Ireland must address ongoing issues over poverty and tackle the impact of a "growing social divide", according to a new report.
The report from Social Justice Ireland, entitled ‘Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy - A review of the social inclusion aspects of Ireland’s National Reform Programme’, is being launched today and tracks Ireland’s performance in light of the Europe 2020 high-level targets and against its own national targets.
Among the issues highlighted in the report are high levels of underemployment, a high incidence of State income support amongst employees, an increased number of discouraged workers leaving the labour force, low pay in the labour force, precarious employment, and a significant number of workers earning less than a living wage.
It said the rise in employment levels up to 2019 was welcome, as was Ireland's advanced position in comparison to other EU countries when it came to some education metrics, such as Ireland’s share of 30-34-year-olds who have completed tertiary or equivalent education being amongst the highest in Europe.
Ireland's rate of early school leaving was also among the best in Europe, but the report said: "In terms of participation rates in education or training (or lifelong learning) with a participation rate of 12.6%, Ireland is slightly above the European average of 11.3%, but well below the target of 15% set in Europe 2020.
"Ireland lags very far indeed behind the rates reported in the highest performing countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark, all of whom have participation rates above 25%."
As for poverty and social exclusion, it said: "Ireland’s figures for those at risk of poverty or social exclusion (that is, the combined indicator used in the Europe 2020 Strategy), was 20.6% or more than 1 million people – and still represented a very sizeable proportion of the Irish population in 2019. Despite improvements in the recent past, Ireland still has a rate of poverty or social exclusion that is just below the European average."
According to the report: "Even though the consistent poverty rate relates to a subset of poor people, the number of people affected is large. The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic challenges, the likely uneven nature of the subsequent recovery, and the limited sense of urgency to adequately address these issues is pushing Ireland further away from targets set. As noted already, Irish headline targets for consistent poverty have been missed and then changed."
Michelle Murphy, Research and Policy Analyst, Social Justice Ireland, said: "Overall, current trends in Irish public policy are running counter to the promotion of ‘inclusive growth,’ which is one of the three key priorities which underlie the Europe 2020 Strategy.
"Inclusive growth is not just about fostering a high-employment economy, it also aims to deliver social cohesion – it is integral to the Europe 2020 strategy, it will be integral to Europe and Ireland’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the success of the European Green Deal."