The Irish Times view on child poverty: hidden in plain sight

One in 10 children in Ireland lives in consistent poverty – a problem we know how to fix

Living in poverty negatively affects nearly all aspects of a child’s life. It increases their risk of illness and premature death. They are at higher risk of obesity and more likely to suffer chronic health conditions. They are far more likely than to live in bad housing, which affects their physical and mental health and their performance at school. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Living in poverty negatively affects nearly all aspects of a child’s life. It increases their risk of illness and premature death. They are at higher risk of obesity and more likely to suffer chronic health conditions. They are far more likely than to live in bad housing, which affects their physical and mental health and their performance at school. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

“People don’t talk about how much they’re struggling because of the shame... There are so many disadvantaged children in this country, and it’s hidden.”

The words of Orla Corrigan, a single mother and full-time nurse from rural Co Offaly, whose weekly strain to make ends meet she outlines in today’s newspaper, reflects a reality that sits uncomfortably with the dominant portrayal of Irish society today. The constant stress she describes – the lying awake at night worrying about her daughters, the dread that accompanies a milestone such as Christmas or a birthday – will be familiar to many people across the State. As Corrigan says, their suffering is hidden. But it’s hidden in plain sight.

We know that about 105,000 children in Ireland – almost one in 10 – live in consistent poverty. Every one of those children lives in a household with a very low income and without basics such as heat or nutritious food. If we count only those children living with a single parent, one in five knows that experience of grinding poverty. None of this is their fault. It is purely a function of how much money a parent earns or where they happen to live.

Poverty negatively affects nearly all aspects of a child’s life. It increases their risk of illness and premature death. They are at higher risk of obesity and far more likely to live in bad housing, which affects their physical and mental health and their performance at school. They forgo events that most children take for granted – they miss school trips, or don’t go on family holidays. Often, child poverty determines the course of an individual’s entire life.

No Child 2020, a new series that begins today in The Irish Times, sets out to chronicle the problem in all its complexity and to offer ideas on how to eliminate it. The good news is that we know how to fix this. The international evidence is replete with examples of initiatives that work. Here in Ireland, income supports already significantly reduce the at-risk-of-poverty rate. Targeted, well-resourced services make a big difference. We know this because during the recession, many of them were cut, and that contributed to a big rise in the poverty rate. But this is not the responsibility of Government alone. Employers have a big role to play, through the quality of jobs they provide and the workplace flexibility they offer. In different ways, schools and of course families themselves must also play their part. The modern Irish State confronts many serious and seemingly intractable problems. Ensuring children have the basics of a dignified human existence is as urgent as any – it goes to the heart of our republican ideals – but it is also an attainable goal. What it requires, above all, is political will and a sense of common purpose.

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