverty among the elderly and so on are built into the development of the social welfare budget package from the start and influence its development throughout.
It is the responsibility of each individual Department to ensure that its proposals are poverty proofed and, as I have outlined above, my Department poverty proofs the social welfare element of the budget package. Overall responsibility for poverty proofing the budget package is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance.

Charles Flanagan

Question:

147 Mr. Flanagan asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the steps he will take to ensure that poverty proofing is an effective mechanism in Government decision making; the way in which this has worked to date; and if this will be extended to local authorities and other bodies. [20272/00]

Following the agreement among the social partners in July 1998 on a pilot poverty proofing system to assess all significant policy proposals for their potential impact on the poor, the Government adopted this process in official Cabinet procedures. To assist in its implementation, the national anti-poverty strategy unit, based in my Department, produced a set of guidelines on poverty proofing which were distributed to all Departments last year.

The introduction of poverty proofing of significant policy proposals is a major tool in assisting this Government in halting the drift towards a two-tier society by keeping social inclusion to the fore in policy-making at all times. It ensures that Departments are kept aware of the possible implications of policy on those most in need and it is a system to which this Government is committed as part of its strategy on social inclusion. All memoranda for Government and key policy initiatives, for example, the national development plan, upon which significant policy decisions have to be made, are required to be poverty proofed and this has been the case since late 1998.

In relation to a review of the process, it was agreed with the social partners during the initial discussions that poverty proofing would be reviewed and revised if necessary after a period of one year. The National Economic and Social Council is currently undertaking an independent study of the process. I expect that the outcome of the review will enhance the current process and help address any difficulties that may constrain its effective implementation.

Following the review, my Department will consider further measures for improving the process, including training and, as provided for in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, will extend poverty proofing arrangements on a phased basis to a local level through local authorities and health boards.

Question No. 148 withdrawn.

Dick Spring

Question:

149 Mr. Spring asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his views on the recent UNICEF report which shows that Ireland's record on child poverty is sixth worst in the OECD; if he proposes any measures to improve our record on tackling child poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20487/00]

The UNICEF report, A League Table of Child Poverty in Rich Nations, includes a number of references to the Irish situation.

The report recognises that the Irish approach to poverty reduction may have much to offer and states that the National Anti-Poverty Strategy shows that it is possible to conduct a public debate on poverty, to develop poverty reduction targets that command national support, and to establish social goals alongside economic targets as measures of national progress. The report acknowledges that Irish poverty reduction targets have succeeded in broadening and deepening public debate and in winning a new place for poverty on Ireland's national agenda. UNICEF also acknowledge the value of a framework, provided by the strategy, within which both economic and social policy can be assessed, and within which governmental and non-governmental agencies can work towards common goals.
The UNICEF report places Ireland in 13th position of 19 countries in terms of absolute poverty and 18th position of 23 countries in terms of relative poverty. Turkey, the UK, Italy, the USA and Mexico are placed 19th to 23rd respectively in the child poverty league.
It should be noted that much of the data available on child poverty in Ireland relates to the early to mid-1990s and the rate of child poverty has fallen in the late 1990s. In fact, the most recent information available from the ESRI working paper on the 1998 living in Ireland survey results shows that, in 1994, households with children accounted for more than half of all those below the 50% relative income line. By 1998, this had fallen to 28%. However, this Government recognises that much still needs to be done.
The view that child benefit represents a key instrument for tackling child poverty is widely acknowledged and is fully shared by the Government. The 2000 budget provides for substantial improvements in the monthly rates of child benefit, resulting in a full year increased investment in the scheme up to some £575 million. The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, PPF, also contains a commitment to substantially increase child benefit over the lifetime of the programme, with a priority focus towards £100 per month for the third and subsequent children. From September, the basic child benefit monthly rates will have risen to £42.50 in respect of each of the first two children and £56 in respect of the third and subsequent children.
The best way out of poverty, for both adults and children, is employment. It is Government policy to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to participate fully in society and work is the key to achieving this objective for those who can work. Measures such as the family income supplement have helped encourage parents back into the workforce. By increasing income from work, not just the individuals themselves benefit, but the families and communities in which they live.
The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness provides an opportunity to progress a number of policies in relation to the needs of children. Under the terms of framework III of the pro gramme, new targets will be considered under the various themes of the national anti-poverty strategy, including child poverty. These targets are to be considered in consultation with the social partners.
On a more general note, all policy proposals across Departments are poverty proofed to ensure that the needs of children, among other target groups, are kept to the fore in the design of policy.