New proposals to tackle child poverty and aid lone parents are being advanced as a matter of urgency ahead of the upcoming Budget, the Minister for Social Affairs Seamus Brennan said today.
Mr Brennan said reforms were being made in key areas as part of ongoing discussions on the next Budget and as part of a broader agenda of change in the social policy area.
“Considerable progress had now been made on bringing forward new proposals specifically targeted at tackling the totally unacceptable levels of child poverty, on removing the obstacles to employment, training and education for some 86,000 lone parents,” the minister said.
At the first of a series of nationwide public consultations to develop Ireland’s next National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion, Mr Brennan said the plan would establish the priorities to be addressed up to 2008.
Around 150 people, including a range of community and voluntary groups and people affected by poverty, attended the first public consultation meeting in Dublin to establish Ireland’s action plan.
Mr Brennan said: “The real experts on the nature, causes and reality of poverty in Ireland are the people actually experiencing poverty and those who work with and support them. These are the people we must listen to and the consultation process is primarily for them.”
Professor John Monaghan, vice-president of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, said he welcomed the consideration the minister was giving to tackling the problem and the public consultations.
However, Professor Monaghan said it was not clear to the society that the measures the minister was working on would be ready in advance of the Budget.
Mr Brennan said between 2001 and 2005 the lowest social welfare rates increased by 40%, while the Consumer Price Index during that time rose by just over 13%.
He said there had been a corresponding drop in the proportion of people experiencing material deprivation or consistent poverty.
On the levels of consistent poverty falling, Professor Monaghan said: “The fact is there are still one in nine people, out of a population of four million, that is 11% or around 444,000 people and 150,000 children still living in poverty.
“In this marvellous economic boom, with incredible exchequer figures, we still have a number in great need.
“These are the people to whom we are making around 300,000 visits each year.”
Professor Monaghan said the ways the minister could help tackle the problem would be to increase the child dependent allowance, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and ensure children’s schoolbooks are provided free-of-charge to low-income families.
Mr Brennan said he was working to find solutions to ensure increased support for the most vulnerable and neglected in the society, as well as ensuring reforms to lower the need for welfare supports.