Issue 3 - May 2010

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European poverty targets

The Dail returned to discuss the setting of European targets against poverty highlighted in Oireachtas Brief 2 .  Joe Costello (Lab, Dublin central) raised on the adjournment the need for the Irish government to support the proposal for a European target of a 25% reduction in the poverty rate (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th April 2010, 451-4).  He argued that there was not much sense in having a general wish that poverty be reduced unless one established targets that might actually reach it.  A 25% target over ten years was not unattainable, but realistic and corresponded to a 2.5% reduction a year.  It would be great, he said, if by 2020 we could say that the target of taking 20m European citizens out of poverty had been achieved, but unless we established targets there was no way this could be achieved.

Responding for the government, Dick Roche, the Minister of State at the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs, agreed that targets were important: they had to be precise, specific and not waffle.  At European level, more needed to be done to reach numerical rates and appropriate indicators.  These targets were important and it was essential to get the rates and indicators right – this was a reflection of the extreme seriousness and centrality of the issue – and the European Council had agreed to return to them in June.  In common with many other EU partners, we had certain concerns about the initial Commission proposal for the sole use of the ‘at risk of poverty’ target.  Here, we used a composite measure of consistent poverty of the ‘at risk of poverty’ measure as well as one of basic deprivation.  The consistent poverty measure provides a more comprehensive picture of the true levels of poverty.  Ireland would work intensively in the period ahead with our EU partners and the Commission to arrive at a broadly agreeable indicator and he had every expectation that this would be achievable before the European Council returned to the issue at its June summit.

Later, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs Eamon O Cuiv told Roisin Shortall (Lab, Dublin NW) that although the Irish government supported the decision to include a poverty target in the European Strategy 2020, it had expressed methodological reservations about the sole use of the at-risk-of-poverty indicator (Dail Eireann, Debates 27th April 2010, 551).  The EU Social Protection Committee was working through an expert group on indicators and would make a recommendation to the social affairs council meeting on 7-8 June and its recommendations would go to the June Council meeting.

Editor’s comment: These replies are interesting, if we compare them to those reported in Oireachtas Brief 2.  Then, the governmental view was that Ireland was supportive of the targets, but more must be done to refine them.  Now it appears that Ireland had expressed a specific reservation, something not as explicitly evident earlier; and had re-opened the issue of the measurement of poverty around ‘at-risk-of-poverty’ and ‘consistent poverty’.