Children in school breakfast clubs in some of the country’s poorest areas are “taking extra food home on Fridays” to “see them through the weekend”, a pre-budget forum of NGOs heard yesterday.
The forum, hosted by Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, heard children who knew food would be scarce at home over the weekends were resorting to taking food from the clubs.
Repeated calls were made for the forthcoming budget to “deal with the needs of the poorest, as a priority” and for a reorientation of planned spending, away from tax cuts and towards investment in services and the restoration of welfare rates to precrisis levels.
Some 37 organisations attended the annual forum, including Age Action Ireland, Focus Ireland, One Family, the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, the National Women's Council, Pavee Point and the Children's Rights Alliance.
Rent supplement rates
The most frequently raised issue was the change to the One Parent Family Payment (OPF) which took effect this week.
Rapporteur for the event, journalist Olivia O’Leary, brought the main concerns to the Minister. These included the need to increase rent supplement rates to address homelessness and the “inequity” of jobseekers under the age of 26 being entitled to only €100 a week, while older jobseekers get €188 a week.
Ms O’Leary said children had been among those hurt most by seven years of cuts.
“At one of the workshops it was said children going to breakfast clubs in the poorest schools are taking extra food home on Fridays, to see them through the weekend. That is awful.”
She said the organisations felt that as the poor had had so little slack to give during the crisis, they had borne the brunt and must “now be dealt with as a priority”.
She asked why the department had pressed ahead with changes to the OPF payment given that Ms Burton in April 2012 had said she would not proceed with it unless she got “a credible and bankable commitment from the Government” on the delivery of a Scandinavian level of quality, affordable childcare.
Ms Burton agreed more childcare facilities were needed but argued the change would increase incomes in many one-parent families.