Monday 15 July 2019

Charlie Weston: 'Struggle faced by poor children shames our divided nation'


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Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

We live in a divided nation. Incomes are on the rise again, but too many are being left behind.

Many people are getting up "early in the morning", but are still living in poverty. These people are being called the "working poor".

And huge numbers of children and lone parents, in particular, continue to experience high levels of poverty and deprivation.

That almost one in five children live in a household that is defined as being at risk of poverty is nothing short of shameful for a country with an advanced economy.

This situation, where so many are being left behind, reflects the experience of St Vincent de Paul, which said it was receiving an average of 1,000 calls for help every day from worried families in the run-up to Christmas.

The Central Statistics Office figures show a huge difference in poverty rates between children and those over the age of 65, something economists said might not be widely known. Consistent poverty is five times higher among children than it is for those over the age of 65.

Pensioners are articulate and vote in large numbers, so they tend to do relatively well out of each budget.

But the high rate of child poverty in this country is something that needs a greater focus from the Government.

Although some of the poverty measures have improved, around 760,000 people are living in straitened circumstances in Ireland today, calculations by Seán Healy, of Social Justice Ireland, show. Of this number, around 230,000 are under the age of 18.

Dr Healy makes the point that despite an increase in average incomes, more jobs and high levels of economic growth, a significant proportion of the population is still struggling.

This is despite average household disposable income rising by nearly 5pc to €48,476 last year. This was close to the boom-time high of €49,043 recorded in 2008.

Statisticians dislike average incomes, as a few big earners can skew the figures.

A better measure is the median, or mid-point, income of households, which was €20,869 last year, up almost €540 from the previous year.

Then there are the working poor.

They are among those that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised to look after when he referred to supporting those who "get up early in the morning".

Some 109,000 have jobs, so are getting up in the dark in the morning, yet are still classed as being poor. The numbers of people regarded as the working poor are little changed from a decade ago.

This is despite Ireland having one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe.

What this shows is that not everyone is gaining when the economy expands.

Tackling the shame of child poverty and the plight of the working poor needs more concentrated attention from the Government. St Vincent de Paul can only do so much.

Irish Independent

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