Investment in services key to ending child poverty, says analyst

Politicians ‘queasy’ about addressing problem as it requires subsidising low-income families


Politicians were “queasy” about tackling child poverty because it would involve improving the living standards of their parents, a senior analyst with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has said.

Prof Richard Layte, an expert in the impact of disadvantage on children, said all politicians “will look at the position of children in poverty and say that it’s unacceptable” and most knew investment in their early years was most effective to tackle children’s poverty.

“Often what we see in . . . the policy stance politicians take is a queasiness about trying to improve the living standards of low-income households because of a fear that it is going to diminish their attachment to the labour force; that it is going to diminish their incentive to work and contribute to the economy.”

If political leaders were intent on improving the basic living standards of the poorest parents, to improve the basic living standards of their children, “they can’t help but have some kind of redistribution of resources to low-income communities and low-income households, and that’s often the nub of the political problem,” he said.

Prof Layte was speaking at a conference in Dublin on Friday, hosted by the lone-parents support group Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids), on poverty in these households.

Louise Bayliss, founding member of Spark, said lone parents were “in crisis”. She said changes to welfare entitlements and activation policies aimed at making lone parents take up employment, introduced since 2012, had contributed to a 26 per cent poverty rate among lone-parent households this year.

“Children in lone-parent families are now over three times more likely to live in poverty than children in two-parent families.”

Prof Layte said in some areas the Government was “doing more”, such as increased investment in early childcare services and increases in welfare payments to the poorest children in last month’s budget.

“But we’re still not seeing investment in community services and the early environment. A lot of our investment is still happening in the teenage and higher education years which is assuming they have had the environment early on that allows them to make use of those funds.”

Stressing the importance of investment in improving the early lives of disadvantaged children in poverty, he said they not only suffered worse health and education outcomes than their affluent peers, but their parents were more stressed and so they often experienced less emotional warmth and more anxiety in the home.