Up to 10% of the population live in consistent poverty, the country’s leading think-tank revealed today.
In a new assessment of the number of people living below the bread-line, the ESRI found that a significant minority of poor people lived in homes where the head of the household was in work.
The ESRI said those most at risk are single parents, households with a large number of children, the poorly educated, the unemployed and the ill and disabled.
The report, Reconfiguring the Measurement of Deprivation and Consistent Poverty in Ireland, has used new criteria to analyse poverty levels.
Based on 11 indicators from a Central Statistics Office survey, researchers used new measures of deprivation including the frequency with which people ate meat, whether they had at least two pairs of shoes and if they could adequately heat their house.
The study also looks at how often people socialise and their exposure to violence.
Seamus Brennan, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, said the priority must be to identify those below the bread-line and get the support to them.
“Sustained economic growth combined with record spending on welfare and other supports has in recent years lifted whole generations out of the consistent poverty trap,” he said.
“Our priority now must be to identify more clearly those who remain in the grip of serious poverty and to channel additional supports and resources directly to them.
“Poverty is about real people living real lives who urgently need targeted supports and encouragement if they are to escape from the clutches of hardship and depravation.”
Mr Brennan said in 1997 some 7.8%, or 283,000 people, were in consistent poverty, as measured by the Living in Ireland Survey. But in 2001 the figure had reduced to 4.1%, or 149,000 people, a drop of 134,000 people, based on 1996 census figures.
He said the latest results from the new EU-SILC survey confirmed the downward trend was continuing, with a significant reduction of 2% in consistent poverty between 2003 and 2004. Using 2002 Census figures, this would equate to a reduction of some 78,000 people, including 22,000 children, the minister said.
But Mr Brennan said the debate would continue as to exactly how many people were in poverty.
“Whether we have 80,000 or 220,000 remaining in real poverty can be debated but the reality is that whatever the real numbers it is clear that there is a task that is extremely urgent and important,” he said.
“That is why our focus must be on targeted welfare supports and services so that real poverty, which has no place in the Ireland of the 21st century, can be finally eliminated.”
Mr Brennan said that since 2000 social welfare payments increased by 55.5%, well ahead of the 16.4% increase in the Consumer Price Index, and the 28.2% increase in gross average industrial earnings.