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Incomes are up, but 100,000 in jobs still at risk of poverty

Household incomes have gone up, but large numbers of people are still in poverty.

The typical Irish household had an income of €20,800 last year, a rise of €500 on the previous year.

However, thousands of people continue to struggle with poverty, despite many of them having jobs, with the number of ‘working poor’ higher than 10 years ago.

Almost one in five children live in households experiencing poverty, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

They show that the median, or mid-point, household income was €20,869 last year, up almost €540 from the previous year.

Disposable incomes grew for all income groups in 2017, from the poorest to the richest.

This is what remains after income taxes have been paid.

The figures also show that average disposable income increased last year.

Average household income was almost €48,500, up 4.7pc on 2016, a rise of €2,166.

However, economists argue that average income figures are too easily distorted and the median figure is a more accurate reflection of the income of households.

Statisticians calculated that 15.7pc of households were at risk of poverty last year, not much change from 2016.

This means that roughly one in six households has an income that is less than 60pc of the median.

Dr Seán Healy, of Social Justice Ireland, worked out that equates to around 760,000 people at risk of poverty.

Dr Healy said some 230,000 of those households have children, and 109,000 households are classed as being at risk of poverty despite having a job.

“The percentage of people in poverty today is higher than 10 years ago,” he added.

“Some 120,000 more people are at risk of poverty than a decade ago. The Government is not putting in place the mechanisms to tackle the working poor issue.”

Dr Healy argued that without social welfare payments, the poverty figure would be even higher.

Micheál Collins, economist at UCD Social Policy, said the figures were moving in the right direction.

He pointed to the rise in incomes and a slight fall in the numbers at risk of poverty.

However, he added that it was concerning that almost one in five children live in a household at risk of poverty.

Last year, 18.4pc of families were at risk of poverty, down slightly from a figure of 19.1pc in 2016, according to the Survey on Income and Living Conditions 2017.

St Vincent de Paul national president Kieran Stafford told how his organisation is getting 1,000 calls for help every day from worried families in the run-up to Christmas.

“The position of many people in private rented accommodation remains of grave concern,” he said. “Increasing rents mean that households are going without essentials as they prioritise their rent payments over other expenses for fear of losing their homes.”

A CSO survey on health, meanwhile, shows that a third of households find the cost of medical and dental treatments a financial burden and that 43pc of the population have private health insurance, while 45.1pc of households have a medical or a GP visitor card.

Around a third of households said they visited a GP between one and two times a year.

Two out of five people are in jobs that involve them mostly sitting. There were 12pc of those who mostly sit at work getting no exercise away from their jobs.

The World Health Organisation recommends people take two hours and 30 minutes of exercise a week.

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SME sector set for €75m boost from State lender

The SME sector is set for a €75m cash injection via a State lender, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI).

The SBCI was set up to ensure favourable loan rates reached SMEs, by funnelling State-sourced money through banks and other lenders, who could then pass on the benefits.

The €75m package is going to Finance Ireland, a non bank entity. It will be used to boost Finance Ireland’s offering in areas like hire purchase and working capital products.

Finance Ireland chief executive Billy Kane said: “the SBCI funding has been a significant benefit to the many hundreds of SME customers we deal with on a daily basis, and this new facility will ensure that benefit continues into the future.”

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Households to spend €1bn on groceries in December

Irish households are set to spend €1bn on groceries this December for the first time.

Market researcher Kantar Worldpanel said Christmas day falling on a Tuesday will give retailers a festive bonus.

“As the 25 December fell on a Monday last year, Friday and Saturday were the two biggest trading days for the major grocers. However, with the big day coming on Tuesday this time around, we expect most households to do the bulk of their Christmas grocery shopping on the Saturday and Sunday – with extra sales on the Monday representing a welcome Christmas bonus for retailers,” said Kantar’s consumer insight director Douglas Faughnan.

Mr Faughnan was speaking as new Kantar figures showed grocers had their strongest period since the summer heatwave in the 12 weeks to December 2.

Dunnes Stores maintained its place as Ireland’s largest supermarket by market share, holding off stiff competition from SuperValu.

Dunnes had 22.4pc of the market in the 12 weeks to December 2, with SuperValu up sharply on 21.7pc. Tesco was in third with 21.6pc.

“Promotions continue to play an important role among the traditional retailers as they try to attract new shoppers and encourage customers to spend more in store. SuperValu has performed strongest here, with the average value of a trip to the retailer increasing by €1.56 to €24.20 this period,” Mr Faughnan said.

“However, Dunnes’ long-running vouchering program means shoppers spend significantly more on each trip there than at any other retailer. Dunnes’ average spend per trip of €42.60 is one of the main reasons the retailer has retained the number one spot this period.”

