State can no longer ignore scourge of child poverty
Over the next few weeks, children around the country will sit down to write their letters to Santa requesting gifts, but let us spare a thought for the 9.3pc of Irish children who will receive no gifts because they are living in constant poverty.
That almost one in 10 children in Ireland are living in poverty is as disgraceful as it is shocking. The End Child Poverty Coalition (ECPC) - eight national non-governmental organisations working together to end child poverty in Ireland - claims that one in three children are deprived of basic needs.
Equally sobering was the statement from Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, of Focus Ireland, who revealed that 800 children and their families were made homeless in the first 10 months of this year, with 45 families losing their homes in Dublin alone last month.
How have thing got so bad? Why are our children now suffering more than ever before?
The main cause of the increase in homelessness is the increase in rent, particularly in Dublin. According to property website Daft.ie, rents have risen by 15pc in Dublin over the past year - in the city centre they are up by 17pc.
Sr Stanislaus explained that many families and single people were struggling to keep up with their payments, but in the end many lose the battle and become homeless. Figures released only last week show that the amount of people sleeping rough in Dublin has risen by a fifth over the past year.
"It would break your heart to see where many children and their families who are homeless are being forced to stay," said Sr Stanislaus.
Young people can become homeless for many different reasons - from financial crisis, to conflicts with families to drug or alcohol addiction to behavioural problems. Regardless of the reasons, no man, women and especially no child should be sleeping rough on our streets.
The Housing Act 1988 defines a homeless person as somebody who has no reasonable accommodation to live in or lives in a hospital, institution or night shelter because of a lack of home.
Focus Ireland is calling on the Government to dedicate €500 million in Budget 2015 to building thousands of homes to tackle the growing homelessness crisis.
The charity is keen to stress that it is more family homes that are needed - not just more emergency accommodation - if it is to stem the growing problem of homelessness.
Another solution to the problem of homelessness that is being raised again, is for the Government to introduce rent controls. Noted campaigner for the homeless Fr Peter McVerry said rent controls were necessary to ensure that the market retained an element of affordability.
For children, being homeless eats in to every aspect of their lives.
Homeless children and children living in poverty are more likely to leave school early and start smoking and drinking at a young age.
Educational disadvantage affects children's life chances and their chance to fulfil their potential
They are often excluded from activities and school outings because of a lack of money. Children's health will also suffer if their family can't pay for doctors' bills.
It's a vicious cycle and one that needs immediate attention.
The End Child Poverty Coalition said it was pleased to see the Government's ongoing commitment to improve poverty outcomes, particularly for children as highlighted in the 2013 Department of Finance publication 'A Strategy for Growth: Medium Term Economic Strategy 2014-2020'.
However, the austerity measures taken in recent Budgets have exacerbated the levels of poverty.
This is made evident by the increase in the consistent child poverty rate, from 6.3pc in 2008 to 9.9pc in 2012.
All charities and agencies are urging the Government to look carefully at Budget 2015 and to act on promises made to reduce the growing rates of homelessness and stop this spiral of child poverty.
It is up to the Government now to redress its past failings in this area, to keep our children off the streets and to make sure that their basic needs are met.
Is it really too much to ask that every Irish child has a roof over their head and a hot meal on the table?