Poverty in Ireland-What is poverty?
WHEN WE SAY a person in India is poverty-stricken, we do not use the word in exactly the same sense that we apply it here. In India, the poverty stricken are by definition starving to death. In Ireland, the term" poverty " begins before the starvation line, and is based on a qualitative assessment of conditions relative to our environment. By John Feeney, Dan Ruddy and Vincent Browne. Published in Nusight, November 1969.
So there is an absolute poverty line, which, though a reality in the Third World, is of considerably less significance here. We therefore may also judge that there is poverty when a person exists in a state of misery and discomfort, when life, if not an uncertainty, is a hardship, in consequence of material need. People are poverty stricken when their income, relative to the community in which they live, is inadequate to provide the standard of living that that community would think tolerable.
Now this definition of poverty requires qualification. We do not live in an egalitarian society. The Ballymun wall and the shibboleths of Foxrock are signs that the Irish middle class have safdy assimilated the social values of the British bourgeoisie. The term community, then, is a misleading word in a society that can embrace with complete equanimity both Sean McDermott Street and Ailesbury Road. The conditions that the inhabitants of Ailesbury Road would think intolerable, no matter how great their sense of fraternity with their less fortunate fellow-Irishmen, would almost certainly be quite different from those that the people of Sean McDermott Street consider in the same light.
Community is a misleading word, then, particularly in a country whose middle classes enjoy the biggest income differential over the working-class of any country in Europe. And such a middle-class would be quite content to accept that large sections of the country should have to tolerate conditions they themselves would not tolerate. Their definition of poverty for themselves, quite obviously, begins at a higher stage of material prosperity that that definition they would apply to others. This is quite natural.
To facilitate matters, then we must establish a minimum of conditions, that we consider to be the right of every person in this country. There must be warmth and shelter in the winter: sufficient clothing and footwear to ensure both out of doors. There must be enough food to satisfy the individual's nutritional requirements by a balanced diet. The potatoes-andmilk diet of pre-famine Ireland was dietarily sufficient, but it was not balanced. In specific terms, there must be ample intake of meat (fish, cheese or other protein) vegetable, fruit and carbohydrate to maintain this sufficency. There should be enough money in the house to ensure that the children of the house are able to enjoy the educational facilities that would best suit their talents, and not have to leave school at an early age to supplement the family income. These are basic material needs that devolve about the sustenance of life. There is more. There should be the right to happiness, in the sense that material security will provide a base, if not a cause for such contentment.
The Poverty Line
To quantify such needs on a cash basis is exceedingly difficult.The Dublin Health Authority considered in 1966 that £3 8s. 6d. would supply the bare minimum of needs of old people living alone.Allowing for inflation, this figure is now worth over £4, not including rent. This is a poverty line, not a recommended income. For security there must be more.
For people living together, income per head need be less. The large family (which is the repository of most of the poverty in this country), cannot necessarily be assumed to have sufficient income at present to satisfy the needs of all its members. It is difficult to put a cash income to this, but the American example might prove fruitful. The United States Government have produced a cash definition of poverty which embraces one quarter of the American population. The figurcs run as follows: 81,500 a year for a women over 65; 83,345 a year for a family of four; and $5,440 for a family of seven. That is, for a family of four the criterion of poverty based on income is two and one-fifth times as great as the poverty-line income for a single old woman living alone. For a family of seven, the povertyline is three and two-third times as great.
If we take the D.H.A. estimate 27 for the minimum income of an old woman, which we have adjusted to £4, increase it by one fifth to allow for rent-Dublin Corporation charges rent of one sixth the income in circumstances of hardship-we may draw a poverty-line for a single person of over 65 of £4 l6s. Od. a week. Applying then the ratio we obtained for American definitions of poverty, we draw a . poverty-line for a family of four of £10 IOs. Od. For a family of sevcn, it is around £17 10s. Od.
It is probable that the American criterion of poverty is more generous than ours, and the ratio of increase is disproportionate. Again we must allow. for different rate of expenses. The. above figures are merely on our calculation, and may meet criticism from more informed sources. Nevertheless, they do provide a rough