Child poverty

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Strategies against poverty

Willie O’Dea (FF, Limerick City) challenged the government’s record on food poverty in the course of questions to the Minister for Social Protection (Dail Eireann, Debates, 29th May 2013, 493-5).  According to Safefood, he said, one in ten people was experiencing food poverty in 2010, a situation that had deteriorated markedly since, as shown by the quadrupling of calls to the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the Irish League for Credit Unions showing that almost 50% of the population must borrow money to pay basic bills.

 

The minister, Joan Burton, attacked his government for having abolished the Combat Poverty Agency, a role now performed by the social inclusion division of her department.  She had asked the division, which had great expertise in measuring poverty and what it constituted to the less well-off, to examine the issue.  Her department had spent €35m last year on school meals, including breakfast clubs and hot school meals.  She had increased it by €2m to provide hot nutritious food to children as they started their school day.  

 

Willie O’Dea pressed her as to whether she had a specific strategy to address food poverty and quoted the Labour party’s proposals prior to the general election.  She reminded him that she had prioritized the expansion of the school meals programme, moreover against the background of a difficult budgetary situation.  The social inclusion division was leading the development of policy.  A 2012 paper had proposed an official measure of food poverty.  Food poverty was not an isolated issue, she said, but one aspect of wider social exclusion.  Some people paid a relatively large proportion of their income on poor quality food.  All schools encouraged children to bring nutritious packed lunches to school.

 

Asked by Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) about child poverty, the minister told the Dail that following a review in 2012, the government had agreed to set a new sub-target for the reduction of child poverty (Dail Eireann, Debates, 29th May 2013, 620-621).  Her department was working closely with the Department of Children of Youth Affairs.  

 

Asked about the impact of the budget on child poverty the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, told Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) that the budget had not led to any significant change in the at risk of poverty rate for adults or children (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th May 2013, 257-8).  The social impact assessment of the budget published in March found that the average loss of income was 0.8%, but for households with children it was 1% of disposable income, reflecting the reduction in child income supports and the reduction in the earnings threshold for the One Parent Family Payment.

 

Asked by Michael Colreavy (SF, Sligo – N Leitrim) about the equality-proofing of the budget, the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan told the Dail that following a commitment given during the Finance Bill on 6th March, he had directed one of his political advisors to investigate the Scottish system (Dail Eireann, Debates, 21st May 2013, 147-8).  Later, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, informed Gerry Adams (SF, Louth) and Pearse Doherty (SF, Donegal SW) that the Scottish budgetary process involved the publication of a draft budget, allowing time for public consultation before it was finalized (Dail Eireann, Debates 25th May 2013, 837). 

 

Asked by Tommy Broughan (ind, Dublin NE) about the government’s progress in meeting its poverty targets under Europe 2020, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton told the Dail that the national social target and by extension the 2020 targets will be ‘a challenge over the remaining years of the decade’ (Dail Eireann, Debates, 28th May 2013, 288-9)