The Government has been criticised for setting 2020 as a target for reducing child poverty. It is unlikely to be met.
The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, published by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in 2014, included a target to reduce by two-thirds the number of children in consistent poverty by 2020. That target means lifting 95,000 children out of poverty.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has said that 2015 did see the first reduction since 2008 in the number of children affected.
“Compared to 2014, in 2015 there was a 13,000 decrease, or approximately 9% in the number of children in consistent poverty,” said Ms Doherty. “This downward trend continued in 2016.”
She said the full impact of the economic recovery “is not yet reflected in these figures” and that the unemployment rate had fallen rapidly — 6.1% in January, 2018 compared to 15% in 2012.
“As unemployment is strongly linked to poverty, we can expect further decreases in poverty, as the figures for 2017 and 2018 become available,” she said.
However, she then pointed out the task at hand.
“To give some perspective, and a sense of the size of the challenge Ireland faces in trying to achieve the child-poverty target: At the height of the economic boom, in 2008, when the consistent poverty rate for children was its lowest, there were 68,000 children in consistent poverty.
“So, in order to meet the target, Ireland will have to be more than twice as effective as our best-ever performance to date.”
The minister said social transfers (State benefits) play a crucial role in alleviating poverty and inequality and that “Ireland is among the best in the EU for reducing poverty through social transfers”.
“In 2016, social transfers reduced the at-risk-of-poverty rate for children from 40.5% to 18.9%, a poverty-reduction effect of 53.3%,” said Ms Doherty.
“However, reducing child poverty is not just about income supports and welfare. Rather, it is also about supporting parents to make the transition into employment and about assisting families through the provision of quality affordable services, in areas such as education, health, and childcare.”
Fianna Fail’s social protection spokesman, Willie O’Dea, said it was the Government which set the two-thirds reduction target in 2014, yet it seemed to be saying it could not reach it, even though the target was definitive and was in the public domain.
Even though the economy is recovering, Mr O’Dea said, the country is still slipping back in terms of child poverty.
“The number of children in consistent poverty is about twice the OECD average,” he said. “The Government is going to have to target the resources more effectively.”
In relation to more people at work, he said that people in low-paid employment could still fall into the poverty bracket.
Mr O’Dea said that lone parents should be helped by reversing cuts introduced by then-Social Protection Minister, Joan Burton.
The cuts include requiring lone parents on welfare to seek employment or training as soon as their youngest child reaches seven years of age.
Mr O’Dea also said that families with a member who has disabilities encounter more expenses. He suggested there should be a disability payment top-up for those families.
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