More than one in four children have been left on or below the poverty line since the economy crashed, according to an international study on the impact of the recession.
Child poverty rates jumped from 18% to 28.6% between 2008 and 2012 — an increase of 130,000 that brought the number of children living in hardship here to 350,000.
That puts Ireland in 37th place out of 41 developed countries ranked by Unicef according to how well they’ve managed to insulate children from the impact of the global economic crisis.
According to Unicef, median Irish family income has regressed 10 years — a phenomenon it has tagged the “great leap backwards”. Only Greece exceeded the slide, losing 14 years worth of income progress.
Head of Unicef Ireland, Peter Power, said there was an onus on countries to put the well-being of children at the top of their priorities during economic recessions.
“Not only is this a moral obligation, but it is in the long-term self-interest of societies. Children living in poverty are more likely to become impoverished adults and have poor children, creating and sustaining intergenerational cycles of poverty.”
Barnardos described the findings as “shameful”. “What is so concerning about this report is that despite clear indications this would happen, we still allowed ourselves to follow this path,” said CEO Fergus Finlay.
Mr Finlay said the data for Ireland was all the more damning for the fact that it was not an inevitable outcome of the recession as the report showed 18 countries, including a handful of EU members, had managed to reduce their child poverty rates despite the same economic challenges.
The Children’s Rights Alliance said the report showed the negative effect on children here had been “huge” and Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy described it as “an absolute scandal… These figures prove that children, particularly those of lower income families, have been paying a disproportionate price for the austerity agenda that has been relentlessly pursued by successive governments”.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on children, Robert Troy, said: “Children must be made a priority and any opportunity there is to increase investment, arising from the recovery of the economy, must be channelled into child services.”
The Unicef report also shows an increase in the number of 15-24 year olds categorised as NEETs — not in education, employment or training. Their numbers grew 1.2% in the four years studied. Poverty among older people increased by 2.5% in the same period.
A poll on public perceptions carried out in conjunction with the study placed Ireland even further down the rankings, coming 38 out of 41 in terms of stress, insecurity and satisfaction with life.
The poll recorded a marked increase in negative responses when people were asked about their experiences of stress, their overall satisfaction with life, their ability to afford sufficient food and whether they believed children here were adequately and consistently nurtured.
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