Tackling poverty continues to be a priority for the Government. The updated national action plan for social inclusion identifies a wide range of targeted actions and interventions to achieve the overall objective of reducing poverty. The goals include a focus on early childhood development, youth exclusion, access to the labour market, migrant integration, social housing and affordable energy. The national social target, set in 2010, is to reduce consistent poverty to 4% by 2016 and to 2% or less by 2020. The target is to lift over 70,000 children out of consistent poverty by 2020. Ireland’s contribution to the Europe 2020 poverty target is to lift a minimum of 200,000 people out of combined poverty, namely, at-risk-of-poverty and-or basic deprivation, by 2020.
These targets are now more challenging than when they were set because poverty rates rose substantially during the recession from 2009 to 2013. However, the CSO survey on income and living conditions, SILC, shows that for the first time since the crisis, poverty levels stabilised in 2014. Consistent poverty decreased marginally to 8% while consistent poverty among children was 11.2%. We expect those positive trends will have continued in 2015.
The full impact of the recovery is not yet reflected in these 2014 figures. Ireland has returned to strong economic and employment growth. The unemployment rate in May 2016 was 7.8%, down from a peak of 15% in 2012. As unemployment is strongly linked to poverty, we can expect further decreases in poverty as the figures for 2015 and 2016 become available. It is envisaged that 2015 data will be released in November next.
Social transfers play a crucial role in alleviating poverty and inequality. In 2014, social transfers, excluding pensions, reduced the at-risk-of-poverty rate from 37.2% to 15.6%, thereby lifting over a fifth of the population out of income poverty.
Ireland is the best performing EU member state in reducing poverty through social transfers. Continued economic recovery, together with Government action to sustain and develop the social welfare system, will support further reductions in poverty over the coming years.