Number of 'working poor' on the rise despite upturn in economy

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The number of "working poor” in the country is increasing despite a booming economy, it has emerged.

“There are over 4,000 more people with a job at risk of poverty today than there were 12 months ago,” said the head of Social Justice Ireland, Dr Sean Healy.

The Central Statistic's Office latest Survey on Income and Living Conditions 2017 found that the average household disposable income rose by nearly 5% to €48,476 last year. The rate of enforced deprivation, defined as not being able to afford two or more deprivation indicators; such as keeping the home adequately warm or buying presents for family/friends at least once a year, fell to 18.8% from 21%.

The most common types of deprivation experienced by Irish households were an inability to afford to replace worn out furniture (20.4% ), to afford to have family or friends for a drink or a meal once a month (13.9% ) and to afford a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight (13.2%).

The survey put the consistent poverty rate, which includes people both at risk of poverty and experiencing enforced deprivation, at 6.7%, down from 8.2%.

Commenting on the CSO report, Dr Healy, said 109,000 people with jobs were living in poverty.

While the actual year on year increase in the number of working poor might not be “statistically significant”, the fact that it was not falling indicated that things were not as they should be.

The overall number of people living in poverty today, at 760,000, was also slightly less than it was last year but was substantially higher than what it was 10 years ago.

There are 120,000 more people living in poverty in Ireland today than there were ten years ago,” said Dr Healy. “Of the 760,000 people in poverty today, 230,000 are children and over 100,000 have a job.

“There has been a slight improvement in some categories from last year but the problem is there is a very substantial number of people being left behind as the economy grows and develops. “So we have a situation where most categories are getting back to where they were before the crash but there is this very substantial group of people at the bottom who are not making progress.”

Dr Healy said Government policy is not working and the figures are unacceptable.

Barnardos children's charity said a “shockingly” high number of children continued to live in consistent poverty in Ireland.

Head of advocacy at Barnardos June Tinsley said the Government made a commitment to lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020 and it was clear that little progress had been made.

The CSO figure shows that despite a small reduction, child poverty remains unacceptably high.

Ms Tinsley said poverty affected children in profound and long-lasting ways.

“It is a vicious cycle from which many children never escape. Yet it is not inevitable.”

The Children's Rights Alliance said the CSO survey showed that around 8.8% of children are living in consistent poverty, down from 10.9% since 2016.

“This appears to be the biggest drop since the recession and we estmate this equates to almost 24,000 children lifted out of poverty,” said the alliance's chief executive, Tanya Ward.

Ms Ward said there were still too many children living with the shame of poverty.

The reality of living in consistent poverty means that children can't afford to go to a friends birthday party or take part in after-school activities. It also means that sometimes the hearting isn't switched on when families can't afford it.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said there had been some modest improvement in poverty rates, with a decrease of just under 3% in the rate of consistent poverty.

However, SVP sees the stark reality behind the statistics as struggling families face into Christmas.

The CSO is considering ways to improve the data collected on poverty and housing tenure.

SVP national president Kieran Stafford said many of the people they visit were paying high rents to live in substandard accommodation.

“Some Housing Assistance Payment tenants are paying top-ups to their landlords, which can be unsustainable in the long run, leaving families vulnerable to becoming homeless,” said Mr Stafford.“The housing crisis is a scandal that continues to impact on every aspect of people's lives.”

Key findings of CSO's latest Survey on Income and Living Conditions 2017

  • Two in five workers (38.1%) are mostly sitting at work
  • One in 10 (12%) who mostly sit at work take no exercise
  • Three out of four people (75.1%) at risk of poverty have medical or GP card coverage
  • Nine out of 10 (88.8%) in consistent poverty have medical or GP card coverage
  • More people (45.1%) have medical or GP card coverage than those with private health insurance (43.3%)
  • Three-quarters (75.5%) of those aged 16 and over visited their GP at least once in the past 12 months
  • 83% describe their health as good or very good
  • Almost a third of households with children needing dental treatment say it is a financial burden, compared to just under a quarter (23.8%) of those without children

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