The latest data released by the Central Statistics Office indicates that 13.2% of the population, or more than 660,000 people, are at risk of poverty.
When rent and mortgage interest payments are factored in, that number jumps to 952,185, or nearly one in five people.
The impact is particularly severe on children, with more than 93,000 more children living in households at risk of poverty when rents and mortgage interest are taken into account, bringing the total to almost 300,000 children.
It will come as no surprise to most tenants that the skyrocketing cost of renting over the past decade has had a significant impact on their risk of poverty.
Of the more than 1.4 million people living in rented or free housing in 2020, almost one in three people – or some 400,000 people – were at risk of poverty, compared with only 7.1% of those living in owner-occupied dwellings (just over 250,000 people).
When the cost of rent or mortgage interest is taken into account, the at-risk-of-poverty rate among tenants drops from 27.6% to 44.7%, or more than two in five.
This represents almost 250,000 additional people, bringing the total number of tenants at risk of poverty to 645,160 when the cost of rent is included.
Single-parent families are the most at risk of poverty, with more than three in ten living below the poverty line.
However, once housing costs are taken into account, exactly half of all lone-parent family households are at risk of poverty.
This compares to just over 17% of two-parent family households.
As the Irish population increasingly lives in the private rental sector or makes mortgage payments on their housing after retirement age, it is sadly not surprising that the senior citizen rate (65 and over) living below the poverty line drops from 15.8% to 25.4% – more than one in four.
Due to the cost of housing, nearly 60,000 people aged 65 and over live below the poverty line.
Paid employment must guarantee a decent standard of living.
However, in 2020, over 130,000 employed people were living in poverty.
Another 73,000 people with jobs are plunged into poverty once they pay the roof over their heads.
For more than 200,000 people in Ireland, a job does not even guarantee a basic standard of living.
The difference in housing costs in urban versus rural areas is also highlighted in the latest data. In total, 13.5% of people in urban areas live below the poverty line against 12.5% in rural areas.
However, after factoring in the cost of providing a roof over your head, the poverty rate in urban areas increases to over 20%, compared to an increase of 16.4% in rural areas.
Providing a home for you and your family shouldn’t push you into poverty.
The affordability of the home, whether in terms of rent or mortgage payments, must be a key priority for the government. To do this, the government introduced the Affordable Housing Act this year.
However, this law continues to rely heavily on demand-side subsidies that only serve to raise house prices, rather than making them truly affordable.
Artificially increasing a buyer’s ability to purchase a home through the Shared Equity Scheme does not make that home affordable. It supports a profit driven market at the expense of buyers.
In addition, the Shared Equity Scheme targets the same profile as the previous government purchase assistance program – first-time buyers purchasing newly constructed properties.
The purchase aid scheme has been proven, not only by Irish Social Justice but also by the Parliamentary Budget Office, to disproportionately promote high incomes and keep house prices high.
We also need to increase the supply of new housing from around 27,000 to 35,000 per year to account for the formation of new households and pent-up demand.
Of course, increasing the supply of housing will not in itself solve the housing crisis or make housing more affordable.
An increase in supply does not necessarily equate to lower prices. The supply must be at the right price.
The wide availability of cheap credit has been more closely linked to affordability and rising house prices than supply by commentators in both Ireland and the UK.
Strong credit regulation, offering the right homes in the right place at the right price and support to tackle the inequalities inherent in the housing system which sees greater supply in the suburbs rather than where housing is actually needed – in cities and towns and cities. , if rural development should be a priority, in rural towns.
The supply of social housing must be given priority with housing made available by local authorities or Approved Housing Organizations.
This would free up private rental sector properties for use by households wishing to rent privately at an affordable price, and provide long-term, sustainable social housing to social housing tenants.
Ireland has experienced a persistent housing crisis for more than a decade.
A crisis which plunges into poverty many of those lucky enough to have a home. It can no longer be ignored.
- Colette Bennett is an economic and social analyst at Social Justice Ireland