Risk of poverty rises among workers despite economic recovery

Risk of poverty rises among workers despite economic recovery

More than 104,000 people with a job are at risk of poverty.

That is the stark figure from think tank Social Justice Ireland, which says workers' rights are not being protected.

It says what is even more notable is that this number has been rising since 2009, despite the economic recovery.

Caroline O’Doherty of the Irish Examiner writes that around one in seven people in poverty have jobs but low rates of pay and loose contracts mean they can’t make a living wage.

Social Justice Ireland chief executive Sean Healy said: “If people in employment can’t be guaranteed a life free from poverty, then there is something seriously wrong.”

Eamon Murphy, the group’s economic and social analyst, said responsibility lay h with employers and the Government for failing to eradicate low pay and precarious employment contracts.

“Workers rights are not being protected when 104,000 people can have a job but still be at risk of poverty,” he said.

“Who is going to take responsibility for ensuring a job is always a route out of poverty, not into it?”

Social Justice Ireland’s research paper, Poverty Focus 2018, says 780,000 people (16.5% of the population) are below the poverty line.

Of those, 26.5% are children under 16, 14.7% are carers and stay-at-home parents, 13.6% are students and schoolchildren over the age of 16, 13.5% are unemployed, 13.3% are workers, 9.7% are ill or have a disability and 7.1% are retired.

Fr Healy described the figure for workers in poverty as remarkable.

“What is even more notable is that this number has been rising since 2009 despite the economic recovery,” he said.

“The economic recovery has failed to address the issues of low pay, precarious work and an unfair tax system.”

Social Justice Ireland says a single adult needs a minimum weekly income of €249.55 after tax to stay above the poverty line, while a family of two adults and two children needs €578.96.

By that measure, most weekly social assistance rates paid to single people are €52 below the poverty line. However, it also says some workers — mainly women, young people, single parents, those in the retail, hotel and security sectors and those on temporary contracts — also fall short of what is needed to avoid poverty.

It says the figures add weight to its repeated calls for refundable tax credits to be introduced so people who do not earn enough to use up their full credits would have the portion they did not benefit from refunded to them at the end of the year.

The overall number of people living in poverty peaked in 2012 at 794,710 so today’s figure is a slight improvement.

The number of unemployed and carers in poverty has also declined slightly but the number of workers, retired people and people prevented from working by illness or disability have all increased.

This story first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.

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