Child poverty is a “blight” that is preventing children from meeting their full potential and that drains families of spirit and hope, a conference has been told.
One in 10 children are growing up in consistent poverty in Ireland, meaning they are going to school hungry, with no warm coat in winter and not having a square meal every second day, the Dublin event coordinated by the Children's Rights Alliance was told.
Over 100 delegates from the NGO and public and private sectors were asked to join forces to successfully meet the Government’s target of eliminating consistent poverty by 2020.
Chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward, said child poverty was a "blight" that was ultimately holding the country back.
“We know from other countries that the answer to child poverty is better services for children and families.
“The Government has worked hard to address child poverty through income supplements but this is simply not enough. We need a government-wide approach and steps are already underway with the development of a practical action plan. We need to move swiftly to finalise this plan so all actors can play their part.”
Speaking at the event, Minister for Children Dr Katherine Zappone said no child in the country should go hungry, live without a roof over their head or be locked up in an adult prison.
“As Minister, I am committed to meet this challenge by working with young people, parents, front-line agencies and colleagues in Government.”
Also speaking at the conference, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said dealing with child poverty was about "much more than income supports and welfare payments, though these play an important role and will continue to do so".
“It’s increasingly about supporting jobless families to break into the workforce and improving access to services like health, childcare, education and of course decent housing. That’s why is requires a cross-government and whole of society approach.”
Chief executive of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, said that people voting in the general election this year had said “thanks, but no thanks” to tax cuts and had voted for better services.
Prof Hugh Frazer, adjunct professor at Maynooth University and expert in social inclusion policy, said the countries considered at low-risk in terms of poverty and social exclusion nearly all had “fairly universal” policies for all children.
Prof Frazer said he was struck by the pattern of votes on the British referendum that a “very significant” proportion of those who had voted to leave the EU came from working class communities left behind by austerity.
“They are disillusioned with the establishment. Europe is a symbol of the establishment. Europe has not been social enough and Europe got blamed for lots of other problems that were also imposed by the national government.”
“If Europe moves forward, it has to become more social, more positive, more visionary.”
The conference was supported by the Eurochild network and the Department of Children.
Literary editor of The Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole, also addressed the event, which featured a panel of young people from Future Voices Ireland and the National Youth Council of Ireland.