The Irish Times view on child poverty: giving children a chance in life
It would cost a relatively small amount to make primary school education truly free
Statistics show that consistent childhood poverty is most pronounced among single-parent and Traveller families. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Using the upcoming budget to end child poverty, as Barnardos suggests, may be too big a creative leap for the Government. But it would cost a relatively small amount to make primary school education truly free by supplying books and materials at no cost to children – as is the case in Northern Ireland. Such an initiative could be treated as payment on account towards a more egalitarian society.
The children’s charity Barnardos has become an outspoken and effective advocate for the rights of disadvantaged children and their families. Outgoing chief executive Fergus Finlay led that charge. His anger at the lack of progress in improving conditions for an estimated 138,000 children living in consistent poverty has been palpable, particularly as that figure has nearly doubled during the past decade. A figure of 3,000 homeless children caused him to urge the Government to divert anticipated social welfare increases in this year’s budget towards necessary child services.
The treatment of marginalised children and women during the early decades of the State was truly horrific, while a submissive public turned a blind eye to cruel behaviour. Echoes of those divisions remain, and the charity expressed concern that some groups of children are “substantially and systematically disadvantaged relative to others”.
The charity encourages children to reach their potential by controlling their emotions and learning how to make friends
In that regard, statistics show that consistent childhood poverty is most pronounced among single-parent and Traveller families. Addressing those and related discriminations will require investment in early-years services at community level, involving speech and language assistance, mental health services and counselling.
Barnardos’ philosophy holds that children have a right to security, stability, nourishment and shelter. Within that template, they should have “the opportunity to learn and have fun” while enjoying the love and respect of caring individuals. The charity encourages children to reach their potential by controlling their emotions and learning how to make friends. The whole process is grounded in what the charity says involves showing children proper respect.
It is not just about the needs of children. Eighty-five per cent of Barnardos’ interventions concern family and social relationships, followed by various health issues within families, the participation and behaviour of children and educational problems. Childhood behaviour and bereavement issues are dealt with through counselling.
To a child, Fergus Finlay says, poverty is like being punished for a crime you did not commit. And more than 138,000 children are being punished by consistent poverty today. That is a powerful and uncomfortable claim when placed in the context of alternative pre-Budget demands being made on Government.