The Irish Times view on child poverty: We must do better than this

If a more egalitarian housing system is to be introduced, the Government will have to modify its dependence on private developers

If a more egalitarian housing system is to be introduced, the Government will have to modify its dependence on private developers. But there is little to suggest it is ready to make that transition. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

If a more egalitarian housing system is to be introduced, the Government will have to modify its dependence on private developers. But there is little to suggest it is ready to make that transition. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

 

A shortage of housing has become a rental crisis that is forcing families to choose between paying the rent and providing food for their children, according to Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward. Her comments echoed recent warnings from the St Vincent de Paul about the effects rising rents are having on homelessness and the health, education and welfare of children. They also reflect some of the insights emerging through No Child 2020, an Irish Times series on child poverty.

Something dramatic needs to be done to improve the situation of families experiencing housing difficulties. Qualifying income limits for social housing, along with subsidised purchase schemes for affordable homes, perpetuate rather than reduce divisions between the unemployed and low- and middle-income groups. Within the private rental market, income-linked housing assistance payments (Hap) have failed to keep pace with rent increases, leaving families and children in consistent poverty.

Additional housing is the obvious answer. But what kind and how should it be allocated? Chief executive of the Housing Agency John O’Connor told this week’s housing conference that Ireland is one of the few European countries where income limits are set for social housing. As an alternative, he suggested the development of public housing projects that would be open to a much wider cohort of people. Problems had arisen in the past, he said, because social housing estates had been poorly designed, lacked community and transport facilities and were only accessible to very low-income tenants. That should change.

Many of the children affected do not appear in child poverty statistics

If a more egalitarian housing system is to be introduced, the Government will have to modify its dependence on private developers. But there is little to suggest it is ready to make that transition.

The poverty trap that closes on these families is not only the responsibility of Government. Low wages and discredited zero-hours contracts, have left some workers only marginally better off than if they were unemployed. The statutory national minimum wage of €9.55 falls short of what a living wage should be, at €11.90, to achieve an acceptable standard of living. The voluntary adoption of a living wage by some employers is, therefore, a welcome development.

Ward’s presentation to the housing conference, drawing attention to the effects that homelessness and poverty are having on the lives of children, should act as a wake-up call. Many of the children affected do not appear in child poverty statistics. Conditions in temporary accommodation, long-distance travel to school, inadequate meals and financial stress generate pressures that impact their long-term development. Disproportionate levels of illness, obesity and social alienation are part of it all. As a society, we must do better than this.

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