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Monitoring Poverty Trends in Ireland: Results from the 2000 Living in Ireland survey

Brian Nolan (), Brenda Gannon, Richard Layte, Dorothy Watson (), Christopher Whelan () and James Williams
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Richard Layte: Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI)
James Williams: Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI)

No PRS45 in Research Series from Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI)

Abstract: This study is the latest in a series monitoring the evolution of poverty, based on data gathered by The ESRI in the Living in Ireland Surveys since 1994. These have allowed progress towards achieving the targets set out in the National Anti Poverty Strategy since 1997 to be assessed. The present study provides an updated picture using results from the 2000 round of the Living in Ireland survey. The numbers interviewed in the 2000 Living in Ireland survey were enhanced substantially, to compensate for attrition in the panel survey since it commenced in 1994. Individual interviews were conducted with 8,056 respondents. Relative income poverty lines do not on their own provide a satisfactory measure of exclusion due to lack of resources, but do nonetheless produce important key indicators of medium to long-term background trends. The numbers falling below relative income poverty lines were most often higher in 2000 than in 1997 or 1994. The income gap for those falling below these thresholds also increased. By contrast, the percentage of persons falling below income lines indexed only to prices (rather than average income) since 1994 or 1997 fell sharply, reflecting the pronounced real income growth throughout the distribution between then and 2000. This contrast points to the fundamental factors at work over this highly unusual period: unemployment fell very sharply and substantial real income growth was seen throughout the distribution, including social welfare payments, but these lagged behind income from work and property so social welfare recipients were more likely to fall below thresholds linked to average income. The study shows an increasing probability of falling below key relative income thresholds for single person households, those affected by illness or disability, and for those who are aged 65 or over - many of whom rely on social welfare support. Those in households where the reference person is unemployed still face a relatively high risk of falling below the income thresholds but continue to decline as a proportion of all those below the lines. Women face a higher risk of falling below those lines than men, but this gap was marked among the elderly. The study shows a marked decline in deprivation levels across different household types. As a result "consistent" poverty, that is the numbers both below relative income poverty lines and experiencing "basic" deprivation, also declined sharply. Those living in households comprising one adult with children continue to face a particularly high risk of consistent poverty, followed by those in families with two adults and four or more children. The percentage of adults in households below 70 per cent of median income and experiencing basic deprivation was seen to have fallen from 9 per cent in 1997 to about 4 per cent, while the percentage of children in such households fell from 15 per cent to 8 per cent. Women aged 65 or over faced a significantly higher risk of consistent poverty than men of that age. Up to 2000, the set of eight basic deprivation items included in the measure of "consistent poverty" were unchanged, so it was important to assess whether they were still capturing what would be widely seen as generalised deprivation. Factor analysis suggested that the structuring of deprivation items into the different dimensions has remained remarkably stable over time. Combining low income with the original set of basic deprivation indicators did still appear to identify a set of households experiencing generalised deprivation as a result of prolonged constraints in terms of command over resources, and distinguished from those experiencing other types of deprivation. However, on its own this does not tell the whole story - like purely relative income measures - nor does it necessarily remain the most appropriate set of indicators looking forward. Finally, it is argued that it would now be appropriate to expand the range of monitoring tools to include alternative poverty measures incorporating income and deprivation. Levels of deprivation for some of the items included in the original basic set were so low by 2000 that further progress will be difficult to capture empirically. This represents a remarkable achievement in a short space of time, but poverty is invariably reconstituted in terms of new and emerging social needs in a context of higher societal living standards and expectations. An alternative set of basic deprivation indicators and measure of consistent poverty is presented, which would be more likely to capture key trends over the next number of years. This has implications for the approach adopted in monitoring the National Anti-Poverty Strategy. Monitoring over the period to 2007 should take a broader focus than the consistent poverty measure as constructed to date, with attention also paid to both relative income and to consistent poverty with the amended set of indicators identified here.

Date: 2002
ISBN: 0707002109
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