About the Research

The VPSJ’s budget standards research is the only work of its kind in Ireland. Through working with focus groups, robust & transparent data on the minimum expenditure and income needs of households living in Ireland is produced. The data uniquely defines a socially acceptable minimum standard of living, derived from social consensus and informed by input from experts.

The VPSJ is the only organisation in Ireland undertaking the research to establish what is required for individuals and households to have a Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL). The research uses the Consensual Budget Standards methodology, an academically robust and internationally applied approach to answering the questions: What is needed for a basic standard of living? How much does it cost? What income is needed to afford this standard?

A Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL), is a standard which nobody should be expected to live below, it is a standard that while based on needs not wants, allows an individual or household to live with dignity, meeting their physical, psychological and social needs at a minimum but acceptable level. It is a minimum standard for everyone, not just those in poverty, which comes from a negotiated consensus on what people believe are minimum needs.

Establishing the cost of a socially acceptable standard of living opens up the space to assess the adequacy of the Social Welfare income supports and the National Minimum Wage, examining income needs and potential avenues to address income inadequacy.

The establishment of this unique data has provided a new benchmark, grounded in the lived experience of people, which complements other poverty measures and can assist in the formation of support policies to tackle poverty and enhance social inclusion.

The dataset now covers 90% of households across urban and rural Ireland, providing a unique, current and up to date, resource defining the expenditure and income required for a socially acceptable minimum standard of living in Ireland today.

Research to date

The Minimum Essential Standard of Living dataset is the product of multiple research projects, each stage building on the previous tranche. The current dataset is built from the research establishing MESL budgets for six household types, firstly in urban areas in 2006, and subsequently the needs of rural households in 2010.

The 2012 Minimum Income Standard for Ireland project added further detail to the dataset, enabling the examination of the income and expenditure needs of a broader range of household types. Further research in 2012, reviewed the MESL budgets, facilitated the expansion of the dataset to include larger household compositions (up to 4 children) and developed the Minimum Income Standard calculator (www.MISc.ie).

These projects have produced, refined and analysed a uniquely detailed and extensive dataset on the minimum expenditure and income needs of the households in Ireland.

Ongoing Work

The MESL expenditure needs dataset is adjusted annually for all household types, to reflect changes in prices.

The income calculations used in the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) analysis and the MISc.ie calculator web application are updated each year, incorporating all relevant changes to social welfare and taxation.

MESL Annual Update Report

An MESL Update Report is published each year to accompany the update of the MESL expenditure needs data. The report is published at the MESL Update Roundtable Seminar, and presents a detailed analysis of the changing expenditure and income needs for a set of representative household types.

The Report and Roundtable Seminar is organised so as to provide timely information for the the many organisations which use the data in their ongoiing work, and is timed to infrom those engaging in the Pre-Budget process.

Technical & Working Papers

The VPSJ has undertaken to produce an ongoing series of Technical and Working Papers examining current policy relevant issues in a timely manner.

Thus far these papers have examined topical issues, presenting a detailed analysis in the context of relevant household types minimum expenditure and income needs. The papers have examined areas such as the cost of childcare, home energy costs and the impact of social welfare supports for those returning to work after a period of unemployment, and in low hour employment.

MESL Research in Action

Parallel with the expansion of data is the scope of its usefulness and relevance for the NGOS, statutory agencies and Government Departments who use it in their work to address poverty and income inadequacy.

The MESL data forms the basis of the Living Wage calculation, provides the source data for the ISI Reasonable Living Expenses, and the approach has been used by the VPSJ in establishing the cost of a Minimum Essential Food Basket in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The research is pro-actively used and cited by national organisations in their work to address poverty and social exclusion, and promote equality. The VPSJ has been invited to consult with various Government officials, departments and working groups, regarding the MESL research, on issues ranging from the adequacy of social welfare rates and low pay, to the cost of vital services including childcare and household energy, and personal insolvency. The MESL research is also recognised internationally, at EU level, with the VPSJ appointed as national experts in a European Commission funded research project.

Informing Government

The VPSJ research team has been consulted on issues relating to 

  • the adequacy of the minimum wage

  • the Living Wage

  • energy poverty

  • the impact of the cost of childcare on household’s minimum income needs

  • the needs of those in the Direct Provision System

Submissions to Government

The VPSJ makes a Pre-Budget Submission following the publication of the annual MESL update, highlighting key issues revealed by the data & analysis and making policy recommendations based on these findings.

The VPSJ participates in the Department of Social Protection’s Pre-Budget Forum and in the National Economic Dialogue.

Submissions are also made to the Low Pay Commission utilising the MESL data and MIS model to demonstrate the inadequacy of the National Minimum Wage.

Submissions are also made on an ongoing basis in response to relevant calls from Government.

MESL Budget Impact Briefing

The briefing examines the potential impact of the Social Welfare and personal tax measures announced in the annual Budget, in terms of MESL expenditure and income needs of a set of representative household types.