I propose to take Questions Nos. 326 and 327 together.
Tackling poverty remains a fundamental aspiration of Irish society and the Government. The Government has re-affirmed its commitment to reducing poverty by revising and enhancing the national social target for poverty reduction. This aims to reduce consistent poverty to 4% by 2016 and to 2% or less by 2020. The Department published the inaugural Social Inclusion Monitor last year, to track progress on the national social target in an open and transparent manner, using data from the CSO Survey on Income and living Conditions (SILC). The latest published data for 2011 show the consistent poverty rate was 6.9 per cent, which according to the CSO ‘is not a statistically significant change on the 2010 figure of 6.3 per cent’. The Department is awaiting publication of the results of the 2012 SILC from the CSO, to update the Monitor.
The Social Inclusion Report for 2011-2012 reports on implementation of the Government’s policy framework for achieving the national social target, the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion. It shows that across diverse policy areas government departments and state agencies reported progress on many targets/actions associated with the National Action Plan’s high level goals. However, evidence of the adverse impact of the economic downturn during this period continues.
A key component in the fight against poverty is the provision of a minimum standard of living through the social protection system. In 2013, my department spend over €20 billion in providing income support to 1.5 million recipients with a further 750,000 beneficiaries. Recently published ESRI research shows that welfare payments and other social transfers lifted almost 40% of the population out of at-risk-of-poverty in 2011, which equates to a reduction of 71% in the pre-social transfer poverty rate. Over time, the effectiveness of social transfers in lifting people of poverty has increased from 53 per cent in 2004 to 71 per cent by 2011. As a result, Ireland is among the best performing countries in the EU in reducing poverty through social transfers. This reflects the continuation of substantial State investment in the social protection system, despite the constraints of the economic and fiscal crisis.
Another key intervention in tackling poverty is to reduce unemployment, especially among jobless households. The latest unemployment figures show a decrease in the unemployment rate from 13.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2013 to 12.8 per cent in the third quarter – the sixth consecutive fall and a sign of the steady progress being made. I particularly note the fact that long-term unemployment has reduced from 8.9 to 7.6 per cent over this period.
There remains a great challenge to meet the national social target for poverty reduction. The Government is committed to growing the economy and to creating new employment opportunities. At the same time, we have to ensure that the most vulnerable in society, notably jobless households and children, are enabled to benefit from economic recovery through activation programmes and services. I am confident that the delivery of targeted policies across Government departments will lead to future progress on the national social target.