CHILD poverty is not inevitable.
We can offer each child in Ireland an adequate standard of living that we would want for our own children.
Children are going to bed hungry; families are living in small hotel rooms or sleeping on mattresses, because they don’t have a roof over their heads.
One in 10 children lives in consistent poverty, which means they lack the necessities of a “normal” childhood, such as adequate clothing, heating, or food.
Through accident of birth alone, these children are hampered by an uneven playing field, which limits their future prospects.
None of this is inevitable. It all boils down to political choices — choices that not only our Government makes, but that we make, as a society.
Certainly, in times of austerity, we are told, time and again, that difficult choices have to be made. But they remain choices, and we should not be letting children live in poverty.
We are turning a blind eye and choosing to allow groups more vulnerable to poverty to take the brunt of the economic recession — groups such as Travellers, homeless children, children in direct provision, and one-parent families.
Child poverty is a blight on this country that is preventing children from meeting their full potential, draining families of spirit and hope and, ultimately, holding the country back. We know, from other countries, that the answer to child poverty is better services for children and families.
That’s why we are, today, collaborating with Eurochild — a network of organisations and individuals working across Europe to promote the rights and wellbeing of children and young people.
Together, we are holding a major conference to put an end to child poverty in Ireland.
We have a road map. The Government has a target, in its Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures national children’s strategy, to eliminate consistent poverty by 2020.
Similar EU targets can be found in Europe 2020 and the European Commission Recommendation on Investing in Children.
We are not interested in going over old ground.
The purpose of today’s conference is about breathing life into important national and EU commitments on child poverty in Ireland, and to explore how they should be translated into practice to improve children’s lives. We need actors from the NGO and the public and private sectors to join forces to support the Government in this endeavour.
And I believe that our Government is committed to delivering this change.
Both Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone are working hard to address child poverty, but we need a government-wide approach.
A practical action plan is being developed to eliminate child poverty.
This will help the Government meet its international obligations, as identified within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to support the right of each child to an adequate standard of living.
We need to move swiftly to finalise this plan, so all actors can play their part.
We need to act now and make a range of practical policy choices that will make a difference to families immediately.
To tackle homelessness, we need to continue to invest in providing families with affordable and secure social housing. For those homeless families living in emergency hotel accommodation, we need to make sure that it is appropriate for their needs and not just for an indefinite time period.
Food poverty has been exacerbated by the recession and this is negatively impacting children. Consequently, we need to act urgently.
Practical interventions are needed — such as remodelling funding for the school meals system.
Extending the access to the scheme to all schools, not merely those participating in the DEIS scheme (a scheme that is operating in areas of high disadvantage), would make the world of difference.
Extending this further, to early-years and youth clubs, would be better yet.
At least 20% of one-parent family households live in consistent poverty — the highest rate of any family type.
Lone parents struggle to access the labour market, because there are no affordable, high-quality childcare and after-school supports available to them. Coupled with the lack of well-paid, family-friendly employment opportunities, these families will remain living below the poverty line unless we act.
Let’s choose to invest in future generations.
Tackling child poverty is the surest safeguard of brighter futures for all our children.
We have a duty, as a nation, to put an end to this inequality and to provide each and every child with an equal chance at life.