Half Ireland's population was paid public income supports in 2014 according to data from the Department of Social Protection and the European Commission.

In 2014 2.22m people including dependents were in receipt of payments from the Department of Social Protection and there were 125,000 beneficiaries of the European Common Agricultural Policy.


The CSO estimate of the Irish population in 2014 was at 4.61m and the total number of beneficiaries was at 2.34m.

Excluding farmers, the population ratio in receipt of income supports across a wide range of welfare areas was at 48.2% in 2014; 47.8% in 2010; 36% in 2007 and 35.5% in 2005.

The net population increased from end 2008 to 2014 by 124,000 even though a net 147,000 Irish nationals emigrated in that period.

According to an annual Teagasc survey, the average Irish Family Farm Income (FFI) increased by 6% in 2014 to €26,974 and the average CAP subsidy payment was €18,859 — 70% of farm income. On cattle and sheep farms subsidies comprised over 100% of income. 5% of farms earned over €100,000 while 23% earned less than €5,000.

The Single Farm Payment, the largest component of subsidies, was €13,849 on average in 2014. The payment is made on condition that farmers look after the farm land and meet environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.

The European Commission said last year that in 2012 direct payments benefitted some 125,150 beneficiaries and CAP subsidies accounted for almost 70% of agricultural income in 2013, bringing farmers' income to 82% of wages and salaries in other sectors of the economy.

Annual subsidies for farmers amount to about €1.8bn.

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Social protection

Total social welfare expenditure in 2014 was €19.8bn, a decrease of 2.2% over 2013. It was €20.8bn in 2010; €15.5bn in 2007 and €12.2bn in 2005.

The percentage of Gross Government Expenditure has risen from 25% in 2005 to 29.3% in 2014. The budget has increased by 66% and consumer inflation by 12%.

The main areas of expenditure by programme group were Pensions 33.3%, Working Age Income Supports 24.9%, Working Age Employment Supports 5.2%, Illness, Disability and Caring 17.3%, Children 11.5%, Supplementary Payments 4.7% and Administration of the Social Welfare system accounted for 3.1% of total expenditure. Total social welfare expenditure was financed by the Exchequer 57.5% and the Social Insurance Fund 42.5%.

The Social Insurance Fund was financed by Pay-Related Social Insurance contributions from employers 73.0%, employees 21.6%, the self-employed 5.2%.

Half Ireland population welfare, income supports

The number of pensioners rose from 410,000 in 2005 to 563,000 in 2014 — a jump of 153,000 or 37%.

The number of recipients of Working Age on Income Supports rose from 293,000 to 446,000 in 2014, down from 497,000 in 2013.

The number of recipients of Working Age on Employment Supports rose from 14,000 to 84,000 in 2014, up 10,000 from 2013.

The number receiving People with Disabilities support rose from 241,000 in 2005 to 298,000 in 2014.

There is likely some double-counting in some categories but not statistically significant.

Annual Statistical report from Dept of Social Protection

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Europe, EU social spending, protection

The Eurostat chart above shows 33 European countries’ spending per head, measured in Purchasing Power Standards (PPS). A Purchasing Power Standard is an artificial currency unit used for international comparisons which, in theory, will buy exactly the same amount in each country.

The term social protection is used to describe the help available to people who are in need, or are at risk of hardship, for reasons such as: illness (healthcare), low income, unemployment, family circumstances (social exclusion) or old age (pensions). Help may be provided through direct cash payments, payments in kind, or the provision of services by public and private bodies.

Europe, in this context, refers to the 28 European Union states together with Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.

In 2012, Luxembourg spent more than twice the average expenditure of the 33 countries. However, a large proportion of benefits in Luxembourg are paid to people living outside the country (for example pensions), which inflates the per head figure.

Excluding Luxembourg, among the European Union, Ireland was in sixth place at 9,687 after Netherlands at 10,698; Denmark at 10,462; Austria at 9,923; Germany at 9,714 and France at 9,707.

The UK was at 7,468.

As a ratio of GDP (gross domestic product), Germany was at 29.5%; UK was at 28.8%;  Netherlands 33.3%; France 34.2% and Denmark at 34.6%.

Ireland's ratio of GDP was at 32.5% and ratio of GNP (gross national product) was at 39.6%.

Eurostat said that in Ireland, expenditure on social protection relative to GDP in 2012 remained 11.3 percentage points higher than it had been in 2008, which was the largest increase over this period among the EU members states. Greece, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Denmark, Spain, Cyprus and the United Kingdom all recorded increases ranging from 3.2 percentage points to 5.0 percentage points during the same period. By contrast, the increase in the ratio of expenditure on social protection to GDP between 2008 and 2012 was 1.0 percentage point or less in Sweden, Estonia and Lithuania; while in Hungary and Poland this ratio was lower in 2012 than it had been in 2008.

Eurostat Social Protection Statistics

Pic above: Joan Burton, tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and minister for social protection, and Enda Kenny, taoiseach (prime minister). The Cabinet met at Lissadell House, County Sligo, to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of renowned English language poet W.B. Yeats, 22 July, 2015.