The Government will develop an action plan to support a new EU Child Guarantee to ensure that every child has access to healthcare, education, childcare, adequate nutrition and decent housing.
At a conference hosted by the Children’s Rights Alliance today, Junior Minister Joe O’Brien, whose department is involved in social inclusion, said the EU initiative would “sharpen” the Government's focus on child poverty.
The EU guarantee will require member states to provide free and effective access to early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities, at least one healthy meal each school day, healthcare, as well as effective access to healthy nutrition and adequate housing.
Once the final text of the new EU-wide pledge is approved by July, EU members will develop an action plan to begin implementing the guarantee from 2022 onwards. The initiative will be supported by €5.9bn under the European Social Fund Plus.
While child poverty rates in Ireland fell by 4% between 2013 and 2018, levels rose in 2019 to 8.1% of children living in consistent poverty and remain above the EU average, Minister O’Brien said.
“Clearly this isn’t good enough. The Government is acutely aware that a significant amount of improvement has yet to be made and we must redouble and refocus our efforts if we are to reduce child poverty further, particularly in light of the repercussions of the pandemic,” Mr O’Brien said, adding that the number of children in homelessness and a new report on the living conditions of Traveller children this week provided evidence that children were being failed.
The Government, Mr O’Brien said, is already taking steps to prepare for the EU Child Guarantee and the Department of Children is establishing an ‘EU and international unit’ to coordinate actions.
“The EU Child Guarantee provides Ireland with a real opportunity to refocus and, if necessary, re-evaluate our approach in tackling child poverty and promoting children’s wellbeing,” Mr O’Brien said.
While the EU initiative is receiving strong support across member states, some countries are lobbying for changes to “water down” the proposal, Jana Hainsworth from Eurochild warned.
“One of the key ambitions of this initiative is to guarantee free and effective access to early childhood education and care, education, and healthcare and this is under threat right now,” Ms Hainsworth said.
“We know that a number of member states are talking about them being affordable instead of free and effective and for us that’s undermining the very essence of the guarantee,” she added.
Vice-chair of the Children’s Rights Alliance Ciarin de Buis said urgent action was needed on child poverty rates: “We cannot continue the way things are either within Ireland or across Europe. It is shameful how many children are living in poverty and we need to address that now."