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Poverty & social exclusion eroding rural communities

By Ann Marie Foley - 21 April, 2016

“We now have a large number of people suffering from stress and anxiety, feeling forgotten by successive government agencies” - SVP.

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The number of people at risk of poverty in rural Ireland has doubled since 2008.

The Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) shows that in 2014 some 19.1% were at risk of poverty while there was 8% living in consistent poverty in 2008.

“(The survey shows) a continuing escalation of poor living conditions and a lack of basic services which adds to the exclusion of those who live in what is called ‘rural’ Ireland,” wrote Peg Hanafin in the latest edition of the SVP Bulletin, the magazine of St Vincent de Paul.

“We now have a large number of people suffering from stress and anxiety, feeling forgotten by successive government agencies,” she stated.

She called on the Government to stop this “erosion of rural communities”.

Peg Hanafin pointed out that the Government has reduced investment in community development programmes since 2008 and stated that this will have to be reversed and “every assistance be given to alleviate the growing exclusion being experienced in rural Ireland in 2016.”

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During recent years rural Ireland has seen closures and reductions in public services.

There is a shortage of further education opportunities, child care, social and affordable housing and financial services, such as banks and post offices, have been closed.

A report on the future of post offices produced by Dragon’s Den star Bobby Kerr and his steering group states that Ireland has gone from 1,907 post offices in 1992 to 1,135 today.

The Final Report of the Post Office Network Development Group, published in January 2016, recognises the importance of the post office network to Irish Society and its economic and social infrastructure.

“Given the age and income characterisation of many An Post customers, the services they provide allow people to fully participate in modern society,” the report states.

Many customers of the post office who have little or no access to the internet can be restricted in their ability to “fully participate in the economy,” it explains.

“The post office may be a focal point for weekly face-to face interaction and communication,” it also asserts.

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The report recognises the need for three types of post offices – retail, service and community.

The latter include those post offices where the economic rationale for retention is weak but the social reasons are strong.

One way of ensuring their viability is to co-locate them in another business such as with the local shop.

About a year ago, the SVP also raised the subject of service cuts which were causing rural isolation (see story in CatholicIreland.net 15 March 2015).

Back then, the SVP stated that its members visiting homes throughout rural Ireland witnessed on a daily basis the isolation, loneliness and difficulty caused by the relentless curtailment of services in rural Ireland in recent years.

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