Child poverty: Are we failing a future generation?

No Child 2020: More than 300,000 children on the island of Ireland live in poverty

Photograph: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

Photograph: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

 

More than 300,000 children on the island of Ireland are living below the poverty line.

New figures published this week show that child poverty rates in Northern Ireland are on par with official estimates for the Republic, with children in both jurisdictions at greater risk of experiencing poverty than any other age group or the general population.

Official estimates published by the Department for Communities show that 19 per cent of all children in Northern Ireland (aged up to 16 and including dependent children aged 16-19) were living below the poverty line in 2017-18 – that is, in households where the income is less than 60 per cent of the UK average.

In Northern Ireland 85,000 children live in poverty. In the Republic of Ireland the figure is 220,000

In the Republic, official estimates indicate that 18.4 per cent of all children (aged 0-17 years) were living in households with an income below 60 per cent of the national average in 2017.

In real terms these rates put the number of children living in poverty at 85,000 in Northern Ireland and 220,000 in the Republic of Ireland.

In Northern Ireland and the UK, these children are defined by government as living in relative poverty before housing costs. In the Republic they are defined by government as at risk of poverty.

Throughout today’s coverage we refer to any child living in a household below 60 per cent of the average income as living in poverty.

The latest data for Northern Ireland further reveals a 3 per cent fall in child poverty since 2016-17 (22 per cent), bringing the rate to its lowest on record since 2002-03.

The new record low of 19 per cent for Northern Ireland compares favourably with the latest UK child poverty rate, which increased to 22 per cent in 2017-18.

The gains made in Northern Ireland in 2017-18 could be undone in 2020, when welfare mitigation measures and funding to protect low-income households run out.

More long-term estimates also reveal that Northern Ireland has a slightly higher child poverty rate compared to the rest of the UK.

Average child poverty rates between 2015-16 and 2017-18 show that 21 per cent of all children in Northern Ireland were living in poverty, compared with 20 per cent in England, Scotland and Wales.

Comparison with European poverty indicators shows the Republic of Ireland and the UK have a higher proportion of children living in poverty or severe deprivation.

In 2017 an estimated 85,000 children in the Republic and close to 800,000 across the UK lived in homes that could not afford at least four out of nine basic items

Eurostat figures for 2017 show child poverty and social-exclusion rates were above the EU average (24.9 per cent) in the Republic of Ireland (25.2 per cent) and in the UK (27.4 per cent).

The EU poverty indicator not only looks at those living below income thresholds but also those living in low work households, and those unable to afford basic items such as home heating.

Eurostat data estimates that 313,000 – one in four – children in the Republic of Ireland were living in poverty or experiencing severe deprivation in 2017.

This follows a gradual decline in Irish children experiencing poverty and social exclusion during the recession, when numbers exceeded 400,000 from 2010 onwards.

EU data on severe material deprivation shows that in 2017 an estimated 85,000 children in the Republic of Ireland and close to 800,000 children across the UK lived in homes that could not afford at least four out of nine basic items, such as eating meat or fish every second day or paying mortgage bills.

While Eurostat figures are not available for Northern Ireland, UK government data shows that Northern Ireland had the highest child poverty rate in the UK in 2016.

A HMRC analysis, published in December, found that 21.3 per cent of all children in Northern Ireland were living below the poverty line in 2016 – this was higher than the UK average (17.3 per cent) and higher than England (17 per cent), Scotland (16.7 per cent) and Wales (20.5 per cent). A more regional breakdown found northeast England had the highest child poverty rate, at 22.2 per cent, in 2016.

In Northern Ireland, four of the top 10 most deprived areas were in north Belfast; in the Republic, five of the top 10 were in Limerick city

Deprivation data north and south of the Border found Belfast and Limerick cities rank among the most-deprived areas.

Official data on deprivation levels in the Republic (2016) and Northern Ireland (2017) are not directly comparable, but taken separately they highlight where deprivation is greatest on the island.

Deprivation levels are based on a range of indicators, such as levels of unemployment, educational attainment, uptake of social housing, and household size.

In Northern Ireland, four of the top 10 most deprived small geographic areas were located in north Belfast; in the Republic, five out of the top 10 small areas of deprivation were located in Limerick city.

High levels of deprivation were also evident in Derry, west Belfast, Waterford city and Co Donegal.

BREAKING POINTS

Belfast
Some parts of north Belfast had child poverty rates almost three times the average for Northern Ireland (21.3 per cent) in 2016, according to UK government data on children living in low-income families.

A detailed geographical breakdown for Northern Ireland found that pockets of north Belfast (super output areas) had some of the highest child poverty rates across the jurisdiction, such as Ardoyne 3 (60.9 per cent) and Waterworks 1 (59.4 per cent).

The top 20 super output areas in north Belfast had child poverty rates that were twice the Northern Irish average – all were above 43 per cent.

Limerick city
Pockets of Limerick city are ranked among the most deprived areas in the Republic of Ireland, according to the 2016 Pobal deprivation index. The John’s A area was ranked as “extremely disadvantaged” and the most deprived area in the entire country.

The deprivation index shows that the electoral division, which had a population of 759 in 2016, had unemployment rates of 69 per cent among men and 40 per cent among women. In addition to a high proportion of lone parents (77 per cent), almost half of the population had a primary education only and just 2 per cent had a third-level education.

GOVERNMENT PLEDGES FALL SHORT

Pledges made by respective governments north and south to tackle child poverty are falling behind or unlikely to be realised.

The Irish Government has committed to reducing the number of children living in consistent poverty (combination of relative poverty and material deprivation) to 37,000 by 2020.

Central Statistics Office figures for 2017 suggested that 105,000 children were still living in consistent poverty in the Republic. To meet 2020 targets, Government policy must deliver on lifting a further 70,000 children out of consistent poverty by next year.

The Department of Social Protection said consistent poverty rates for children fell by 2 per cent in 2017 and that the full benefit of the growing economy and recent social welfare increases have yet to be seen.

A spokesperson for the department said: “Increased supports, along with increasing employment rates, suggest that we can expect further decreases in the poverty rates once the 2018 figures become available.

“However, the challenge Ireland faces in trying to achieve the child poverty target needs some perspective: at the height of the economic boom in 2008, when the consistent poverty rate for children was at its lowest, there were 68,000 children in consistent poverty.

“So, in order to meet the target, Ireland will have to be more than twice as effective as our best-ever performance to date.”

In Northern Ireland the continued absence of a functioning Assembly and the potential for economic Brexit shocks could compound the challenges faced by the 85,000 children already living in poverty.

Several key policies, strategies, and decisions have been stalled or left in limbo since the Stormont administration collapsed 823 days ago.

Maresa Fagan is a reporter with the Detail, the Belfast investigative-journalism outlet, which collaborated with The Irish Times on this element of the No Child project

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