Ireland

   

Social Policies

#14
Key Findings
Having maintained its safety net through the crisis, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 14) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Education quality is high, but access to well-funded higher education is associated with social class. Pre-primary education is underfunded. Poverty reduction, with adequate social-welfare payments, has been a focus throughout and since the recession. Homelessness is on the rise, driven by affordable-housing scarcities. A delay in the construction sector’s recovery is exacerbating this problem.

While producing generally good outcomes, the public health care system has drawn significant negative publicity for waiting times and cases of negligence. A plan for universal health insurance has been delayed. Child-care support is being significantly expanded, and parental leave has been extended to fathers.

The pension system is currently healthy, but faces future sustainability problems absent additional reforms. Immigration rates remained high during the crisis, putting a strain on the school systems. Though it has accepted some Syrian asylum seekers, the country has not been strongly affected by the European refugee crisis, and immigration was not a prominent issue in the 2016 election.

Education

#20

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
6
The evidence indicates that the Irish education system is average or slightly above average by western European standards. The most-frequently voiced concerns relate to levels of mathematics skills and lack of proficiency in foreign languages, as well as an overemphasis on the Irish language.

Some employers claim that the output of suitably qualified and skilled graduates from the second and third levels of the education system is inadequate, especially in the high-tech areas. Nonetheless, many firms that invest in Ireland list the quality of the education system and the skills of the labor force among the principal attractions for relocating here.

The fairness of the allocation of public resources for education is open to question. The resources allocated per pupil or student increase steadily the higher up the educational scale one goes, but access becomes more dependent on social class.

The two-tier structure of the secondary education system is controversial. A minority of pupils (about 10%) attend fee-paying schools where state support is augmented by the revenue from fees that can amount to €6,000 a year. These schools are socially exclusive and achieve higher academic results and higher progression rates to tertiary education than non-fee-paying schools. It is argued that the state should not subsidize institutions that perpetuate inequality in the education system. Most of these schools face excess demand for places, and have come under pressure to establish more transparent and equitable criteria for selection of pupils for entry.

Irish students at tertiary institutions are not charged fees for most undergraduate courses. However, the “student contribution” charged rose from €2,500 in 2014 to €3,000 in 2015. There is also a lack of investment in pre-primary education.

Teachers’ and university lecturers’ salaries are relatively high in Ireland by international standards. However, class sizes tend to be large and the education system is somewhat biased toward lower-cost areas, such as liberal arts, law and business studies, and away from higher-cost areas, such as engineering and science.

Social Inclusion

#13

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
7
During the recession, Irish social and economic policy continued to place a high priority on poverty reduction. The poorest groups in society were protected from the worst effects of the recession. Although the rise in the unemployment rate and the fall in the employment rate drastically reduced household income for many, the real value of the principal social welfare payments has been protected in successive budgets since 2008 over a period when the take-home pay of those in employment fell significantly. Public spending on social protection rose to a peak of 11.0% of GDP in 2011, but had fallen to 9.4% in 2015 as economic growth resumed and the unemployment rate fell. However, the aging population structure continues to push up the cost of the state pension scheme.

Recent budgets have made no significant changes to the structure of the system of social protection. The most recent published results of the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) show that while the incidence of poverty rose from 14.1% in 2009 to 16.5% in 2012, it fell to 15.2% in 2013. However, the incidence of consistent poverty rose from 5.6% in 2009 to 7.7% in 2012 and continued to rise, to 8.2%, in 2013.

The incidence of homelessness is on the rise in the country’s principal cities and towns. The virtual cessation of residential construction after the 2008 crash combined with a recovery in house prices and rents since 2013 have made affordable housing increasingly difficult to obtain, especially in the Dublin area. The government responded to the growing public concern about these problems by increasing the 2016 budget allocation to social housing and asking the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) to rise to the challenge of providing 20,000 new residential units from its resources by 2020. More recent estimates suggest that there is an annual need for 35,000 additional housing units. Because of delayed recovery in the construction sector, it appears that only 19,000 units were completed in 2017. The unavailability of cheap housing, high and rising levels of rents, and growing homelessness have demonstrated that the housing crisis needs to be addressed by more inspired governmental and local authority initiatives, including the provision of inexpensive land zoned for building and changes to the permitted height of urban apartment dwellings.

In the 2016 budget, first steps were taken to restore the funds available for the education and support of people with intellectual disabilities that had been cut during the crisis period.

