The 2005 Human Development report published by the UN Development Programme found that the richest 10% of the population have more than nine times the wealth of the poorest 10%.
Vice-president of the Society of Vincent de Paul (SVP), Professor John Monaghan, said the economy was booming and most people were doing well, but it was the poor who were suffering.
“The booming economy tends to mask a very deep-seated underlying level of poverty in Ireland, and the problem is it tends to go unseen and, to a large extent, it tends to go unbelieved until you get reports like this,” he said.
Prof Monaghan said the SVP had been telling the Government for years that people were struggling because the booming economy’s benefits were not trickling down to them.
“This country has plenty of money to tackle poverty but what we don’t have is the political guts to stand up and say we have to tackle this. And that means tackling vested interests.”
While social welfare rates and education spending had increased, little had been done to reduce poverty even though it made good economic sense to enable people to participate in and contribute to society.
“If deprivation is got rid of, Justice Minister Michael McDowell won’t have to worry about anti-social behaviour orders, and Health Minister Mary Harney won’t have to worry about having to find money for the health service. And if you get people into work they will be paying taxes.
“SVP is spending €3.8 million on food in one of the richest countries in the world,” he said.
Chief executive of the National Association for People with Intellectual Disabilities (NAMHI), Deirdre Carroll, said more could be done to reduce the unemployment rate among people with disabilities.
“The Government now has a strategy for the disabled in the form of the Disability Act and it should get the resources to implement it. We got a lot of promises from the Government but we want more than that,” she said.