UN condemns Ireland for child poverty rates

A UN study on the welfare of children in the world’s rich countries has given Ireland a damning report card on child poverty and the healthy eating habits of kids.

The league table of children’s well-being among 24 OECD countries finds Ireland would be by far the worst nation when it comes child poverty rates without welfare and government intervention.

Relying on market forces alone without government benefits, households here would have the worst rate of child poverty among the world’s rich nations.

While most countries would have child poverty rates of around 10% to 15% without government intervention and aid, Ireland’s rate would shoot up to 34%, the UNICEF study found.

Only the UK (27%) and Hungary (29%) would come close to Ireland’s position on the bottom of the table on child poverty rates.

The report shows that intervention by governments is needed drastically to cut child poverty rates and that Ireland’s rate would be over three times greater without state taxes and benefits.

Before benefits from social welfare payments and the use of taxes, child poverty rates in Ireland in fact would be three times greater than countries like Denmark and the Netherlands.

The UNICEF report also looked at the eating habits of children asking 11, 13 and 15-year-old students how often they ate fruit and vegetables.

Answers were converted into a “healthy eating score” between 0 and 14 according to the amounts eaten by children. Irish children received an average score of 10 for healthy eating habits.

But the gap between that average healthy eating score and Irish children who failed to reach healthy eating levels was the fourth worst among OECD countries.

There was nearly a 47% gap in the score between the normal Irish healthy eating child and a child who had below median healthy eating levels.

Only Iceland, Finland and Hungary were ranked less than Ireland when it came to the gap between normal healthy eating levels and those of disadvantaged children.

Hugh Frazer, a professor at NUI Maynooth and advisor to UNICEF Ireland on the report said: “This shows that we need to do more about education and on food and eating. But also with child poverty, if we start to cut back on income support for children we will do away with the progress we have made in recent years.”

The UNICEF research, called Report Card 9: The Children Left Behind, ranks for the first time 24 OECD countries in terms of equality in health, education and material wellbeing for children.

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