Child poverty

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Amending the constitution for children

The government introduced the 31st amendment to the constitution to define rights for children, polling to take place on 10th November (Dail Eireann, Debates, 25th September 2012, 71-88; 26th September, 20-45, 77-114; 27th September, 28-120).  In her comments, Mary Lou McDonald (SF, Dublin C) said that notwithstanding amendments to the constitution, if we did not have a government-led strategy to tackle increasing levels of child poverty, then the referendum would amount to little more than fine words.  Over 100,000 children lived in poverty and this number had increased as a result of the policies of this and the previous government.  If the government were serious about the best interests of the child, then it would produce a strategy to end child poverty.  The minister must give a commitment that there would be no measures in the budget that would place even more children in poverty.  Barnardos had already warned that further cuts to social welfare and public services would lead to hardship and more poverty and deprivation for children.  Some 200,000 children lived below the poverty line, an astonishing and shameful statistic, while some 500 young people were recorded as homeless on census night.  An ESRI report had shown that the 2012 budget involved greater proportionate losses for those on low incomes, 2% to 2.5%, compared to 0.75% for those on highest incomes and the budget had been the most regressive in a long series of austerity budgets.  The government had made a choice and sought to protect the highest earners from the worst of the financial crisis and during its short term in office had deepened inequality in society, causing real harm to the most vulnerable adults and children.  


Recent Central Statistics Office figures had shown that one fifth of households with children were struggling to survive.  In 2010, 19.5% of households were at risk of poverty, rising to 26% in homes with children aged 12 to 17.  Barnardos had warned that there were increasing numbers of families for whom some level of social welfare support was essential so as to make sure there was food on the table and electricity to heat their homes.  The Society of St Vincent de Paul had told us that 60% of their calls came from mothers with children.  The rate of deprivation for our children was higher than other countries in western Europe but astonishingly this government seemed intent on deepening inequality.


Clare Daly (independent, Dublin N) said that one would have thought that basic rights such as food, healthcare, education and so on would be guaranteed, but even during the boom years this was not the case.  Traveller children, asylum seeker children and others were left behind and in the new economic climate meeting the needs of children was becoming problematic for tens of thousands of families.  Changes in rent allowance had forced people to move out of the areas in which they lived and their children had to uproot and leave.  The irony was that one of the few child-centred clauses in the constitution was the right to free primary education, but the dogs in the street knew that this was not free and many children were not accessing it properly because of economic austerity.


Sean Crowe (SF, Dublin SW) spoke of how the numbers of children living in poverty had risen 30,000 to over 200,000 in the past two years.  People were already at breaking point trying to pay the household charge, yet we had further energy price increases.  This would inevitably see more families dragged into fuel poverty and forced to choose between basic household items or heating.  It was only the mild winter last year that saved many people from the dangers of fuel poverty.   Of the 5,098 people in direct provision, 1,789 were children and the state was failing to provide them with enough food.  He quoted the Irish Refugee Council report State-stanctioned child poverty and exclusion which cited instances of malnutrition, ill-health related to diet for babies and young children, weight loss among children, hunger among adults as a result of rationing and chronic gastric illness among children.  This was unacceptable and read like a description of many of the conditions that these families were trying to escape.