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Public policy isn’t promoting inclusive growth

By editor - 30 January, 2015

Social Justice Ireland warns that the number of people with jobs who are in poverty (the ‘working poor’) remains at very high levels.

Dr Sean Healy and Michelle Murphy of Social Justice Ireland.

Dr Sean Healy and Michelle Murphy of Social Justice Ireland.

A new review of public policy carried out by Social Justice Ireland has found that Government policies are excluding people already on the margins of society.

The review is the fourth in a series of annual reviews of Ireland’s performance in the Europe 2020 Strategy conducted by Social Justice Ireland.

The review, entitled ‘Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Employment, Education and Poverty 2015’, finds that insufficient attention is being given to skills deficits, under-employment, the precarious nature of many work contracts and persistent long-term unemployment.

Published earlier this week, the review warns that Government policies are further excluding people who are already clinging to the margins of society.

The new review shows that:

  • Ireland’s employment rate is nine percentage points lower than the Europe 2020 Strategy target, with only five years left to bridge this gap.
  • Almost one in four young people are unemployed and this situation would be far worse except for the fact that emigration has been a constant part of Irish life since the 2008 crash.
  • The number of people with jobs who are in poverty (the ‘working poor’) remains at very high levels.
  • Long-term unemployment has become structural as more than half those unemployed have been in this situation for more than a year.

In the review, Social Justice Ireland welcomes the fact that the Government has introduced a number of measures to address the issue of unemployment and placed a greater focus on long-term unemployed people in some recent initiatives.

However, SJI warns that many key issues are not being adequately addressed.

For example, the number of people availing of Activation Programmes – 83,534 people in October 2014 – represents just a third of the total unemployed (245,500 people 2014).

“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” according to Dr Seán Healy, Director Social Justice Ireland.

“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 and needs to be integral to the response of the Irish Government.”

“With only five years left to achieve the targets it set out in the Europe 2020 Strategy on employment, education and poverty, Government needs to take emergency action in the coming year if it is to get anywhere close to achieving its targets,” according to Michelle Murphy, Research and Policy Analyst with Social Justice Ireland.

According to SJI, the Government should immediately address five key proposals contained in its new review:

  1. Carry out in-depth social impact assessments prior to implementing all policies in order to ensure that the position of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion is not worsened by the measures being pursued. (Review, page 76)
  2. Invest in universal, quality early childhood education and care that addresses all stages of early childhood (that is, in addition to the year allowed under the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme). (Review, page 50)
  3. Set a target in the forthcoming National Reform Programme to reduce the level of long-term unemployment to 1.3% of the labour force (the level it was at in 2007). (Review, page 36)
  4. Reduce in-work poverty by making tax credits refundable. (Review, page 36)
  5. Substantially increase investment in lifelong learning to assist the greater participation of low skilled and older workers. (Review, page 50)

Europe 2020 is the EU’s growth strategy for the present decade. It aims to make the EU a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy.

These three mutually reinforcing priorities are meant to deliver high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion.

Within this strategy the EU has set five ambitious objectives – on employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy – to be reached by 2020. Each Member State has adopted its own national targets in each of these areas. Concrete actions at EU and national levels are meant to underpin the strategy.

Social Justice Ireland charts Ireland’s progress on a yearly basis and its latest report, ‘Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy, 2015’ covers the social inclusion aspects of EU 2020 that were addressed in the Irish National Reform Programme. These are employment, education and ‘poverty and social exclusion’.

The review, entitled ‘Ireland and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Employment, Education and Poverty’, 2015, may be accessed here

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