Dáil Éireann - Volume 587 - 15 June, 2004
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Expenditure.
Mr. Gilmore Mr. Gilmore
109. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to recent statistics from EUROSTAT showing that social expenditure here is at 14.6% of gross domestic product, in contrast to the European average of 27.5%; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17702/04]
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: EUROSTAT, the statistical office of the EU, publishes comparisons of social protection expenditure as a percentage of GDP across the EU. This encompasses not only social welfare expenditure but also expenditure in other areas such as health care, social housing, employment support programmes and other social inclusion programmes.
The latest such statistics were released on 23 April 2004 and deal with developments up to and including 2001. No comparable figures are yet available for 2002 or 2003. When examining such data it is important to remember that gross expenditure measures do not take account of social charges or taxes which may be levied on benefits after they are paid, nor do they include transfers made by means of tax concessions as opposed to direct cash payments. The EUROSTAT release draws attention to the fact the European average masks major national differences in the structure of social protection funding.
The level of expenditure is also significantly influenced by the age profile of the population. Ireland, with one of the youngest populations in the EU, needs to spend less on pensions and health care and care of the elderly than most other member states. In addition, social protection expenditure as a percentage of GDP is crucially dependent on the pace of economic growth and the level of unemployment. Statistics show that at EU level, between 1993 and 1996, social protection expenditure relative to GDP stabilised at a level below the peak of 28.8% in 1993. This was due to renewed GDP growth and slower growth in social protection expenditure, particularly related to unemployment benefits. Over the period from 1996, the EU average dropped from 28.4% to the level of 27.5% in 2001. Ireland’s position mirrored that of the EU  as a whole, except that the level of economic growth and the decline in unemployment were much greater in Ireland than in most other EU countries and, consequently, the drop in the percentage of GDP accounted for by social protection expenditure was greater. The fact is that under this Government, there have been sustained and substantial increases in social protection expenditure. The EUROSTAT report states that the increase in real terms expenditure on social protection in four EU countries, including Ireland at 4.7% per annum, over the period 1992 to 2001 was “particularly marked”. The EU average was 1.9%. The EUROSTAT figures show a 40% increase in the per capita expenditure on social protection in Ireland in the period 1994 to 2001, compared with an EU average of 13.9%. The Government will continue to address the scope for further improvements in Ireland’s social protection infrastructure, guided by the national anti-poverty strategy, while at the same time continuing to take the measures necessary to maintain economic growth and competitiveness and thereby generate the resources for further social investment.
Dáil Éireann 587 Written Answers. Social Welfare Expenditure.