Dáil Éireann - Volume 508 - 06 October, 1999

Written Answers. - National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

76. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the steps, if any, being taken by his Department, and in particular within the National Anti-Poverty Strategy unit, to ensure that the guidelines on poverty proofing are being extensively applied; if he has satisfied himself that they are being applied throughout all departmental policy and legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18863/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Following the agreement among the social partners in July 1998 on a pilot poverty proofing system to assess all significant policy proposals for their potential impact on the poor, the Government adopted this process in official Cabinet procedures. To assist in its implementation, the national anti-poverty strategy unit, based in my Department, produced a set of guidelines on poverty proofing which were distributed to all Government Departments in April of this year. These guidelines also provided worked examples of the application of the process.

It is the responsibility of each Government Department to ensure that its policy proposals are poverty proofed. The NAPS unit has met with NAPS liaison officers in all Government Depart[1286] ments and discussed poverty proofing with them in order to assist with any difficulties. My Department will also be pursuing the possibilities for incorporating appropriate training modules into general service training courses.

In July of this year, the NAPS unit organised a meeting of the Partnership 2000 sub-group which drew up the original poverty proofing framework to review progress and exchange experiences with regard to implementation of the process to date. In advance of this meeting, Departments were asked to report on their individual experiences of poverty proofing implementation. Feedback from Departments in this instance was generally positive and conscious efforts were being made to raise awareness of the process and ensure its implementation across departmental sections. There are, of course, some teething difficulties with applying the process in all circumstances but it is hoped that these difficulties will be addressed in a forthcoming review.

In relation to a review of the process, it was agreed with the social partners during the initial discussions that poverty proofing would be reviewed and revised if necessary after a period of one year. Terms of reference for this review are currently being drafted and it is hoped that the outcome of the review will enhance the current process and help address any difficulties associated with its implementation.

The introduction of poverty proofing of significant policy proposals is a major tool in assisting this Government in halting the drift towards a two-tier society by keeping social inclusion to the fore at all times. It ensures that Departments are now kept aware of the possible implications of policy on those most in need and it is a system to which this Government is committed as part of its strategy on social inclusion.

77. Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will report on the revised National Anti-Poverty Strategy targets being considered by the interdepartmental policy committee, particularly in relation to children in poverty, adult literacy and housing and accommodation needs. [18879/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The first annual report of the national anti-poverty strategy's Interdepartmental Policy Committee was published in June and consisted of a comprehensive overview of developments and progress in the area of anti-poverty and social inclusion policy since the launch of the strategy. The ESRI report, Monitoring Poverty Trends, also published in June, showed that substantial progress had been made towards achieving the original NAPS targets on consistent poverty and unemployment.

In light of these developments and this Government's ongoing social inclusion strategy, an ambitious target was introduced to reduce consistent poverty to below 5 per cent by 2004. In the context of the employment action plan, further targets were set in relation to unemployment. These are; reduce unemployment to below [1287] 5 per cent by end-2000; reduce long-term unemployment to below 2 per cent by end-2000.

Since this Government has come into office the Live Register has dropped by 70,000 – 27 per cent – and an estimated 160,000 net new jobs have been created since 1997.

I also announced at the launch of the NAPS report that the Government had asked the Interdepartmental Policy Committee to examine possibilities for new targets to reflect the changed environment, for example, in relation to education and adult literacy, and to consider setting targets in relation to particular groups such as children in poverty.

The IDPC has begun consideration of this matter although, given the complex nature of the issue, it is likely that it will take some time before meaningful targets can be set in appropriate areas. The outcome of the negotiations of a new partnership agreement, as well as the forthcoming budget and the national development plan, will provide an important context in finalising any additional targets. The input of the social partners will also be sought in due course.

The cross-departmental group on literacy, which was established by the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, is due to report shortly and intends to provide recommendations to Government which may inform target setting in this area. Attainment of a sufficient degree of literacy is a core life skill and this Government has already provided much increased investment in adult education to assist in combating deficits in this area.

In relation to child poverty, it should be noted that discussions are still at a very early stage and that child poverty is a complex problem, the alleviation of which requires policy responses on a number of fronts. The preparation of a national children's strategy will form a major input into this process. This Government's increases in child benefit, allied with investment in education initiatives such as Breaking the Cycle and Early Start, have made significant strides in this area. The latest ESRI figures from the living in Ireland survey show that the percentage of children experiencing consistent poverty has fallen from 18-23 per cent to 15-17 per cent, while the numbers living in households below the 50 per cent relative income line have fallen from 29 per cent in 1994 to 24 per cent in 1997.

Housing and homelessness are issues which have been prominent in Ireland for decades. Recognising the problem of homelessness, the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion established a cross-departmental working group in late 1998 to prepare an integrated response to homelessness and report to Government. This report is expected shortly.

In relation to housing, this Government has consistently continued to address this problem. The recent Planning and Development Bill, Action on House Prices, and the serviced land initiative were all designed to increase supply of housing, in particular for those who are being priced out of the market. In addition, a multi-annual local authority housing programme was [1288] announced in April 1999. Under this initiative, a comprehensive funding package has been agreed which will deliver 22,000 local authority houses over the next four years, starting in the year 2000.

This Government has pledged its commitment to halting the drift towards a two-tier society. It has set targets in numerous areas and has made progress towards achieving them. These targets are useful in that they enable us to monitor progress but that progress can only be attained through effective policy actions which assist in alleviating poverty and promotion social inclusion – a strategy to which this Government is firmly committed.