Tackling poverty and protecting the most vulnerable is a key priority for the member states of the European Union and a core element of the jobs and growth strategy set out in Europe 2020. In 2010, the EU Council of Ministers adopted an EU poverty target, with the aiming of lifting 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion by 2020. Meeting this target requires ambitious national targets and the necessary measures to meet them.
My officials and I have contributed to a number of EU considerations on the social impact of the economic and fiscal crisis. At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council in June 2011, the Council adopted Conclusions on tackling child poverty and promoting child well-being. At the meeting, I welcomed the Council Conclusion and outlined Ireland's commitments to tackle child poverty and to support the development of a recommendation on child poverty and well-being in 2012.
In October, 2011, I led the Irish delegation at the First Annual EU Convention on Poverty held in Krakow under the Polish Presidency, which was attended by some of my EU counterparts, as well as many other European stakeholders. I spoke at the opening plenary session about the challenges Ireland faces in meeting its national poverty target given the current economic and fiscal situation. The main messages from the Convention were to re-affirm the need to tackle child poverty and to promote employment as the most effective route out of poverty, despite the economic situation not being conducive to employment growth.
My officials are also part of the EU Social Protection Committee which is monitoring the impact of the crisis as part of the open method of co-ordination on social protection and social inclusion. The Committee is current finalising its third report on the social impact of the crisis and the on-going fiscal consolidation. A key message from the report is the role of social protection in cushioning the impact of the economic crisis on individuals and in providing an automatic stabiliser for the economy by underpinning aggregate demand. The report shows that Ireland performs well in this regard, with social transfers reducing the at-risk-of-poverty rate in 2010 from 51 per cent to 16 per cent. This represents a poverty reduction effect of 60 per cent from social transfers, one of the highest in the EU.
A rapid return to economic growth and the development of inclusive labour market policies are crucial to reduce poverty and social exclusion in the EU and in Ireland. My Department will be playing a key role in this through the establishment of the National Employment and Entitlement Service which will be supporting people back into the labour market.