Children fare worst in crisis, says EU

Ireland has the highest proportion of children in jobless households in the EU, and they are threatened with a poverty-filled future as austerity damages their prospects, a report has said.

Falling into the poverty trap is easier in Ireland than in many other countries, and once in, the exit rate is very low, according to an analyses of the statistics. This situation existed before the crisis and has worsened.

While no country in Europe has a better record for making a difference with social transfers such as housing and children’s allowance, the best way out of the cycle is getting a job but, especially for a single parent, this is near impossible in Ireland.

OECD figures show that, in Ireland, childcare will consume all the income of the average worker, while care for two children will also eat into the income of a second earner.

The reports place Ireland in the category with Hungary and Britain where there is a high risk of child poverty. In the EU generally, a quarter of children now live in poverty or social exclusion.

Countries are facing a social emergency because of the crisis and the austerity agenda, warned social affairs commissioner László Andor, who called such policies “short-sighted”.

“We have unfortunately seen examples when social expenditures have been decimated in the name of competitiveness or similar misguided ideas,” said Mr Andor. “They need to shift focus to invest in human capital and social cohesion… otherwise they will pay a much higher price tomorrow.”

He added that the most successful and competitive economies are those with the best social protection systems and most developed social partnerships.

Launching a package of measures to try to convince countries to prioritise social spending on child poverty, homelessness, active inclusion and health, Mr Andor said this was key to emerging from the crisis stronger and more competitive.

Children have suffered most, showing the highest increase in the number in poverty of any group in society. “This is not the way for society to progress,” said a senior EU official.

Early school leavers are twice as likely to be unemployed, and Ireland has one of the highest proportions of young people aged 15 years up who are not in education, training, or a job. This costs the economy at least 2% of its GDP, double that of most other countries.

Ireland benefits more than almost all other countries from the amount of money it spends on education, getting five times as much back in income taxes and lower social transfers for every student it puts through secondary and third level.

The EU hopes that the analyses and proposals will “allow us to have a more enlightened debate”.

The European Anti-Poverty Network gave the report a cautious welcome. Its director, Fintan Farrell, said: “The commitments fail to address the urgency of the current social crisis, particularly in the troika countries,” and called for the policies to be supported by EU funds.”

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