Working poor on the rise in Ireland despite the recovery

More than 100,000 workers in Ireland are living in poverty even though they have jobs. “This shocking figure indicates that the employment system is broken, and workers’ rights are not being protected or prioritised by policy-makers,” says Social Justice Ireland.

The organisation’s latest Poverty Focus 2018 report pays special attention to the problem of in-work poverty and finds that the number of people affected – the so-called “working poor” – has been rising since 2009 despite Ireland’s economic recovery. Economic policies have failed to address the issues of low pay, precarious work and an unfair tax system, it concludes.

The Republic of Ireland is a country with a population of less than 5 million.  But poverty affects 16.5%:  one in six people lives below the poverty line, and more than 26% of them are children. Furthermore, workers make up 13.3% of people in poverty: a mere 0.2 percentage points fewer than the unemployed. Over 14% of people staying at home to care for children or other relatives also suffer poverty.

Something wrong

“This is a remarkable statistic and it is important that policy-makers begin to recognise and address this problem,” says Social Justice Ireland. “If people in employment can’t be guaranteed a life free from poverty then there is something seriously wrong. Having a job is not, of itself, a guarantee that one lives in a poverty-free household. Many working families on low earnings struggle to achieve a basic standard of living.

“Employers availing of precarious employment contracts and low pay are among those responsible. Government must take responsibility for ensuring a job is always a route out of poverty, not into it.” Research shows that low pay is most likely to affect women, single parents and young people, workers on temporary contracts and in the retail, hotel and security sectors.

Nonetheless, Irish poverty rates are not the highest in Europe. People in Romania, Bulgaria, Spain, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Greece are even more likely to live at risk of poverty.

Social Justice Ireland calls for the adoption of a living wage to guarantee low-paid workers a decent standard of living.