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‘Social media now top for news as mobiles driving digital growth’

Just how tough the present day has become for print US newspapers was underlined by some new research on news consumption in that market.

According to the Pew Research Centre, social media platforms have now overtaken print newspapers as a news source for Americans – 20pc of US adults say they often get news via social media, while 16pc get their news from newspapers.

Print’s popularity persists among those 65 and older, and its appeal dwindles the younger the audience – 39pc of readers 65 and over often get their news from a newspaper. That figure is 18pc for 50 to 64-year olds, 8pc for 30 to 49-year-olds, and just 2pc for 18-to-29-year-olds. This isn’t surprising. Last year, US adults spent 5.9 hours a day on digital media. And 3.3 of those hours were spent on mobile devices, which are driving overall growth in digital media consumption. If you compare time spent by media type to advertising spend by media type, you find that readers have shifted away from newspapers, and advertising revenue is now catching up. According to Kleiner Perkins’ Mary Meeker, 4pc of all media time is spent with newspapers.

But they account for 9pc of all advertising revenues. Twenty-nine per cent of all media time is spent on mobile, but mobile accounts for 26pc of all advertising spending. The simple interpretation: US audiences have moved from print to mobile, and advertisers are lagging behind.

Maybe the answer for many newspapers is to fully embrace the internet? It makes sense, and the research from Pew backs this up – 33pc of Americans get their news fix from news websites that are most popular with 30- to 49-year-olds. Forty-two per cent of them get news often from websites and news apps and 27pc of 18- to 29-year-olds get news from news websites, making it the second-most commonly used platform for news for that age group, behind social media.

So it’s not inconceivable that some legacy publishers could pivot out of paper. The New York Times’ CEO Mark Thompson admitted earlier this year that the print version of the paper could be gone in as little as 10 years.

And some news publishers have already taken the plunge. Finland’s Financial daily Taloussanomat and Canada’s La Presse have both decided to go online-only.

And then there’s the UK’s Independent, which went digital-only in March 2016. An academic study of the switch showed there were pros and cons. Domestic readership took a small hit. But traffic from outside the UK grew by about 50pc in the first year post-print, and by a further 20pc in the second.

However, international reach came at a cost. Total time spent with the UK Independent by British readers had fallen by more than 70pc since the switch.

“The reason for the decline in time spent seems to be to do with how differently content is consumed in print and online,” said the report’s author, Dr Neil Thurman.

“The Independent’s print readers were much more frequent consumers than its online visitors are. More than 50pc read the title almost every day. Compare that with online visitors who, in 2017, visited an average of just over two times a month.”

Of course, there’s an upside. Ditching the paper meant enough savings in distribution costs for the Independent to become profitable. In the 2016-17 financial year the digital arm turned a profit of £2.52m. Yes, it’s a commercial win. But a goldmine, it ain’t.

And that’s the problem here. Making any profit at all in online news is going to be tough. Even without the printing and distribution costs, reporting the news is an expensive business. So how should news organisations be evolving to court the modern reader? Well, according to Pew’s research, younger Americans don’t rely on one platform in same way their elders do – older audiences are in thrall to TV, of course.

And this younger audience is a sophisticated one: research has also found 18-to-49-year-olds are better than the over-50s at telling factual news statements from opinions.

So maybe the focus needs to be on serving this intelligent, media-literate audience with news in a format that engages them, regardless of whether that’s on paper or with pixels.

The focus needs to be on the reader, not the medium. Everything else follows from that.

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Government launches initiative to support returning emigrants start businesses

The Government has launched an initiative to help returning emigrants start and develop businesses in Ireland.

The ‘Back for Business’ entrepreneur mentoring programme, which is being funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, runs over six months.

It is designed for recently returned emigrants who have lived abroad for at least a year and have returned to Ireland in the last three years. Those planning to return in the near future will also be considered.

The aim of the programme is to bridge gaps entrepreneurs may have in the areas of local knowledge, contact base and professional backgrounds, while also addressing the general challenges all entrepreneurs face when establishing a business.

“This is an initiative that can make a real difference to returned and returning emigrants who have a keen desire and ambition to be entrepreneurs,” Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development Ciarán Cannon, said.

“It is designed to support them to go beyond just creating a job for themselves and to aim higher and create a thriving business that can provide employment for others and value added in their local community,” he added.

The closing date for applications is 25 January and the programme will run from February to July next year.

“I found Back for Business helpful in giving me focus, keeping me on track and creating goals to bring me to the next level. I began the programme with ideas and samples. I am now trading with a luxury product on the market,” Clare O’Connor, scarf designer, and previous participant, said.

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SME Advice: ‘Germany can offer Irish firms a chance to diversify’

It’s hard to imagine but there was a time when conversations around trade and business did not include references, pointed or otherwise, to Brexit.

