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Govt failing to reach EU poverty and employment targets

By editor - 18 January, 2013

Social Justice Ireland

more info –www.socialjustice.ie

A new study from Social Justice Ireland published January 14th, 2013, shows that Ireland is further away from achieving its targets on employment, poverty and social inclusion than it was when these targets were originally set two years previously. Employment is not increasing, unemployment remains unacceptably high and poverty is rising. Government is failing to reach the key targets it set itself on poverty and employment as part of the EU’s Europe 2020 Strategy.

Ireland has the 12th highest poverty rate in the EU-27 with almost 16 out of every 100 people in Ireland living in poverty.  Unemployment is not falling and is now the 4th highest in the EU; it is becoming increasingly long-term in nature and the numbers employed are not increasing.  Action in areas such as adult literacy is nowhere near what is required.

The austerity measures currently being implemented in Ireland run counter to the aim of inclusive growth set out in the Europe 2020 Strategy. Government policy is having a negative distributional impact on people on low incomes and Budget 2013 simply made this situation worse.  It is essential that both the Irish Government and the EU protect the most vulnerable who have already been disproportionately affected by the current crisis.

The 73-page study, entitled ‘Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Employment, Education and Poverty’ reviews the social inclusion aspects of Ireland’s National Reform Programme and the Europe 2020 Strategy and how these have been implemented to date in Ireland.  It expresses major concern at the failure of policy-makers to understand that more is required to address the unemployment crisis than promises that jobs will be available when the economy recovers.  In this regard the study states: “It is highly unlikely that sufficient market-based jobs will emerge in the short to medium term to provide the necessary positions that would substantially reduce unemployment in Ireland”.

The reality is that unemployment is at a very high level with long-term unemployment accounting for 60% of people who are unemployed. Much more radical action is required and investment should be substantially increased. Without investment there won’t be jobs. Without jobs there won’t be recovery. Without recovery Ireland will move even further away from the modest targets it set itself on poverty and employment.

The study welcomes recent developments in relation to government policy on jobs but argues that these are not likely to have a major impact because of their lack of scale.

This review of Ireland’s contribution to the Europe 2020 Strategy raises serious questions concerning a range of decisions made by the Government in Budget 2013, many of which will yet again impact negatively upon the most vulnerable in Irish society, increasing the level of exclusion already experienced by those households.

The report also concludes that austerity measures being pursued in many countries, and which are especially acute in Ireland, will result in further erosion of social services and will lead to the further exclusion of people who already find themselves on the margins of society.

Some Recommendations from the Study

On employment the study recommends that the Irish Government should make substantial investments aimed at creating jobs and improving social infrastructure.  It also recommends that Government introduce two new sub targets under their current employment target in order to address in-work poverty and long-term unemployment.  It proposes these targets should be:

  • To reduce in-work poverty (by, for example, making tax credits refundable).
  • To reduce the level of long-term unemployment to 1.3% of the labour force. In this report Social Justice Ireland has outlined a jobs proposal which is of a sufficient scale to have a real impact on reducing the number of people experiencing long-term unemployment.

On poverty and social exclusion the study recommends that the Irish Government should carry out in-depth social impact assessments prior to implementing policies in order to ensure that the position of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion is not worsened by the austerity measures being pursued. It also recommends that Government should set targets aimed at reducing poverty among particular vulnerable groups such as children, lone parents, jobless households and those in social rented housing.  Government should also publish its National Social Report for 2012.

On education the review proposes Government should adopt a more ambitious national target of 5% in the National Reform Programme for the reduction of early school leaving.  The review also proposes that Government introduce the following sub-target on adult literacy:

  • Reduce the proportion of the population aged 16-64 with restricted literacy to 5 per cent by 2016; and to 3 per cent by 2020. This will still leave approximately 150,000 adults without basic literacy levels in 2016. (Currently, more than twice this number has restricted literacy.)

This Review is the second in a series of annual reviews of the Europe 2020 Strategy being conducted by Social Justice Ireland.