The Irish Times view on child poverty in 2024: so much still to be done

Compared to a year ago, some 30,000 more children are now living in households experiencing poverty

The reality of child poverty in Ireland is not just growing up in a household that is struggling to make ends meet. It means going to bed hungry, not having adequate clothing, missing out on education and social activities. Grinding poverty thwarts children’s potential and puts them on a path where they are more likely to face hardship. Deprivation distorts childhood – with consequences that can last a lifetime.

Yet in Ireland, a rich society with more resources than it has ever had before, more than a quarter of a million children are experiencing this kind of deprivation. Even more disturbing is the fact that the number of children affected is on the rise. Compared to a year ago, some 30,000 more children are now living in households where essentials such as replacing a pair of shoes are not affordable. Rising living costs and housing insecurity are taking their toll.

This comes at a time when there has been a stronger political focus than before on tackling these issues. A year and a half ago, then taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the establishment of a child poverty and wellbeing office in his department. His vision, he told the Dáil, was to make Ireland “the best country in which to be a child”..

There have been positive developments since, including the expansion of the school meals programme, and extension of the free schoolbooks scheme to second-level. These are welcome steps and, in time, should lay more solid foundations to help young people reach their potential.


But far more needs to be done. The Government must raise targeted social protection payments to reflect the real cost of living. Progressing plans for a second tier of child benefit payments aimed at the most vulnerable families is key. Research finds it is a better route to lifting children out of poverty.

Housing insecurity remains a blight on the lives of too many children. Homelessness creates stress for all members of the household and having a place to call home is fundamental to ensuring children have access to education, health and other supports. The ability of children to grow and learn is also hampered by grotesquely unequal access to healthcare and therapy, with long waiting lists for physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, mental health and disability services. Early intervention is key. Research shows that even a one-off experience of poverty is enough to affect a child’s development.

More than a century ago the first Dáil declared in its democratic programme that the first duty of the government was “to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the children”. That pledge was not fulfilled. Today, there are more resources and no excuses. Making Ireland the best country in which to be a child must become the national priority.