Health

#27

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
5
Quality:
The public perception of the Irish public-health system remains very negative due to the publicity received by numerous cases of negligence, incompetence and lack of access. However, objective indicators of health outcomes are relatively good in Ireland and continue to improve. This despite the increased level of obesity, problems with excessive alcohol consumption, continuing fairly high levels of smoking and the pressure on health budgets.

The length of waiting lists for many hospital procedures and the number of hospital patients who have to be accommodated on “trolleys” (or gurneys) continue to be serious problems and attract vociferous negative publicity. Monthly data are now published on these waiting lists by the Health Services Executive; their reduction has been (repeatedly) declared a government priority.

Inclusiveness:
The Irish health care system is two-tier, with slightly more than half the population relying exclusively on the public-health system and the rest paying private insurance to obtain quicker access to hospital treatment. However, the rising cost of private health insurance is leading to a steady increase in the number of people relying on the public system.

The introduction of universal health insurance had been declared a government priority, but in October 2014 the newly appointed minister for health expressed his opinion that this target was “too ambitious” to be achieved over the coming five years. During 2015, however, general practitioner care was made available free of charge to those in the population under 6 and over 70, regardless of income. In the 2016 budget this was extended to all children under the age of 12. This budget also significantly increased the funds available to the public-health system, although cost overruns and financial strains will undoubtedly continue to plague the system.

Cost efficiency:
The Irish health system is costly despite the favorable (that is, relatively young) age structure of the population. When spending is standardized for the population’s age structure, Ireland emerges as having the third-highest level of health expenditure relative to GDP within the OECD. In several reviews of its “bailout” agreement with Ireland, the Troika expressed concern about continuing overruns in health spending. These have continued since Ireland exited the bailout program.

Citations:
For a recent study of the cost efficiency of the Irish health system see:
http://www.publicpolicy.ie/wp-content/uploads/HealthSystemIreland.pdf

Families

#15

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
7
The Irish income tax system incorporates the principle of “individualization,” which means that at any given level of combined income, the tax burden is lower on households in which both spouses are employed than in those in which only one spouse is employed.

The income tax code thus generates some incentive for spouses to take up employment outside the home. However, its progressive structure implies that at relatively modest income levels the second partner entering paid employment faces high marginal income tax rates. Furthermore, the income tax code does not permit the deduction of child care expenses. This, combined with the high cost of child care and the paucity of public provision in this area, has been viewed as a serious obstacle to women combining parenting with employment outside the home. In recognition of this problem, the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme was significantly extended in the 2016 budget. The minister claimed that children aged three years and over will be able to access free child care until they enter primary school. Parental leave is to be extended to fathers for the first time.

Child benefits, which had been significantly reduced during the crisis, will rise to €135 per child per month in 2016 and €140 in 2017. This will still be significantly below the level in 2009. Also, the benefit does not vary depending on whether the mother is employed outside the home.

Pensions

#12

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
6
The Irish system of pension provision rests on three pillars: a state old-age pension, occupational pensions and individual pension plans. The substantial proportion of the population that is employed in the public sector enjoys relatively generous occupational pension entitlements.

In May 2011, an annual levy of 0.6% was imposed on the value of pension assets. In the 2014 budget, this levy was increased to 0.75%. The levy applied only to private sector pension funds. In the 2016 budget, the minister announced that this levy was being terminated at the end of 2015.

Irish pension funds registered a strong gain averaging close to 6% in 2016 notwithstanding a weak start to the year and the negative confidence effects generated by the Brexit referendum. It is important that pension funds register such gains due to the effects of an aging population.

Poverty prevention:
The state pension is not income-related. It provides €920 a month for a fully qualified individual, regardless of previous earnings, with increases for qualified dependents. This is about one-third of average earnings among the employed population. The nominal value of this pension was held constant after the onset of the crisis in 2009, despite the general fall in incomes, and a period of falling prices between 2010 and 2011 and again in 2014. A modest increase (equal to about 1.25%) was announced in the 2016 budget.

Ireland ranks among Europe’s best – alongside the United Kingdom and the Netherlands – with regard to the size of existing private pension funds relative to GDP. About 55% of the workforce has made some pension provision for their retirement outside the main state scheme. However, these schemes have come under very severe pressure following the stock market crash of 2007 and the increase in their liabilities due to a sharp decline in annuity rates. The trend of a shift from defined-benefit to defined-contribution schemes is continuing.

Fiscal sustainability:
The state pension scheme is a pay-as-you-go system. Its sustainability depends on the ability of the state to raise the funds required to meet ongoing commitments through taxes and social insurance levies. Although Ireland’s population structure is now relatively young, it is aging rapidly. This has led to repeated predictions of a pension-system crisis unless the retirement age is raised significantly and the amount earmarked for pensions from income taxes and social insurance levies is steadily increased.

