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We must begin looking at how best to address poverty for our most vulnerable

October 17 is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

According to the Central Statistics Office, poverty levels in Ireland showed that the ‘at risk of poverty’ rate was 12.8% prior to the onset of Covid-19.

Enforced deprivation was experienced by 17.8% of the population and the consistent poverty rate was 5.5%. One in seven (13.5%) of those living in rented accommodation were defined as living in consistent poverty.

Ireland’s population is estimated to have passed the 5 million mark in April of this year, meaning an estimated 275,000 people are experiencing consistent poverty, 640,000 are at risk of poverty and 890,000 experienced enforced deprivation.

While there are many causes of poverty, the cost of poverty in Ireland is more than €4.5 billion each year1. Knowing the cost, how best should we tackle poverty2?

In our work in COPE Galway, we see the effects of poverty every day. In 1997, the Irish Government stated: “People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally. 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.”

If poverty is a result of inadequate income, then the best way to tackle poverty is to ensure everyone has an income that ensures they are above the poverty line. A single person, if housing were excluded, would have a minimum income of €240.47.

An increase is social welfare rates to a level which that ensures people are not at risk of poverty would be one solution to addressing the issue of poverty. While the increases in social welfare announced in Budget 2022 are very much welcomed, they do not go far enough in addressing poverty.

As we emerge from the public health crisis that is Covid-19, which has left many people vulnerable, now is an ideal time to consider and explore different approaches to tackling poverty such as for example, the introduction of Universal Basic Income.

The Programme for Government commits to “Request the Low Pay Commission to examine Universal Basic Income, informed by a review of previous international pilots, and resulting in a universal basic income pilot in the lifetime of the Government.” Budget 2022 commits to the introduction of a Basic Income Scheme for artists, which is welcomed by COPE Galway. However, we must ask, is there an opportunity to expand such a programme?

“Universal basic income is defined as an unconditional state payment that each citizen receives. The payment is designed to provide enough to cover the basic cost of living and provide a modicum of financial security.3” By its very title universal basic income or UBI is universal: available to all and importantly it is unconditional; not subject to any conditions. Fundamentally it is no strings attached, free money.

In 2009, 13 rough sleepers in London, who had been rough sleeping between four and 45 years were given a personalised budget equaling £3,000 per person. Each person was asked what they needed to help them off the streets and told that there was a personalised budget available for them to help them achieve this. They were supported to develop an action plan which was agreed by the local authority. When evaluating the project, seven of the participants were in accommodation while two were making plans to move into accommodation.

Other results included people registering for courses, reconnecting with family, developing independent living skills and addressing physical and mental health and addiction issues.4 In Vancouver, the New Leaf Project in partnership with University of British Columbia and Foundations for Social Change identified 50 individuals who had become homeless in the previous two years and gave them each one lump sum of $7,500. The individuals could choose how to they spent this money.

The result saw participants spend less time in homelessness and being able to move into stable accommodation faster, whilst saving over $1,000 in a period of 12 month. There was increased spending on food, clothing, and rent and participants also made wise financial choices with a 39% reduction in spending on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. They also reduced reliance on the shelter system of care, resulting in cost savings to society, estimated at $405,000.5

Across the globe experiments with unconditional cash transfers and Universal Basic Income are taking place6, with many positive results. There are concerns that Universal Basic Income and Cash Transfers may lead to increased consumption of temptation goods, such as alcohol and tobacco. However, research indicates that in many cases these concerns are unfounded.7

Cash Transfers and Universal Basic Income pilots provide an opportunity to examine new poverty reduction measures, while building trust and empowering individuals.

As we progress into a post Covid society, we must begin looking at how best to address poverty for our most vulnerable. Universal basic income could be one way of doing this. For women experiencing domestic abuse, it may provide the financial independence and ability to access resources needed to be in a position to leave an abusive relationship8 and for someone who is homeless it could provide the financial means to move out of homelessness.

 


Endnotes

  1. Collins, M. 2020.Vincent de Paul. The Hidden Cost of Poverty Estimating the Public Service Cost of Poverty in Ireland
  2. Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. 2021. MESL 2021 ANNUAL UPDATE
  3. Life Worth Living. The Report of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce. October 2020 14
  4. Juliette Hough, J. Rice, B. 2010. Providing personalised support to rough sleepers. Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  5. Foundations for Social Change: New Leaf project. Taking Bold Action on Homelessness and also https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/a-global-first-direct-cash-transfer-study-shows-promising-results-for-people-recently-homeless-881750516.html
  6. Samuel, S. 2020.  Everywhere basic income has been tried, in one map  https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/2/19/21112570/universal-basic-income-ubi-map or Arnold, C. Money for nothing: the truth about universal basic income  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05259-x
  7. UNICEF. 2017. Evidence over Ideology: Giving Unconditional Cash in Africa. https://blogs.unicef.org/evidence-for-action/evidence-over-ideology-giving-unconditional-cash-in-africa/  or Evans, DK Popova, A. 2014 Cash Transfers and Temptation Goods A Review of Global Evidence. World Bank Document
  8. IWA. 2020.Why a Universal Basic Income Could Tackle Domestic Abuse https://www.iwa.wales/agenda/2020/11/50096/ or Womack, A. 2018How a universal basic income could help women in abusive relationships. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/domestic-violence-abuse-bill-theresa-may-financial-independence-a8260736.html

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