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Press Statement


18 January 2022

Social Protection Expenditure in Ireland 2020

Social Protection Expenditure increased by 20% between 2019 and 2020
  • In 2020, €58.2 billion was spent on social protection in Ireland, a 20% increase on the 2019 spend of €48.4 billion
  • The largest areas of expenditure were in sickness/healthcare (€21.5 billion) and old age (€15.1 billion), both of which accounted for 65% of the total spend
  • Comparing 2020 with 2019, expenditure on unemployment almost trebled, from €2.7 billion to €7.8 billion due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social protection expenditure
  • Social protection expenditure in 2020 accounted for 16% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or 28% of Modified Gross National Income (GNI*)
  • Ireland spent €9,815 per person on social protection in 2019, which is above the EU average of €8,769 per person

Go to release: Social Protection Expenditure in Ireland 2020

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) today (18 January 2022) published Social Protection Expenditure in Ireland 2020.

Commenting, Ciara O’Shea, Statistician said: Social protection is a set of interventions where the objective is to reduce social and economic risk and vulnerability, and to alleviate extreme poverty and deprivation. Social protection is typically grouped into eight categories: sickness/healthcare, disability, old age, survivors, family/children, unemployment, housing and social exclusion. This publication brings together data from a variety of sources to estimate this expenditure in Ireland from 2000 to 2020.

Social protection expenditure was €58.2 billion in 2020, based on preliminary estimates. This represents 16% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or 28% of Modified Gross National Income (GNI*)[1]. This was a rise of €9.8bn (20%) on 2019, which reflects increased government expenditure on social protection due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, expenditure on unemployment almost trebled from €2.7bn in 2019 to €7.8bn in 2020.

Spending on unemployment had dropped in recent years to stand at 6% of total social protection expenditure in 2019, but rose in 2020 to 14% due to COVID-19. The pandemic is also linked to the strong growth in expenditure on sickness between 2019 and 2020, which rose from €18.3bn to €21.5bn or by 17.5%.

Looking at how the social protection spend is distributed, we can see that expenditure on sickness / healthcare accounted for 38% of social benefits in 2020, followed by old age (27%) and unemployment (14%). The remaining components were family/children (8%), housing (5%), disability (5%) and social exclusion (1%).

Sickness/healthcare and old age account for the largest proportion of social benefit expenditure over the time series. On average, 65% of social benefit is currently spent on these categories. In 2009, the total spent in these two areas dropped below 60% as expenditure on unemployment increased around the time of the global financial crisis.

When compared with our European neighbours, Ireland’s social protection expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the lowest in the EU at 14%. France has the highest percentage at 34%. However, when expenditure is expressed as a percentage of GNI*, a measure to exclude the globalisation effects in the Irish economy, Ireland moves up to 13th place at 22%. Average expenditure in the EU on social protection was €8,769 per person in 2019. The lowest average was in Bulgaria at €1,460 while the highest was in Luxembourg at €22,172. Ireland spent €9,815 per person in 2019, above the EU average.”

Editor's Note:

Expenditure on social protection benefits, cash or in kind, are intended to protect individuals against the following risks or needs:

  • Sickness/Healthcare benefits – including paid sick leave, medical care and provision of pharmaceutical products;
  • Disability benefits – including disability pensions and the provision of goods and services (other than medical care) to the disabled;
  • Old Age benefits – including old age pensions and the provision of goods and services (other than medical care) to the elderly;
  • Survivors’ benefits – including income maintenance and support in connection with the death of a family member, such as survivors’ pensions;
  • Family/Children benefits – including support (except healthcare) in connection with the costs of pregnancy, childbirth, childbearing and caring for other family members;
  • Unemployment benefits – including vocational training financed by public agencies;
  • Housing benefits – including interventions by public authorities to help households meet the cost of housing;
  • Social Exclusion benefits, not elsewhere classified– including income support, rehabilitation of alcohol and drug abusers and other miscellaneous benefits (except healthcare).

 Expenditure on social benefits excludes expenditure on administration of these benefits.

 [1] Modified Gross National Income (GNI*) is an indicator designed specifically to measure the size of the Irish economy by excluding globalisation effects. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a measure of the total economic activity in the country. Ireland’s GDP includes profits that are generated here but are repatriated to the owners of companies abroad. Gross National Income excludes the net profits of companies that have been sent abroad.

For further information contact:

Ciara M O'Shea (+353) 1 498 4312

or email

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