Charity demands funding for education of poorest children

A database of primary school pupils must be set up to track up to 1,000 young people who fail to progress to secondary school, a children’s charity demanded today.

A database of primary school pupils must be set up to track up to 1,000 young people who fail to progress to secondary school, a children’s charity demanded today.

In Barnardo’s Budget 2007 recommendations launched to mark the United Nations Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the charity called for action as it highlighted one in three children in disadvantaged areas cannot read or write to appropriate standards.

Fergus Finlay, Barnardo’s chief executive, said there are high rates of absenteeism but there is no database to follow where up to 1,000 children who fall out of the system between primary school and secondary school end up.

“Poverty blights the lives of over 100,000 children in Ireland – and the number of children at risk of poverty whose parents are on low pay for example is much greater,” Mr Finlay said.

“We looked at the key elements that make the difference to the quality of children’s lives – school, medical attention, parents’ income and somewhere to play. We developed the Children’s Budget prioritising these issues because through our work with children and their families we know these are the areas that have the greatest impact on children’s lives.”

The charity’s recommendations for the 2007 Budget include the introduction of a new targeted child income support, increasing fuel allowance rates and a national school book rental scheme.

Mr Finlay said the charity had also found the need for quality free early childhood education and care places for all children in the year prior to joining primary schools.

Other matters included the extension of a full Medical Card coverage to all families whose total income is taxed at 20% and increased investment by local authorities in play and recreational facilities for children.

Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy at the charity, said poverty for these children means going hungry without at least one substantial meal in the last 24 hours and it often means feeling the cold as the parents cannot afford to turn on the heating.

“Minister for Social and Family Affairs Seamus Brennan is on the record as saying he wants to end child poverty and it is also Government policy.

“Yet families are getting caught in official poverty traps, for example, the Government initially promised 200,000 Medical Cards to families in need – many of whom are on low pay – but then substituted this with the introduction of GP-only Medical Cards leaving families still paying the cost of medicines,” Ms Gibbons said.

“Children also need to play and what is currently being provided is woefully inadequate, for example, Limerick County Council has one playground to 121,471 children – that’s going to be a very crowded playground.”

The Combat Poverty Agency echoed this call, saying that Minister for Finance Brian Cowen has the means to virtually eradicate child poverty.

The agency is appearing before the Oireachtas Committee on Social Affairs this afternoon to outline measures it wants introduced in the budget.

It says 9% of Irish children are living in consistent poverty and 20% are at risk of poverty, one of the highest rates in the developed world.

The CPA is calling for increases in social welfare payments and supplements to help tackle child poverty, as well as the introduction of a school dinners scheme and a fund to promote healthy eating in disadvantaged areas.

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