Its impact on how we conduct business cannot be underestimated. And if ever Irish businesses needed to consider the value of diversifying their market strategy then that time, quite frankly, is now.

While it is true that our nearest neighbour still accounts more than a third of our exports – bilateral trade between Ireland the UK is worth around €1bn a week in goods and services – Irish firms looking to secure a healthy future beyond these shores should consider the large eurozone family of economies with which we will still be able to enjoy frictionless trade.

Perhaps it is the cultural ease in doing business with the UK that limits some of our thinking, but within the eurozone we have potential markets which are worth around €38bn.

And the biggest of these is, of course, the world’s fourth-largest economy, and largest in the EU – Germany.

We already enjoy healthy links, both in trade and culturally, with our German counterparts. Bilateral trade between our two countries is worth around €39bn annually, Germany is our third largest tourist sector and thanks to our links in life sciences, medtech and bio-pharmaceuticals, Germany is our second largest source of Foreign Direct Investment.

With German growth at its highest for five years at around 2pc, it is clear that it remains the stable option for planning market diversification given the immediate uncertainty surrounding Brexit and our traditional trade partner.

Just last month I led a trade mission of 34 Irish companies, old and new, who were looking to showcase the best of our innovation at the world-renowned Medica and Eurotier trade fairs, leading events for medtech and agritech respectively.

As part of our long-term vision for securing trade, Enterprise Ireland has been targeting its resources with a Brexit response which aims to accelerate exports to Europe by 50pc by 2020.

Germany is a key export market for Ireland. It offers substantial growth opportunities and potential for increased collaboration in the agritech and medtech sectors for innovative and ambitious Irish companies.

Our trade visit provided a valuable opportunity for the participating Irish companies to present their innovative solutions to buyers and potential partners attending these huge fairs – Medica in Düsseldorf and Eurotier in Hannover.

The Irish firms presented technology solutions in the areas of electromedicine, laboratory medicine, medical technology and diagnostics to potential buyers.

Our expertise in agriculture highlighted technologies for successfully combining productivity and animal welfare, as well as information management and sustainable use of natural resources.

These huge fairs saw Irish business exposed to the hundreds of thousands of visitors. But building our trade will require more.

A growth in exports of medtech and agritech products and services to Germany is part of Enterprise Ireland’s strategy to support clients to deliver 60,000 new jobs, increase exports to the eurozone by 50pc and add an additional €5bn in exports from 2017 to 2020.

That’s why this month our Ambition Germany event saw Enterprise Ireland host a one-day event for Irish firms looking to get boots on the ground.

It offered first-hand accounts from industry peers who already made the leap before Brexit entered our lexicon and from experts on taking those first steps into new markets.

If Irish firms are to scale beyond these shores, they need to seriously think about one of the largest markets we will have unfettered access to.

Irish companies don’t have to put a finger into the wind and do it alone. Enterprise Ireland helped 89 Irish firms enter the eurozone market for the first time last year. From market research to networking and supports worth up to €150,000, we are planning for a post-Brexit environment. And Irish companies should plan to do so too.

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State investor warns of funding shortages hitting tech startups

Digital startup investor NDRC, which is funded by the State, has warned that Irish companies are struggling to get early-stage investment and that the response from Government is “inadequate”.

In a submission to the Department of Finance, NDRC also said there had been a number of worrying developments as funding available for early-seed investment shrinks.

It said the decision by life sciences accelerator RebelBio to move from Cork to London was a concern.

“In light of the obvious difficulties posed by Brexit for the UK economy, to see an accelerator like that gravitate towards London for tax/investment reasons is a particularly worrying investment.”

NDRC said figures from the Irish Venture Capital Association suggested a reduction in early-stage funding.

“While the macro numbers are healthy, they are dominated by a small number of high-profile deals.

“Early-stage investment would appear to be struggling.”

NDRC, which has invested in over 250 companies since it was founded in 2007, made the submission to a consultation into the Employment & Investment Incentive (EII) and Start up Refunds for Entrepreneurs (Sure) schemes.

It said that similar British schemes generated significantly more investment for new ventures, even when the size of both markets was taken into account.

“The sheer scale of these investments being generated by the Irish schemes is simply insufficient and is nowhere near the kind of policy response to the problem that policy makers would wish.”

It added that ventures supported by NDRC were unable to access bank finance.

Although some changes were made to the EII scheme in October’s Budget, a spokesman for NDRC said its position remained the same.

“A more favourable tax regime for entrepreneurs would go some way to increasing the availability of funding to startups and scaling companies.”

The Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN), whose member have invested €90m of direct seed capital in 400 companies, said there were two broad issues with the EII scheme – operational inefficiencies and a lack of competitiveness when compared to the UK schemes.

In its submission, it said there is a “vacuum of funds” available at the moment.

