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April 23, 2008



I agree with your final point that in the end poverty is a political issue.

But I see two additional problems here. One is that for obvious historical reasons the prime meaning of the terms poor and poverty which have lodged in people's heads is one which really means destitute. To the average punter, it doesn't seem possible that you can earn 14,000 euro a year, pay no tax, receive other benefits, and still be poor. In that sense, the challenge for the left and the anti-poverty campaigners is to redefine the terms of the debate; which to some extent they have been doing. I notice now that they often draw up examples. Paul and Mary have three children, earn x, but they need to pay y for the children's clothes, and so on. In other words, to get away from the historical notion of poverty which is absolute and tends to be extreme. In other words to articulate how in fact people can struggle on what really are meagre incomes.

The other point is that a number in itself says very little. Within Ireland for example you mention those 'at risk'. But not all people in certain income categories are at risk. More work is need to clarify who really are at risk. A single number is insufficient here.

And it is insufficient for international comparisons. Even if the scenario arose whereby the % of people living on 60% of the median in each EU country were the same, their poverty rates would or could be dramatically different. A child's life chances would be vastly different in a country where GP visits are free and good schooling and supports were available to all families over a country where the state hands off many of these functions on the market. So any comparison needs to measure real life chances, real difficulty in making ends meet, in getting medical care, in meeting the food or housing bills.

Sadly though, and as you point out, this would require a much broader and involved discussion which wouldn't lend itself to little tirades against the numbers like that of Mr. Coleman.


First of, Tomaltach, apologies for not responding to your comment on the post about Irish wages (the work is piling up). You can access the data on wages at:,3343,en_2825_497118_39717906_1_1_1_1,00.html

They have a tax/benefit calculator for all the OECD countries.

I fully agree with your comments on poverty. I have addressed this particular aspect before - how poverty and low incomes should not be addressed in isolation with the difficulties that others on average incomes have (there are, after all, over 1,000,000 people earning below the average industrial wage). A progressive platform should seek to unite, not separate. Hence, my support for social insurance which, if you will, is a glue that can bring all of us together.

The 'at risk' reference is an EU measurement and, yes, not everyone 'at risk' lives in deprivation. But the trick is to remove people from being 'at risk' on the principle that if you're not at risk you're less likely to fall into poverty.

International comparisons are difficult - which is why I produced a table comparing Ireland with the top European economies. Regardless of how bad we do 'income wise', it could be even worse. Fintan O'Toole had an excellent article this week comparing health services and waiting times, North and South. You'd rather be up there waiting on an operation than down here. That's why, as you rightly say, poverty is a broad issue and not one that can be confined to numbers and income. I guess I just read one too many denials when I read Mr. Colemnan's piece.


Hi great to see this sort of stuff about Ireland on the internet.

Don't know whether you saw this on Lane Kenworthy's blog (US academic, works on inequality):

Worth a look.


I am curious which blogging and site-building platform you are running?

I'm new to operating a blog and have been thinking about using the Vox platform. Do you think this is a good platform to start with? I would be really grateful if I could ask you some questions through email so I can learn a bit more prior to getting started. When you have some free time, please get in touch with me at: Thanks

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