In 2010, under the Fianna Fáil-led Government, over 200,000 children lived in households experiencing poverty. In fact, the number of children at risk of poverty rose by more than 35,000 in the three years 2007 – 2010. So the tic-tacking of ‘ye are worse than we were’ that goes on between the current and past.
One of the major disservices done by Fianna Fáil in 2008 was the axing of the Combat Poverty Agency. This was the only agency whose specific purpose was to report on poverty in Ireland but because the Government did not want to hear what it was saying, they shut it down.
Child poverty cannot be addressed in isolation, but must be considered within the wider issues of poverty. All households must be lifted out of poverty by Government policies and joined up, short, medium and long-term thinking. So we are not just talking about properly paid employment. We are talking about the ‘working poor’ who are weighed down by ever increasing charges and reduced wages.
Of course, poverty is not just about income, it is about having equal access to public health services, education and other essential services. Creating equal opportunities for children has to be an integral government policy implemented in cross-departmental systemic manner. So, regardless of the family make up, the children must be able to participate fully in the education system, their communities and wider society.
The cuts to the lone parent’s payment, ever increasing school going costs and transport, medical and childcare costs are just some of the elements that push families into poverty.
We have failed as a nation to address poverty and exclusion. Even when this country was awash with money, we gave to the rich and robbed the poor. The protection of the golden circle was more important than keeping community development projects, homework clubs or projects addressing social exclusion and addiction open.
We are now paying the price for the failure of successive governments to invest in families and invest in communities. Many young people who have since turned to crime could have been directed on a different pathway with the right interventions.
A rising tide does not lift all boats. This is just a blanket excuse to give tax breaks and write offs to the wealthy. We need targeted comprehensive interventions to tackle the injustice of poverty in all its forms. In this centenary year of the Rising, it would be a fitting tribute.