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For over 20 years Combat Poverty played a key role in increasing awareness and understanding of poverty and in influencing and informing government policies to tackle poverty in Ireland.
In 1986, the rate of unemployment in Ireland was 17% (232,000 people), emigration had reached 28,000 people per year and almost 16% of people were living in consistent poverty. Combat Poverty's priorities in the early days reflected the major social and economic challenges of the time: unemployment, emigration and the poor state of the country’s finances.
From the outset, Combat Poverty positioned itself as a catalyst for change – piloting, supporting and evaluating initiatives that would subsequently be adopted mainstream social policy.
One early programme supporting a community development approach to tackling poverty demonstrated the success of this approach and made a key contribution to the establishment of the community development infrastructure in Ireland, which continues today. This programme supported individuals and groups experiencing poverty to work collaboratively to bring about positive change in their lives and the lives of their communities. Combat Poverty fundamentally believed that policies to tackle poverty are more likely to work if the people and communities they are designed for are involved in their planning and implementation.
Another major programme, the local government programme, was established in 1999 to put anti-poverty and social inclusion work at the heart of local government. The programme created a strong foundation for integrated local anti-poverty initiatives, which have been the basis for the implementation of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy at local level.
Combat Poverty drew on lessons and evaluations of programmes such as this to inform its evidence base, which was also informed by its research work.
Over the years, pioneering research into issues such as child poverty, health, education, the spatial distribution of poverty, indebtedness and welfare reform positioned Combat Poverty as a thought leader on poverty and enabled it to contribute to a wide range of policy reforms. Its early focus on improving data collection and research on poverty established a strong evidence base for future anti-poverty initiatives, including the National Anti-Poverty Strategy.
The National Anti-Poverty Strategy
From its formation, Combat Poverty recognised that the causes of poverty are structural and that there is a role for most government departments, not just the Department of Social and Family Affairs, in tackling poverty.
In the mid 1990s, the Agency played an integral role in the development of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, one of the most significant developments to take place over the past 20 years. It was involved in monitoring and revising the strategy, and advising the government on measures to improve the implementation of it and other national policies, including the roll-out of the strategy at local level and the introduction of poverty proofing.
Engagement at a European level enabled Combat Poverty to share learning with other European states and attract European funding. In 1995, it began working jointly with Pobal to implement the EU funded Peace and Interreg Programmes in the border region of Ireland, supporting peace and reconciliation through social inclusion, economic and local development, and partnership approaches.
Under the EU Social Exclusion Programme, Combat Poverty received funding to lead the Mainstreaming Social Inclusion project. This work involved working with partners across the EU to develop a blueprint for integrating social inclusion into mainstream policy areas, and for evaluating approaches to mainstreaming.
The Economic Boom Years
Over time, the focus of Combat Poverty’s work shifted in response to the rapidly changing social and economic landscape. During Ireland's economic boom, unemployment fell to 4.4% while some 80,000 migrants came to Ireland every year. Unemployment was no longer the main cause of poverty; instead, poverty became concentrated among those groups who were distanced from employment, including lone parents, older people, carers, and people with illnesses and disabilities.
Despite significant decreases in poverty brought about by economic growth, these groups remained at risk of poverty throughout the boom and some new risk groups emerged. Combat Poverty continued to work to ensure that the elimination of poverty remained a national priority, and that policies were directed towards helping the most vulnerable in Irish society.
These years presented new policy challenges and demanded innovative new approaches, so access to public services, the geographic factors that contribute to poverty and the challenges presented by a multicultural society became the focus of Combat Poverty's work.
Integration with DSFA
Following an interdepartmental review of the Agency, initiated in 2007, the Government decided in October 2008 to integrate Combat Poverty with the Office for Social Inclusion in the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Legislation giving effect to this decision was passed by the Oireachtas in December 2008 and the Agency was integrated into the DSFA on 1 July 2009. The former Combat Poverty Agency and the former Office for Social Inclusion now form the Social Inclusion Division.
Transfer to DCEGA
On 1 May 2010 the Social Inclusion Division was transferred to the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.
For more information on the history and development of Combat Poverty, see our Annual Reports and Strategic Plans archives and our programme work pages. Our publications pages contain a complete record of the published work of the Agency from 1987 to date and significant pre-Combat Poverty historical material.
Future Access to Information about Combat Poverty
Before the dissolution of Combat Poverty, the Agency took steps to ensure future access to its information and publications.
Combat Poverty's administrative records from 1986 to 2004 inclusive have been donated to the National Archives of Ireland and may be consulted there. Records for 2005-2009 are held by the Department of Social Protection.
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