In its current form the EII scheme was “severely inhibiting Ireland’s international innovation capacity development and competitiveness”.

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Bank watchdog warns payments face Brexit risk

Although the main banks have stepped up preparations for a potential no-deal Brexit, UK-based payment firms used by EU customers are not ready, the bloc’s banking watchdog said on Friday.

Britain’s parliament is deadlocked over whether to approve or reject a divorce settlement with the EU ahead of the country’s planned departure from the bloc next March.

The impasse has increased the possibility of Britain crashing out of the bloc with no transition arrangements. The EU will ramp up contingency plans next week to avoid disruption to derivatives markets in particular.

But the European Banking Authority said in its annual Risk Assessment Report that it was concerned about the contingency plans of smaller and less sophisticated institutions like payment and e-money firms.

“The latter are of particular importance from an EU27 perspective, because of the large volumes of payments business being offered by UK-based institutions through their cross-border passporting activities,” the EBA report said.

Being in an EU member state, payments firms based in Britain can “passport” or sell their services to customers across Europe from a base in the United Kingdom.

Without the transition period included in the divorce settlement, payment firms in Britain would need to open new hubs in the EU by next March to continue serving customers there like many banks and insurers have already done.

“For such institutions, contingency planning, including relocation, where appropriate, is needed, and effective communication with customers ex-ante to prepare for any disruption is vital,” the report said.

It said banks were holding more capital, but still failing to make enough money to be sustainable. Increased competition from financial technology or fintech firms could be making it harder for banks to increase profits.

Lending has begun to increase as the percentage of loans that have soured fell to 3.6pc in June from 4.4pc a year earlier.

Non-performing loans (NPLs) are now at their lowest level since a common EU definition was introduced in 2014, when they stood at 6.5pc.

Operational risk driven by cyberhacks and IT glitches continues to increase, fuelled by Brexit uncertainty, the EBA report said.

“At the same time, conduct and legal risks, including breach of anti-money laundering regulations, have been on the rise in 2018.”

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Collapse of Danish insurer exposes Irish homeowners

HUNDREDS of homeowners have been left without insurance cover if their homes develop structural defects following the failure of a Danish insurer.

Alpha Insurance filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. It had 12,000 customers here.

Last week 50,000 drivers had to get alternative insurance cover when another Danish insurer, Qudos, went into liquidation.

Now it has emerged that the failure of Danish regulated Alpha has left 1,600 homeowners unable to get alternative insurance.

The homeowners were covered for structural defects insurance, which was bought for them by the developers of their homes.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the homeowners were now left in the lurch and were vulnerable if their homes develop defects.

“This specific issue surrounds latent defect or structural warranty insurance which is typically taken out by the developer and protects the homeowner if major structural issues with the property emerge.”

Mr McGrath said the 1,600 homeowners were unable to get alternative cover.

“It is my understanding that homeowners are unable to take out replacement insurance themselves for homes that have been already constructed.”

He said this threatens to leave impacted homeowners completely exposed if serious structural issues with their house emerge.

The lack of such cover can restrict homeowners in selling their house.

He called on the Central Bank to clarify the matter.

Homeowners affected who had structural insurance with Alpha insurance were advised to contact the developer who built their house and to ensure that alternative cover has been arranged.

Mr McGrath added: “This is yet another example of a breakdown in regulation in the European insurance market. Only last week another Danish regulated insurance company, Qudos, went into liquidation and we are still coming to terms with the failures of Enterprise and Setanta.”

He said major reform is needed at a European level to protect customers and claimants when insurance companies fail.

In a Dáil reply to the Fianna Fáil TD, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said owners of properties unable to get new cover should contact their developer of their property.

Should there be a claim on a policy, there may be assistance available from the Danish Insurance Guarantee Fund in the first instance.

If such an application were unsuccessful, there may then be recourse to the Irish Insurance Compensation Fund, the Minister said.

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NTMA to raise up to €18bn next year to repay outstanding debt

THE Government plans to borrow between €14bn and €18bn next year, to repay outstanding debt as it falls due.

The plans outlined by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) are in line with the amount raised this year on the bond markets. The Government is forecasting a balanced budget next year, meaning it will not borrow for spending.

That’s the first time since the crash in 2008 that the State will not spend more than it takes in through taxation. However, with a massive national debt to manage to NTMA will continue to issue new bonds as existing debt matures. The NTMA will have a cash balance of €13bn at the start of 2019, with €15bn of bonds falling due over the following 12 months.

The NTMA said it will issue a statement at the beginning of each quarter next year, outlining the bond auction plans for coming three months.

It said it intends to hold at least one syndicated bond deal during the year – a practice whereby debt is issued to lenders through intermediary banks, as well as regular bond auctions.

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