The Irish Times view on child poverty: getting our priorities straight

A politician who thinks deeply about child poverty is a politician who thinks deeply about the future of Ireland

A child in poverty is at higher risk of illness, obesity and premature death. Their education and mental health are and life prospects are profoundly affected. In other words, child poverty interacts closely with all major policy areas, from education and health to housing and local development. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

A child in poverty is at higher risk of illness, obesity and premature death. Their education and mental health are and life prospects are profoundly affected. In other words, child poverty interacts closely with all major policy areas, from education and health to housing and local development. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

In an election season dominated by crises in housing and health, and against a background of deep uncertainty over Brexit, it can be tempting to think of child poverty as a second-order issue.

It’s true that to eliminate the problem, or to address the structural factors that allow it to take hold, would require concerted action by national government – that there are limits, in other words, to what a local councillor or an MEP can change.

But child poverty goes to the heart of what this and every other election should be about. First, on its own terms, it is a scandal. In one of the richest countries in the world, some 105,000 children – almost one in 10 – lives in a household with a very low income and without basics such as heat or nutritious food.

If we count only those children with a single parent, one in five knows that experience of grinding poverty. None of this is the fault of a single one of those children, but they pay an obscene price for it – often for the rest of their lives.

Ensuring children have the basics of a dignified human existence is an idea that goes to the heart of our Republican ideals

Yet this is not an issue that can be boxed off on its own. A child in poverty is at higher risk of illness, obesity and premature death. Their education and mental health, and their life prospects, are profoundly affected. Child poverty therefore cuts across nearly all major policy areas, from education and health to housing and local development in ways that cannot be neatly disentangled. Not a single town, community or constituency in the country is unaffected.

Eradicating consistent poverty is possible – the international experience is replete with examples of initiatives that work – but it will require serious, coordinated thinking across the policy spectrum. That means it is the work of every politician, from the minister who decides on budgets to the MEP who votes on European social protections to the local councillor involved in designing municipal services.

Ensuring children have the basics of a dignified human existence is an idea that goes to the heart of our Republican ideals. It ought to be the first aim of any political party that has its priorities straight. No Child 2020, an Irish Times initiative in collaboration with the Children’s Rights Alliance, continues to highlight the scale and depth of the problem and to provide a forum for debate on how to address it.

In today’s editions, the major parties put forward their ideas on the subject, suggesting a sense of common purpose and a recognition of the stakes involved.

What is now required is the will to act. Every candidate standing for election next Friday should have a view on how they could play their part. A politician who thinks deeply about child poverty is a politician who thinks deeply about the future of Ireland.

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