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President speaks out in support of citizens struggling with poverty

Published 17/10/2016

President Michael D Higgins said those struggling with poverty can be treated as merely numbers or cases
President Michael D Higgins said those struggling with poverty can be treated as merely numbers or cases

President Michael D Higgins has spoken out about people being insulted and demeaned by the social welfare system.

Those struggling with poverty can be treated as merely numbers or cases and are forced to jump many difficult hurdles to claim benefits they are entitled to, he said.

Mr Higgins also criticised overly complicated procedures and layers of red tape blocking people from vital public services.

In a speech to mark UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the president questioned whether a country could call itself a democracy if it treats those living below the poverty line with hostility and suspicion.

"When people living in poverty are treated as numerical units or administrative cases; when they are forced to jump multiple and difficult hurdles in order to claim financial benefits to which they are entitled... we insult and demean those amongst us who are guilty of nothing except living, day in day out, below the poverty line," he said.

"When a citizen experiencing poverty is not enabled to exercise their voice, or to claim their rights and entitlements... they have been failed by a society that claims to operate on the principles of a democratic republic."

During the address at the Famine memorial on Dublin's Custom House Quay, the president said disabled people in Ireland are twice as likely to live below the poverty line as the rest of the country.

He added:

:: almost one in five children in Ireland live below the poverty line.

:: 18% of adults living in poverty are in some form of employment.

:: more than 57% of those in poverty are retired, students, people in caring roles, people who are ill or people with a disability.

"Behind those statistics are, of course, many personal stories of misfortune, unemployment, mistakes, regret, lost opportunity and sometimes abuse, neglect, addiction or illness," he said.

"These are human stories; the stories of our fellow citizens who have, through circumstance, found themselves living in insecure and difficult situations.

"There can be no doubt that how a society treats its more vulnerable citizens, how it deals with helping people into work and protecting those unable to work, is a critical reflection of its moral core."

Mr Higgins said a society that creates a culture of "suspicion or hostility" towards those living below the poverty line or that patronises them "cannot easily lay claim to being part of a functioning democracy".

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