Standard of living ‘too low on welfare’

People who rely on social welfare or earn the minimum wage are living on incomes which often fall far below what is considered necessary for an acceptable life, a new report has found.

The study, carried out by Trinity College Dublin’s policy institute, the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, and the Department of Social Protection, looked at a range of family scenarios over a year and came up with a minimum standard-of-living cost for families.

Minimum rates include:

* A single person of working age living alone: €258.09 (urban) €356.28 (rural);

* A pensioner couple: €358.69 (urban) €479.6 (rural).

When looking at family situations, there are significant differences depending on location and ages of children, and given family circumstances and eligibility for welfare benefits.

Costs for families are high in infancy, fall at pre-school age and consistently increase thereafter.

The minimum essential standard of living for a two-adult, two-child, urban household came to €470.54 for a family with two children under four, and up to €620.96 where children are in second-level education.

The study found that as children got older, in both urban and rural areas, income is inadequate, peaking at a weekly shortfall of €232 below a minimum standard for a rural, two-parent household with a child at second level and a 19-year-old.

It concluded social welfare transfers are generally inadequate for this cohort when parents are not working.

The relevance of having these figures will become increasingly important once new personal debt legislation comes into existence.

Under terms of the proposed legislation, people seeking debt write-offs must be left with a minimum standard of living during the years they attempt to pay back what they can.

According to Dr Micheál Collins, one of the authors of the report, it will be relevant to situations where households are working with MABS, the courts and banking institutions to manage debt issues.

“When considering households that are managing debt, issues such as the minimum, essential standard of living must be the same for all households irrespective of their income level,” Dr Collins said.

“For example, the minimum is the minimum for all, and above this people can consume more given their incomes. However, below this level a household is unable to experience a basic standard of living.”

Dr Collins said knowing the minimum essential standard of living for a household type is a useful benchmark for assessing adequacy and appropriateness of current welfare payments and challenges facing low-income working families.

Another of the authors, Sr Bernadette Mac Mahon of the Vincentian Partnership, said the study demonstrates that many households in situations of reliance on social welfare or the national minimum wage live with an insufficient income.

Sr Mac Mahon said: “Income inadequacy means many households live below a level which has been defined as socially acceptable by Irish society.”


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