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Poverty figures, poverty and health

Asked by Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) about the views of The poor can’t pay campaign, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin told the Dail that she had noted its analysis of budget 2010.  €21bn would be spent on social welfare in 2010, up 2.6% or €526m on 2009.  The risk of poverty had fallen from 18.5% to 14.4% in 2008 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 23rd February 2020, 93-4).  According to the minister, the government was on target to reduce the goals set for 2012 and 2016.  The rate of consistent poverty was down from 6.5% in 2006 to 5.1% in 2007 and 4.2% in 2008 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th January 2010, 422).

Asked by Willie Penrose (Lab, Westmeath) about the links between poverty and ill health, the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney acknowledged that reducing the effect of poverty on health outcomes was a common challenge for health systems around the world.  Her department was committed to working with other stakeholders to tackle and reduce health inequality (Dail Eireann, Debates, 3rd March 2010, 61-3).  James Reilly (FG, Dublin N) asked her whether funding had been put in place to tackle Traveller health, for ‘previously, money had been siphoned off into other areas’.  He also asked the minister if she intended to change the income threshold for the medical card, which was currently little more than the minimum wage.  Anyone working full-time could not get it and sometimes not even part-time workers.

Mary Harney said that the answer was no.  200,000 people had recently acquired medical cards, 1.48m people were covered and 98,0000 people had doctor-only cards.  To be realistic, in the current financial circumstances, she did not anticipate changing the threshold.  As for Travellers, she had provided a great deal of additional money and an extra €33m for the homeless.

Caomhghin O Caolain asked her what action had she talken on foot of the NESC report Well-being matters – a social report for Ireland, which found that we were seventh last on the list of 27 member states for access to hospital services and asked what impact assessment had been done following the 2008 report of the Combat Poverty Agency and the Institute for Public Health.  The minister responded by saying that she was not certain that poverty-proofing every policy would deliver the kind of result that he wanted.  ‘Currently, every memorandum that goes to government must be gender-proofed, poverty-proofed, competitiveness-proofed and north-south-proofed’.  Regular impact assessments of new policies and legislation were carried out.  The resource allocation group was examining the allocation of resources not only within hospitals but between hospitals and community care and would provide us with good insights.