At least 170,000 children living in poverty
By ROBBIE MacGABHANN
179,000 new cars were bought in the 26 Counties in the first six months of this year. At the same time, at least 170,000 children are living in households suffering poverty and deprivation with up to 370,000 children under the age of 18 suffering some degree of poverty.
This at a time when the Dublin Government is sitting on literally billions of pounds of unspent tax revenue. Is this is the Ireland of the 21st century we really want to live in?
These statistics come from three interesting sets of figures released into the public domain over the last week. First was record retail sales data showing spending increases in April of over 17% compared to April 1999. The spending increases were driven by new car sales, as households with disposable income splashed out on a range of consumer goods.
Then came figures for Dublin Government tax revenue. They showed a 44% increase in the 26-County budget surplus to £2.9 billion. Finally, a new study by the Combat Poverty Agency (CPA) showed that a quarter of Irish children live in households where total family income is half the 1997 state average of £16,000.
`Child Poverty in Ireland' is a study conducted by Brian Nolan, a research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute for the CPA. It shows that 17% of children live in what Nolan describes as ``consistent poverty''.
This means that total family income is unacceptably low and children are deprived in terms of food, clothing and other basic necessities. Households suffering unemployment make up two thirds of children living in poverty, according to the figures from the CPA. The other third of children enduring poverty are in households where the adults are working on low incomes.
The study shows clearly that the increase in employment in the 26 Counties is no guarantee that poverty will be reduced as many of the new jobs are on minimum wages, leaving the households with a subsistence standard of living.
The CPA study also demonstrates how high child poverty in Ireland is compared to other states. Using data published by UNICEF, the CPA highlighted the fact that of the 23 wealthiest states in the world, the 26 Counties ranked sixth lowest. The 26 Counties has child poverty rates double the levels found in France and the Netherlands and six times that of some Scandinavian states.
So, armed with these figures the question is what is to be done? The CPA wants three targets to be met as part of an overall strategy to abolish child poverty by 2020. They want the level of children's allowance increased to £25 per week for every child in a family. On top of this, there should be an extra payment of £15 per child per week for families on low incomes or dependant on social welfare payments. They want to remove children from what they term consistent poverty by 2007. Action on education, health and housing are other areas highlighted by the CPA.
The CPA targets seem timid in the light of the other data also released this week. They estimate that the increase in child benefit will cost the exchequer £500 million. Given the amount of funds swilling through government coffers, these increases could be delivered now as well as the much needed investment in schools, in health services and housing that could lift hundreds of thousands of children, their families and communities out of poverty. There can be no dithering any longer. Spend the money and share the wealth now.