From top left to right: Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath, and Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar; Michael Taft
Back in July the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned of a coming economic crisis that could be ‘very divisive’:
‘ . . . it’s a very serious economic crisis and one that’s very unequal . . . The country was very united during the pandemic. The economic crisis that is coming could be very divisive.’
Unknown to us (at least based on national statistics) was that a serious crisis was emerging in 2019. The pandemic crisis is likely to give it legs and if we don’t act, it could run away from us.
The CSO has released its Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) focused on the issue of enforced deprivation. According to the CSO, the enforced deprivation rate measures the proportion of households that are considered to be marginalised or deprived because they cannot afford goods and services which are considered to be the norm for other people in society.
Enforced deprivation is where a household experiences two or more of the following eleven deprivation items:
* Without heating at some stage in the last year
* Unable to afford a morning, afternoon or evening out in last fortnight
* Unable to afford two pairs of strong shoes
* Unable to afford a roast or an equivalent once a week
* Unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day
* Unable to afford new (not second-hand) clothes
* Unable to afford a warm waterproof coat
* Unable to afford to keep the home adequately warm
* Unable to afford to replace any worn out furniture
* Unable to afford to have family or friends for a drink or a meal once a month
- Unable to afford to buy presents for family or friends at least once a year
During the last crisis, 30 percent of the population experienced enforced deprivation. Since that peak in 2013, the rate steadily declined.
Until last year when the enforced deprivation rate suddenly and unexpectedly rose. In 2019, unemployment fell and job numbers increased along with wages and incomes. Yet deprivation rose. Even before the crisis, something in the social structure was wrong.
Those most at risk of deprivation are social housing tenants, those who can’t work because of illness or disability, and single parents. The former two categories saw a sizeable increase in 2019, while close to half of single parents suffer multiple deprivation experiences.
We tend to assume that deprivation is associated with being out of work. That would be a mistake.
Nearly one-in-eight people in work are categorised as deprived. 20 percent of households with one person working are deprived. More surprisingly (and depressingly), even where there are two people at work in the household, more than one-in-ten suffer deprivation.
Clearly, in an economy with high levels of precarious working conditions and low pay, having a job is not a ticket out of deprivation and poverty.
And for children the situation is looking even grimmer. In 2018, the deprivation rate for children (under-18s) was 19.7 percent. It rose last year to 23.3 percent.
This is not only an indictment that nearly one-in-four children in the state suffers enforced deprivation; it also undermines future growth and prosperity for these households and society at large. And in one final stat twist, 30 percent of the population still experience at least one enforced deprivation experience.
And all this in the year prior to the pandemic, during a year of growth and expansion. This raises two questions:
Will the pandemic accelerate these trends? As the Tánaiste put it – will it accelerate inequality and divisiveness? And if the answer to the first question is yes, then what are the policies that we need to put in place starting now in Budget 2021?
For we will need to do something. If we go back to ‘normal’, we’re heading back into rising deprivation.
Michael Taft is a researcher for SIPTU and author of the political economy blog, Notes on the Front. Michael’s regular column resumes next Tuesday.