Every day we hear the economists and the politicians telling us that we are seeing the “green shoots” of growth starting in our bare country. We associate green shoots with Spring and a new year when the buds come on the shrubs and trees. Green shoots mean that we have come alive and have left the long winter days behind. So naturally when we hear these phrases used we hope we have left all the problems we have encountered since the Celtic Tiger absconded behind and that a new era has begun. Is this the truth or is it more of the same spin?. Are the green shoots for some and not for others? Green shoots don’t select just some plants. In nature, all plants experience the green shoots as soon as the time arrives for rebirth.
A report published by the Central Statistics Office called Eu-silc (Survey on Income and Living Conditions) paints a different story especially for those who are poor, disabled or sick. In 2012, Eu-silc compared a broad range of issues in relation to income, living conditions and across a number of poverty indicators such as the “at risk of poverty rate, “consistent poverty rate, and rates of enforced deprivation in Ireland.
It found that disposable income has decreased every year since 2004 when they started collecting that data. The findings also showed that the percentage of people who were at risk of poverty rate was also higher (16.5% compared to 16% in 2011). In households where there was no one at work that increased to 36.6% and for single unemployed persons that poverty rate stood at 34.7%. That is, almost one in every three households in those circumstances were at risk of poverty. These are not green shoots!.
Long-term unemployment is at a historic high and the proportion of our young people not at work is the 6th highest in the OECD with 16.7% out of work compared to the OECD average of 12.6% . These are not green shoots!
Our young people, especially those with third level education are emigrating in large numbers. They were educated by the Irish taxpayer and their loss to Ireland prevents strong growth and creates significant demographic problems for the future. According to the OECD Ireland’s economic output, employment and average incomes all remain far below the 2008 meltdown, these are the facts. There is a pretence that we are in recovery mode and that employment is growing but we still have 292,000 people unemployed and a growing number who are working fewer hours than they would like. These are not green shoots.
Society at a glance shows that incomes in the average household in Ireland have fallen by 50% since 2008. Almost one in ten people (9%) surveyed said they did not have enough of money to buy food, up from 4.2% in 2006. Lower income families are now more vulnerable to this food poverty and the gap between the rich and poor is set to continue. Figures about unemployment, falling incomes and the increase in deaths by suicide all highlight the poverty being endured by families.
When you consider that 1 in 6 adults now live in homes where nobody is in employment, compared with the rate before the financial crash, which was 1 in 10 adults, the scale of poverty is unacceptable. The poor and those in low paid jobs have suffered the most as their income was not sufficient in the first instance to live meagre lives. When people become long-term unemployed they become permanently disconnected from the labour market and face poor earning or employment prospects throughout their careers. When employment does not give the financial rewards expected it becomes increasingly difficult for jobless people to work their way out of poverty. When a person gets employment in a low paid job, they often see only limited gains. That does not motivate people.
The negative effects of poverty on people’s lives deprives them of opportunities in life and the children of poor adults often go on to be poor themselves. Debt and exclusion from the mainstream financial services also impact on those on low incomes and they are pushed into borrowing from high interest lenders like moneylenders. Social exclusion or the feeling of not being equal within the community where they live and feeling unequal because of their financial circumstances all take their toll on the poor.
The high numbers of people who live in poverty is no asset to any country and should be tackled at every level and equality made a priority to improve the lives of all citizens before damage that is irreparable continues and destroys communities and puts lives at risk. The green shoots need to filter down to those most in need if we can make statements that our economy is in recovery for everyone.
Peg Hanafin, MSc. 10/5/2014
Peg Hanafin MSc, 10/5/2014