Information on poverty and deprivation levels is now derived from the annual EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU–SILC). This survey commenced in Ireland in 2003 and is conducted by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The most recent results, for the year 2005, record continuing positive trends in relation to poverty and social exclusion. The overall rate of consistent poverty in 2005 was 7.0 per cent, having reduced from 8.8 per cent in 2003. These results show the continuing impact being made by the greatly increased resources now devoted to social welfare and other social services.
The consistent poverty measure was developed independently by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1987 using indicators of deprivation based on standards of living at that time. This measure identifies the proportion of people, from those with less than 60 per cent of median income, who are deprived of one or more goods or services considered essential for a basic standard of living. The target set in 2002 was to reduce the numbers of those who are consistently poor to 2 per cent by 2007 and, if possible, to eliminate consistent poverty, as then defined.
Progress in reducing consistent poverty was tracked by the Living in Ireland Survey (LIIS), which was showing steady progress towards meeting the target of reducing consistent poverty to 2 per cent by 2007. However, a major discontinuity occurred with the new EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), introduced from 2003. This survey yielded a substantially higher level of consistent poverty which was contrary to the trends under the Living in Ireland survey. There was no change in policy or in its implementation that could have explained this increase and it is acknowledged by the CSO and the ESRI that it resulted from certain changes in methodology between the surveys.
As a result it is not possible to compare trends in consistent poverty over the periods covered by the two surveys. However, the continuing low levels of unemployment and the substantially increased resources devoted to social welfare and other social services support the view that the downward trend in consistent poverty over the 6 years period from 8.3 per cent in 1994 to 4.1 per cent in 2001, would have continued, and that over the following 6 years up to 2007 the 2 per cent target would have been reached, using the LIIS survey method. What is also clear is that some 250,000 people, including 100,000 children, have been lifted out of deprivation since 1997 as a result of concentrated and targeted measures and supports.
The overall goal of the new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016 (NAPinclusion), launched last February, is to make a decisive impact on consistent poverty. This is underlined by the fact that a new target is being set using an updated set of indicators, which is more realistic and in keeping with living standards today. The new target is to reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to between 2 per cent and 4 per cent by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016, under the revised definition. Progress in achieving the target will also be measured by the EU SILC survey method conducted by the CSO which will facilitate the analysis of trends on an annual basis.
The Government in setting the new poverty reduction target has accepted the advice of the ESRI to use an updated set of deprivation indicators, which focus to a greater degree on items reflecting social inclusion and participation in society. This will see the current measure, based on lacking one or more items from an 8-item index, changing to one based on lacking two or more items from an 11-item index. This revised set of indicators will be used to measure consistent poverty over the course of the new NAPinclusion. The current rate of consistent poverty using the new measure is 7.0 per cent.
Continuing to reduce consistent poverty and eventually eliminating it is one of our primary goals. I am confident that the new NAPinclusion will build on the major achievements of the last decade by putting the measures and resources in place to realise that goal.