Child poverty rates have increased in five countries which are cutting their budget spending, including Ireland, a study has shown.
Rates of poverty among older people and lower income workers are also increasing in some states, according to the study by Caritas, a network of Catholic charities.
The study, covering Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, said a “man-made disaster” had been created and that austerity policies were not working.
Speaking at a briefing in Dublin, Jorge Nuño Mayer, secretary general of Caritas, said: “It is about political choices, and we strongly believe there are other choices.”
Spain has the highest child poverty rate at 27.2 per cent, with Italy at 24.7 per cent, Greece at 23.7 per cent, Portugal at 22.4 per cent and Ireland at 19.7 per cent. The EU average is 20.5 per cent.
The youth unemployment EU average is 22.5 per cent – Greece is well above this at 55.4 per cent, followed by Spain at 52.9 per cent, Italy at 35.3 per cent, Portugal at 36.4 per cent and Ireland at 30.7 per cent.
Emigration had reduced the unemployment rate among young Irish people, said Seán Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland, an associate partner of Caritas.
He also said more recent figures had shown a worsening situation in Ireland for poverty rates, especially among low income workers.
These household were having to make difficult choices “between food and fuel in difficult winters” and with “parents going hungry” to feed their children and getting them educated, he added.
Ireland and Cyprus were the only European countries last year for which the greatest impact of financial distress was seen among those with lower incomes, the study said.
Nessa Childers, Labour MEP, said she was “disturbed” by some of the measures the Government has introduced and would be “challenging the Irish Labour Party to defend their values before the Irish people and not to be drawn into this type of agenda”.
“Social democrats or centre-left parties have absolutely no business presiding over these kinds of policies. It destroys their legitimacy and the legitimacy of Government,” she added.
Shades of the Green Party
Déirdre de Búrca, social policy officer at Caritas and former Green Party senator, said there was “willingness to go along with the logic of austerity” in the Labour Party which was similar to the “trajectory that the Green Party followed in imposing policies that we were uncomfortable with”.
“I am watching with some dismay the role that the Labour Party is playing in Government at the moment, because I see such clear parallels between what happened to the Green Party and is now happening to the Labour Party,” she said.