Dáil Éireann - Volume 556 - 24 October, 2002

Written Answers. - Anti-Poverty Strategy.

  21. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the recent United Nations report which showed that Ireland has the highest level of poverty in the western world outside of the United States; the measures her Department is taking to tackle poverty here at present; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19497/02]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): While the United Nations Human Development Report can contribute to our knowledge of human development and poverty issues globally, the data used in relation to Ireland, and the weightings applied to these data in the composite calculation of poverty, do not accurately reflect the results of other research conducted in relation to poverty levels in Ireland.

  The weightings ascribed in the calculation, by the UN, of its human poverty index place a particular emphasis on functional illiteracy scores drawn from the international adult literacy survey, IALS. In this regard, a report on the results of the IALS from the Department of Education and Science stated that interpretation of these results as revealing a high level of illiteracy in the Irish population is unwarranted.

[392]  That being said, the Government is very conscious of the need to tackle the issue of literacy. Substantial investment has been provided under the national development plan to progress this area. The revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, also contains key literacy targets to be achieved by 2006 and 2007.

  While Ireland's position on the poverty index is primarily a result of the use of the IALS data for functional illiteracy, some of the other data used in this exercise are also inaccurate. While the long-term unemployment rate quoted for Ireland is 5.6% – relating to 1999 figures – the level of long-term unemployment at that time was just over 2%. This has since fallen to just over 1%.

  Results from the 2000 “Living in Ireland” survey show that consistent poverty is now down to 6%, continuing the downward trend we have achieved in recent years. These figures demonstrate the real progress that has been made in tackling poverty. The new poverty reduction target contained in the revised national anti-poverty strategy is to reduce the numbers experiencing consistent poverty to below 2% and, if possible, to eliminate consistent poverty altogether.

  The Government recognises that poverty remains a problem within Irish society. While we have made much progress in recent years, the revised NAPS contains ambitious policy objectives and targets across a number of areas including education, employment, income, health and housing and accommodation and will further our goal of creating a society where everybody has the opportunity to participate.