Pensions for those employed in the public sector were until 2009 almost entirely funded from general tax revenue. Significant changes to the funding of public-sector pensions were made in 2009 and in the Public Service Pensions Act, 2012. These will, over time, make the system more sustainable, but a great deal of further adjustment will be required.

Intergenerational equity:
The recently introduced pension reforms will eventually increase the equity of the Irish pensions system across generations. At present, inequities arise because those in the current generation of pensioners who enjoy the state pension or public-sector pensions did not contribute sufficiently through taxation and direct pension contributions to fund the level of pensions they receive. Those now in the workforce are unlikely to enjoy comparable pension levels when they reach retirement age. Furthermore, the adjustments that have been made to pensions since the crisis of 2008 have been smaller than the adjustments to the after-tax income of those who are in employment.

A package of changes to the rules governing defined benefits schemes was announced toward the end of 2013 and implemented in 2014. This change addresses the situation of underfunded defined-benefit pension schemes that wind up in deficit or elect to restructure. In the past, pensioners could have received all or most of the pension fund, whereas contributing members who had not yet retired received considerably less than expected. The new rules were designed to ensure a more equal distribution of assets under a limited set of circumstances. However, the 2015 application of these new rules by a large scheme is now being challenged in the courts by pensioners.

Citations:
Data on poverty levels among the retired are from the Survey on Income and Living Conditions,2011 Results:
http://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/releasespublications/documents/silc/2011/silc_2011.pdf

Integration

#8

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
7
The large inflow of immigrants during the boom years led to a rapid increase in the foreign-born population resident in Ireland. More than 70% of immigrants to Ireland have the right to reside, work and own property in the country by virtue of their EU citizenship. Despite the resumption of a high rate of emigration among Irish nationals after 2008, inward migration from abroad has continued at a significant rate.

The unemployment rate among non-nationals (especially those from the new EU accession states) is higher than among the native-born population. Many employed immigrants are not in occupations commensurate with their skills and education.

The inflow of families from non-English-speaking countries in the last 10 years has placed a strain on the education system. Additional resources have been provided to help cope with this challenge, but these are not regarded as adequate. There are signs of increasing gaps between schools in relatively deprived areas of the main cities, which often have high concentrations of children holding non-Irish citizenship, and schools in the more affluent areas with lower concentrations.

Forced integration is not an issue, although some ethnic and religious minorities face difficulties in a country that is still overwhelmingly Irish, while their children face problems in a school system that is still largely under Roman Catholic management.

The treatment of asylum-seekers by the Irish authorities came under critical scrutiny in the course of 2014, with adverse attention drawn to the system of “direct provision,” which is intended to provide for the welfare of asylum-seekers and their families as they await decisions on their asylum application. It provides essential services, medical care, accommodation and board, with three meals per day provided at set times. Attention has recently been focused on the poor standards of accommodation and living conditions in the facilities serving this population, as well as the enforced isolation of families waiting for as long as seven years to learn of a decision on their asylum applications.

During 2015, Ireland was not affected by the growing immigration/refugee crisis in much of Europe. Ireland agreed to accept some immigrants/asylum-seekers from Syria and other war-torn countries before the end of 2015. There is no explicitly anti-immigrant political party in Ireland and immigration was not a prominent issue in the 2016 general election.

Safe Living

#13

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Safe Living Conditions
7
Overall, Irish crime rates are relatively low by international standards. However, property crime rates have risen in the last few years and over the past decade there has been an increase in “gangland” crime, including murders involving firearms. The low detection and conviction rates for these crimes are disturbing.

The main police force remains unarmed and, despite a recent fatal shooting of an on-duty police officer, there is no widespread clamor to arm the force. It enjoys a good relationship with the majority of the population, although tensions exist in certain areas and with certain social groups.
Cross-border policing cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland remains good, although the existence of a long land border is an inherent obstacle to effective law enforcement. It is widely acknowledged that paramilitary crime and racketeering are unacceptably high in the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border areas.

Global Inequalities

#11

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
8
Despite the austerity measures that have been taken to correct the imbalances in public finances, Ireland has maintained its spending on overseas development assistance in the region of 0.5% of GDP since 2008. There is a special focus on countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and on poverty eradication, ending hunger and encouraging gender equality, good governance and human rights.

Ireland has consistently supported an international agenda that advances social inclusion. Its support for a fair global trading system is constrained by the overriding role of the EU in framing trading policy and to some extent by concerns about domestic self-interest with regard to certain sectors, including farming.
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