Child poverty

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Poverty and the troika

The effectiveness of government strategies against poverty, especially in their current European and austerity context, was raised on a number of occasions in the Dail (Dail Eireann, Debates, 25th January 2012, 1164-5; 26th January, 96-8)).  The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, told Micheal Martin (FF, Cork SC) and Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dun Laoghaire) that the advisory group on tax and social welfare would make cost-effective proposals to achieve better poverty outcomes, especially in child poverty.  At European level, Ireland would support development of a recommendation on child poverty and well-being this year.  In October 2011, she had led the Irish delegation at the first annual EU convention on poverty held in Krakow, Poland and spoke at the opening session.  The main message from the convention was the reaffirmation of the need to tackle child poverty and employment as the most effective route out of poverty, despite the economic situation not being conducive to employment growth.  The EU Social Protection Committee, of which her officials were part, was finalizing its third report on the social impact of the crisis, where a key message was the role of social protection in cushioning the impact of the economic crisis.  A rapid return to economic growth and the development of inclusive labour market policies were crucial to reduce poverty and social exclusion in both the EU and Ireland.   

 

She told Billy Kelleher (FF, Cork N) and Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) that the government had agreed with the troika that by the end of March her department would draw up a comprehensive programme of reform to better target social welfare to those on lower incomes and ensure that work pays for welfare recipients, strengthening activation to help jobseekers to get back to work.  The programme would not be finalized by the end of March, but reform proposals would be brought to government initially and then to the Oireachtas, with implementation from budget 2013.  The troika members were exercised by such issues as activation, the overall cost of social protection and the various elements of various schemes, but the troika would not describe itself as dictating to any particular department.  Nine departments were in discussion with the troika on a continuing basis.  They would meet the deadline of activation and the single working age payment by the end of the first quarter 2012.  JobBridge, launched July 2011, had already had a huge take-up and the troika constantly asked questions about activation.  The troika had not identified any specific programme that should be curtailed or discontinued but rather overall targets to be achieved. She told Brendan Ryan (Lab, Dublin N) that 2,395 people were already engaged on the Tús scheme out of the 5,000 to be engaged (Dail Eireann, Debates, 25th January 2012, 1155).

 

Asked about the poverty impact of the budget, the minister, Joan Burton, told Padraig Mac Lochlann (SF, Donegal NE) that her department had analyzed the distributive and poverty impact of welfare changes, including fuel allowances, prior to the finalization of the 2012 budget, but it was not possible to publish it in advance (Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th January 2012, 106).  Her department had prepared an analysis of the distributive and policy impacts of the tax and welfare package with the Department of Finance.  It was currently being finalized and would shortly be considered by the cabinet committee on social policy.  She would arrange for the analysis to be published in March.  

 

 

Single welfare payment, back to school allowances

Asked specifically about the single working age payment by Eamon O Cuiv (FF, Galway W), the minister, Joan Burton, told him that the comprehensive programme of welfare reforms to be proposed to the troika by the end of first quarter 2012 was expected to include an implementation plan for the introduction of a single payment (Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th January 2012, 108-9).  There had been a consultation seminar with stakeholders in July 2011 and an internal working group had been established to commence work on designing a single payment, with engagement with other department on the provision of supports and services to assist recipients into employment.  A report would be prepared.  No decisions had been made and they would be a matter for the government.

 

Asked specifically about the back-to-school allowances, the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton told Sean Crowe (SF, Dublin SW) that 384,000 children benefitted from the scheme in 2011, while the numbers expected, at lower rates, would be 340,000 in 2012 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th January 2012, 94-5).  The cost of clothing and footwear had fallen 27% since 2006, while payment rates had risen by up to 87%.  Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) questioned her, quoting a survey by Barnardos, about the impact of cuts in the scheme on child poverty.  The minister described the assistance as significant and going to large numbers.  She had to find savings while maintaining core rates. Aengus O Snodaigh expressed his worry that the cuts would lead to reduced school completion rates, while contesting her figures that the cost of school clothing had fallen so much.  The minister told him that schools could make enormous savings and reduce the strain on parents in the cost of school books by rental schemes.  Department and chain stores gave good value in school clothes, but the costs often rose when schools required crests which might increase the cost of a jumper by €25.  In this financial emergency, there was a profound argument for schools to allow parents to choose cheaper store options.

 

Dealing with two specific groups in poverty, Jillian van Turnhout (ind, Taoiseach nominee) asked for a discussion in the Seanad on children’s rights (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 25th January 2012, 837).  She referred to the recent report card of the Children’s Rights Alliance which reported on the effect of the 2012 budget on child poverty, lone parents and large families.  The government had failed the report card on the continued detention of children in adult prisons.  We needed to do more, she concluded.  Her Senate colleague David Norris (ind, Dublin University) drew attention to the recent murder of a Roma member of the Romanian community in Ireland (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 26th January 2012, 938).  She had been looking after the younger members of her family, living in derelict conditions in a roofless house and did some begging.  The Roma community was despised all over Europe and held to contempt in the media here, contained decent people and he hoped that the gardai would secure a conviction.