Child poverty: What the political parties say they will do for children
More than 220,000 children live in poverty, how do parties pledge to address this issue?
About one in 10 of our children (110,000) still live in consistent, grinding poverty
Ireland is currently “home” to some 3,800 homeless children and more than 220,000 live in poverty – that means in households on incomes below about €14,600 a year.
In 2019, The Irish Times No Child 2020 project explored the problems facing children in Ireland today and offered solutions that would make this a better country to be a child. This was matched by a campaign by the Children’s Rights Alliance for political change on children’s issues.
Budget 2020 contained a number of measures to alleviate elements of child poverty. For example, a pilot scheme providing free hot meals in 36 primary schools will be extended to another 35,000 children in 2020.
About one in 10 of our children (110,000) still live in consistent, grinding poverty – below the poverty line and also deprived of two or more basic items, such as a second pair of strong shoes or a winter coat.
In one of the most successful economies in the world these numbers have been described as “alarming” by such organisations as the think-tank Social Justice Ireland. In a recent briefing on the issue it said: “The figures present very serious policy implications for Ireland, not least for the success of these children within the education system, their job prospects in the future and for Ireland’s economic potential in the long-term . . . Eliminating child poverty should be a top priority for Government.”
In a week we will vote in a general election, yet the issue has featured little in the election campaign to date. The Irish Times is returning to the parties less than a year on from the 2019 local elections – when it last posed the question: “What will you do to end child poverty?” The answers have changed little.
Fianna Fáil says it will increase the universal childcare subsidy, which helps parents pay for private childcare, from €20 to €80 per week and increase the ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) scheme from 38 weeks per child year to 40 weeks.
The party says it will increase the “qualified child allowance” (paid in respect of children dependent on an adult who receives weekly social welfare) by €5 a week, will reform the welfare system for lone parents and will pay child benefit at double rate for the first month after a child’s birth.
Fianna Fáil would increase spending on free school meals by 10 per cent, reduce primary school classes to 20, and establish a national “book gifting scheme” ensuring a free book for every child four times a year from six months to five years old.
Fine Gael also promises to increase subsidies, through the National Childcare Scheme, for parents using private childcare providers, but would increase the ECCE scheme to 42 weeks per child per year. The party says it will lift 70,000 children out of poverty and “make Ireland the most socially inclusive state in the EU”.
Fine Gael would roll out the free hot school-meals programme, begin a free schoolbooks pilot and ensure “every child ... has access to participation in art, music, drama and coding by 2022”.
The Green Party would bring childcare costs down through a mix of increased subsidies for private providers and publicly provided childcare centres. Under welfare, the party wants to move towards a universal basic income.
Like other parties, it would ban junk-food sales in or near schools. It would reduce the pupil-teacher ratio, though does not say to what level. It would explore ending homework for primary school pupils and lower the voting age to 16.
The Labour Party “agrees with the goals of the No Child 2020 campaign” and will work towards them. It would restore the Combat Poverty Agency as an independent body (it was subsumed into the Department of Social Protection in 2008 as part of a round of cuts).
Labour wants a “universal public childcare system for all parents” and would begin one targeted at the poorest working parents first.
The Social Democrats says a “clear target” for the elimination of consistent child poverty will be a “make or break issue” for entering government. The party “feels strongly” that the next Taoiseach should lead a cross-departmental strategy on it. The party would “end” the use of hotels and hubs for homeless families, but sets no date.
The Social Democrats would introduce a new Early Years Payment in respect of children, from the end of paid parental leave until they start school, though the party does not say how much it would be. It will “significantly improve supports” in the National Childcare Scheme and in the long-term aim for a “national public childcare service”, piloting a scheme in areas of acute need first.
The party will “extend the school meals programme” and “increase the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance”, though it does not say by how much.
Sinn Féin says it will provide a public childcare service where workers are “properly paid” and fees reduced by two-thirds. They would introduce a back-to-school payment of €140 for every school-going child, payable in July, would bring an additional 200 schools into the Deis (“delivering equality of opportunity in schools”) scheme, and end public subsidies to private schools. It would make public transport free for all under-18s.
Sinn Féin would abolish prescription charges, provide free dental care for all under-18s and provide free contraception. The party says it will increase the main working-age social welfare rates to €245 per week, and the rates for dependent children from the current rate to €48.50 for under-12s and €82.40 for over-12s. It would increase supports for lone parents and legally oblige employers who can afford it to pay the living wage.
Solidarity-People Before Profit
The party says it will begin a transition to a low-cost, “publicly owned and funded childcare system” and immediately reduce costs to parents using private providers. It would ensure child benefit is paid to 18-year-olds still in education and increase the age the youngest child of a lone parent can be, for the parent to qualify for the One Parent Family Payment, from seven to 14.
Solidarity-People Before Profit would provide free GP care for all, reduce class sizes, with a goal of 18 per class, would open school for after-school artistic activities for children, and would make age-appropriate, factual sex education compulsory in schools. The party would reduce the voting age to 16 and hold a referendum to repeal the 127th amendment to the Constitution, which removed the automatic right to citizenship for children born in Ireland.