Wednesday 16 October 2019

Surge in child poverty here has 'blighted' countless lives

Fergus Finlay
Fergus Finlay

Mark O'Regan

A SURGE in child poverty in Ireland during the recession has left an "indelible stain on our conscience" and "blighted" the lives of countless young people.

And the only way to reverse this trend is for increased funding to be made available for public services that benefit children, according to Fergus Finlay (inset), chief executive of Barnardos.

A damning report from UNICEF paints a stark picture as to how the ravages of the recession resulted in 130,000 more 'poor' in Ireland between 2008 and 2012. A child is classified as being poor if the annual family income is below €12,455.

In contrast, the poverty rate for the elderly section of the population increased by just 2.5pc.

The report shows that families with children were hardest hit by the downturn - losing the equivalent of 10 years of "income progress". This meant the child poverty ratio soared from 18pc in 2008 to 28.6pc 2012.

This trend also meant Ireland plunged to 37th out of 41 OECD countries which measure child poverty levels. Only Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland fared worse.

In 23 of the 41 countries investigated, child poverty increased since 2008, although it fell in 18 states including Chile, Australia and Poland.

The recession also hit young people in the 15 to 24 age bracket - who are not in education, employment or training - "especially hard", the report shows.

Mr Finlay described the findings as "shameful", adding that the situation could have been avoided.

"UNICEF's report shows other countries have managed to improve and even reverse child poverty figures despite the recession," he said.

The need for increased investment in health services for children had never been greater, he added.

"We must improve access to quality early childhood care and education, and continue to invest in child benefit as a universal payment."

He said these measures had proven to be the best approach to tackle child poverty.

"Poor children grow up in poor families; breaking this cycle by investing in children is not only better for them, but the economy and wider society too."

Peter Power, chief executive of UNICEF Ireland, said the protection of children during times of recession was "a moral obligation".

"Countries should place the well-being of children at the top of their priorities during economic recessions. Not only is this a moral obligation, but it is in the long-term self-interest of societies.

"Children living in poverty are more likely to become impoverished adults and have poor children, creating and sustaining intergenerational cycles of poverty."

Mr Power added that every child had a right to an adequate standard of living.

Irish Independent

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