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Pike, Brigid (2016) Where next for social inclusion? Drugnet Ireland, Issue 59, Autumn 2016, pp. 6-8.

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Where next for social inclusion?


In 2006–2007, Drugnet Ireland carried a series of articles reviewing how illicit drugs were addressed in the new social inclusion policy framework, i.e. the new Social Partnership Agreement 2006–2015,1 the National Development Plan 2007–2013,2 and the National action plan for social inclusion 2007–2016.3 In 2011, Drugnet carried an article on the new Programme for Government, which, while retaining the concept of social inclusion, brought two new terms to the fore in relation to social policy – fairness and equality.4


In 2016, as a new Programme for Government is published, and as the suite of social inclusion policy documents conceived during the Celtic Tiger reach their endpoints, it is timely to review the current status of Ireland’s social inclusion policy framework.


Leading up to 2016

In 2005, the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) published a report, The developmental welfare state, which proposed a new streamlined and comprehensive approach to tackling poverty and social exclusion in Ireland.5 Acknowledging that serious social deficits remained despite Ireland’s economic progress, the NESC report combined the economic and the social, suggesting that this would help to build consensus across the social partners, government and wider society. It proposed two innovations in the way of presenting social inclusion interventions: 

  1. Interventions should be organised according to a life cycle framework, comprising four categories: children, people of working age, older people, and people with disabilities. This arrangement both placed the individual at the centre of policy-making and encouraged a more joined-up and multidisciplinary approach to policy-making.
  2. Greater recognition and weight should be given to (a) the role of services in providing protection against risks, and (b) activist measures, or innovative social policy initiatives, in meeting unmet needs and pre-empting problems, as opposed to focusing entirely on income transfers.  

Published in 2006, the 10-year Social Partnership Agreement Towards 2016 was the first policy framework to adopt the new life cycle approach.6 Drug-related initiatives were identified in the childhood and young working adult stages of the framework.


In 2007, as well as setting a national poverty target of reducing the number experiencing consistent poverty to between 2% and 4% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016,7 the National action plan for social inclusion 2007–2016 (NAPinclusion) also adopted the life cycle framework, adding an extra category ‘Communities’.8 Within this Communities category, NAPinclusion itemised a series of community-based programmes (including the National Drugs Strategy) and a number of innovative measures in areas such as arts, sport, and active citizenship, which were expected to have an impact on the illicit drugs issue.


In June 2010, the European Council adopted Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, which aims to promote employment, improve living and working conditions, provide an appropriate level of social protection, and develop measures to combat exclusion.9 In 2012, Ireland revised its national poverty target (now named ‘national social target for poverty reduction’) – to reduce consistent poverty to 4% by 2016 (interim target) and 2% or less by 2020, from the 2010 baseline rate of 6.3% – and identified the contributions that Ireland would make to the Europe 2020 poverty target.10


Updated national action plan for social inclusion 2015–2017

Following the 2012 revisions, a revised national action plan for social inclusion for 2015–2017 was published.11 Maintaining the life cycle approach, this revised action plan reflects new emerging issues, with the number of high-level goals being expanded to include early childhood development, youth exclusion, access to the labour market, migrant integration, social housing and affordable energy.


The revised action plan describes how the context of social inclusion policy has altered. The 2007 action plan was ‘designed to ensure that those experiencing poverty and social exclusion would share in the fruits of the economic development being achieved at that time’, but since 2008 Ireland has experienced a ‘major economic recession complicated by banking and fiscal crises’. The Government’s response to combating poverty now concentrates on transforming the social protection system into one that focuses on maximising employability, by improving effectiveness and efficiency of social transfers by providing training, development and employment services along with income supports, and by strengthening active inclusion policies, which are described as follows:


Active inclusion means enabling every citizen, notably the most disadvantaged, to fully participate in society, including having a job. Active inclusion is intended to tackle various challenges including: poverty, social exclusion, in-work poverty, labour market segregation, long-term unemployment and gender inequalities. (p. 4)


Programme for Government 2016

The new partnership government’s programme for a ‘fairer Ireland’ contains a chapter headed ‘Creating a Social Economy’, which is the model the Government will apply in order to deliver ‘a strong economy and a fair society’.12 Reflecting the shift already noted in the revised national action plan on social inclusion, the Programme for Government identifies four foundations of a social economy, including ‘a just and fair society and a more inclusive prosperity’. Four tasks will be undertaken to build this ‘just and fair society and a more inclusive prosperity’: 

  • developing a new integrated framework for social inclusion, to tackle inequality and poverty;
  • reducing poverty levels by improving the take-home pay of families on low-incomes;
  • reducing poverty levels by supporting an increase in the minimum wage to €10.50 per hour over the next five years; and
  • reinforcing labour market activation. 

Just what an ‘integrated framework for social inclusion’ comprises is outlined in the Programme for Government:


Our Integrated Framework will outline measures to help eliminate any persisting discrimination on grounds of gender, age, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion or membership of the Traveller Community. It will draw on existing as well as new strategies, in particular the (i) New National Women’s Strategy, (ii) New National Disability Inclusion Strategy, (iii) Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities, (iv) National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy, and (v) New Action Plan for Educational Inclusion. (p. 39)13


In the following article, the relationship between social inclusion policy and Ireland’s national drugs strategies over the past 20 years is explored. 


1 Pike B (2006) New social partnership agreement addresses drugs and alcohol. Drugnet Ireland, 19: 7. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11277/

2 Pike B 2007) National Development Plan and the drugs issue. Drugnet Ireland, 21: 23–25. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11342/

3 Pike B (2007) Where do illicit drugs fit in the new social inclusion policy framework?’ Drugnet Ireland, 23: 5. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11409/

4 Pike B (2011) Inequality and illicit drug use. Drugnet Ireland, 38: 8–10. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15639//

5 National Economic and Social Council (2005) The developmental welfare state. Dublin: NESC. Retrieved 1 July 2016 from http://www.nesc.ie/en/publications/publications/nesc-reports/the-developmental-welfare-state/

6 Department of the Taoiseach (2006) Towards 2016: ten-year framework social partnership agreement 2006-2015. Dublin: Stationery Office. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/6320/

7 ‘Consistent poverty’ is the overlap of two component indicators: at-risk-of-poverty, which identifies individuals with household incomes below 60% of the median, and basic deprivation, which captures individuals lacking two or more of 11 basic necessities.

8 Office for Social Inclusion (2007) National action plan for social inclusion 2007–2016. Dublin: Stationery Office. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/13378/

9 For information on Europe 2020, visit http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/index_en.htm

10 Department of Social Protection (2012) National social target for poverty reduction: policy briefing on the review of the national poverty target. http://www.welfare.ie/en/downloads/2012_nptbriefing.pdf

11 Department of Social Protection (2016) Updated national action plan for social inclusion 2015–2017. Dublin: Department of Social Protection. https://www.welfare.ie/en/downloads/Updated%20National%20Action%20Plan%20For%20Social%20Inclusion%202015-2017.pdf

12 Government of Ireland (2016) A programme for partnership government. Dublin: Department of the Taoiseach. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25508/

13 At the time of going to press, only one of the five ‘new strategies’ had been published: Government of Ireland (2015) Comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. Retrieved 1 July 2016 from http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Comprehensive%20Employment%20Strategy%20for%20People%20with%20Disabilities%20-%20FINAL.pdf/Files/Comprehensive%20Employment%20Strategy%20for%20People%20with%20Disabilities%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 59, Autumn 2016
October 2016
Page Range
pp. 6-8
Health Research Board
Issue 59, Autumn 2016

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