Since 1997, Ireland has developed national policies to tackle poverty and social exclusion, following the adoption of an official definition of poverty, stating:
People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from a having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society. As a result of inadequate income and resources, people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society. (National AntiPoverty Strategy, 1997)  
Measures of deprivation were developed through large scale surveys of items regarded as ‘things that every household or person should be able to have and that nobody should have to do without’ followed by questions on whether these items or activities were available to household members and, if not, whether this was because of a lack of resources. For details of these findings see tables below.
In line with this understanding of poverty as a relative and multi-dimensional phenomenon, Ireland uses three indicators to measure poverty: at-risk-of-poverty, material deprivation, and the overlap of the two, known as consistent poverty. At-risk-of-poverty is defined as individuals below 60 per cent of median disposable income.
The Irish indicator of material deprivation - which have differences from the EU material deprivation indicator - is based on individuals lacking two or more items from an 11 item index:
  • two pairs of strong shoes,
  • a warm waterproof overcoat, 
  • buy new not second-hand clothes, eat meals with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent)
  • every second day, have a roast joint or its equivalent once a week, 
  • had to go without heating during the last year through lack of money, 
  • keep the home adequately warm, 
  • buy presents for family or friends at least once a year, 
  • replace any worn out furniture, have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month and have a morning, 
  • afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight, for entertainment.
Using EU-SILC 2011 data, the Irish approach identifies 24% in poverty of the population with:
  • 4.2 % in consistent poverty that is both having material deprivation and low income
  • 10.2 % at-risk-of-poverty only. and 
  • 9.6 % are materially deprived only.
For details of how these material indicators were derived see:
Multiple deprivation and multiple disadvantage in Ireland: an analysis of EU-SILC’ (pdf), C.T. Whelan, B. Maȋtre, B. Nolan,  Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, 2007
The Irish experience of national poverty targets’ (pdf), Host country report to EU, Social Inclusion Division, Department of Social Protection, June 2011
For details of poverty in Northern Ireland see: PSE Northern Ireland

Surveying the necessities of life in Ireland

In 1987 and 1997, large-scale surveys were conducted that asked respondents whether they thought each of a list of items was a necessity, i.e. ‘things that every household or person should be able to have and that nobody should have to do without’. The respondents were also asked whether these items or activities were available to household members and, if not, whether this was because of a lack of resources. The 1987 Survey of Poverty, Income Distribution had a survey sample size of 3,294 households and the 1997 data set comprised 2,945 households. The table below compares 1987 with 1997, giving percentages of those lacking each item, those lacking the item because they can’t afford it and those perceiving the item to be a necessity.


Lack, enforced lack and perceived necessity for lifestyle items in Northern Ireland in 1987 and 1997

Item % lacking 1987 % lacking 1997 % enforced lack 1987 % enforced lack 1997 % stating necessity 1987 % stating necessity 1997
Refrigerator 5 1 3 1 92 99
Washing machine 20 10 10 4 82 93
Telephone 48 14 31 9 45 82
Car 38 30 22 13 59 70
Colour TV 20 3 11 1 37 75
A week’s annual holiday away from home 68 45 49 32 50 62
A dry damp-free dwelling 10 6 9 6 99 99
Heating for the living room when it’s cold 3 6 2 5 99 99
Central heating in the house 45 17 30 10 49 81
An indoor toilet in the dwelling 7 2 6 2 98 99
Bath or shower 9 3 7 2 98 99
A meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day 13 3 9 2 84 94
A warm waterproof overcoat 13 4 8 2 93 93
Two pairs of strong shoes 16 5 11 4 88 96
To be able to save 57 38 55 34 88 82
A daily newspaper 45 43 16 9 39 33
A roast meat joint or equivalent once a week 24 11 13 4 64 76
A hobby or leisure activity 33 26 12 8 73 70
New not second-hand clothes 10 8 8 6 77 86
Presents for friends or family once a year 24 11 13 6 60 73

Source: Richard Layte, Brian Nolan and Christopher T. Whelan (1999) Targeting Poverty: Lessons from Monitoring Ireland’s National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

A presentation on poverty measurement in Ireland was made by Brian Nolan, University College Dublin, at the Second Peter Townsend Memorial Conference, Measuring Poverty: The State of the Art, in 2011.

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