Some indicators used to measure poverty and social inclusion in Ireland may not fully reflect the full experience of Irish people, according to the Economic Social Research Institute.

The report is a review of the poverty indicators for social inclusion as part of the ESRI's work on monitoring poverty and trends.

The report notes that while most of the poverty indicators are convenient, regularly collected and harmonised - allowing for comparisons across EU countries - they are not always best suited to the national context.

In 2020, the Government published a Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 which provides an "overarching structure" to tackle poverty and social inclusion over five years.

There are a variety of targets across a number of areas in the roadmap which relate to employment, education, housing, health and income distribution.

Several indicators around poverty and social inclusion are based on national and European measures, to bring Ireland into the top five EU countries.

While the goal of the government to reduce the consistent poverty rate to 2% or less, the ESRI research shows that in 2021, the consistent poverty rate was 4%, which is 1.6 percentage points lower than in 2018.

The report, which was funded by the Department of Social Protection, presents an overview of Ireland's progress on the social inclusion targets and reviews the indicators used to monitor progress.

Additional or alternative indicators

The ESRI says additional or alternative indicators in education, housing and health would be more suitable for monitoring progress.

Based on data available at the end of 2022, it found that Ireland had reached three out of 22 of its absolute social inclusion and poverty targets for 2025.

Those targets include addressing poverty (including child poverty), deprivation, income distribution, housing, health, early learning and care, social participation/active citizenship.

The three targets reached were in the areas of income inequality, healthcare needs and childcare.

On average in 2021, the total income received by people in the top 20% of the income distribution was 3.8 times as high as the total income received by people in the bottom 20%.

In 2021, the share of the population with unmet healthcare needs due to cost or expense was 0.1%, representing a decrease of 0.8 percentage points compared to three years earlier.

However, the report highlights that this indicator is likely to underestimate unmet needs.

In 2021, about 75% of children above the age of three were in formal childcare for between one and 29 hours per week, exceeding the 2025 target of 69.4%.

While improvements were recorded for 13 of the social inclusion indicators, deterioration was documented for five indicators.

Progress on four of the targets could not be measured at the time that the research was being conducted.

The ESRI has noted the importance of careful consideration on how poverty and social inclusion targets in Ireland can be improved

'Room for improvement'

One of the report authors Bertrand Maître said the review found that in many cases the chosen indicators were useful and meaningful but also demonstrated room for improvement, especially in terms of the indicators that focus on education, housing and health.

Dr Stefanie Sprong, another author of the report, said some of the chosen indicators did not seem to capture some of the greatest challenges faced by people in Ireland.

"One of the indicators, for example, shows that Ireland is among the top-ranking countries in the EU when it comes to housing costs, which does not reflect the documented issues around affordability, especially in the private rental market," Dr Sprong said.

The ESRI has noted the importance of careful consideration on how poverty and social inclusion targets in Ireland can be improved and to continue to assess if the chosen indicators "are still adequate and sufficient."

The Department of Social Protection has described the research as a key component of the mid-term review of the Roadmap for Social Inclusion.

"It is useful to know which indicators remain relevant and identify those which can be improved," the Department said.

In February, the independent think tank Social Justice Ireland published its Sustainable Progress Index which ranked Ireland 8th out of 14 comparable EU countries on economy, society and the environment.