November 2012        

Government policies exacerbating child poverty

The measure of a humane and caring society is how that society treats its most vulnerable people. A country cannot claim to be serving the interests of humanity while the weak and the voiceless are being neglected, manipulated, or abused.
      Ireland has proved for decades, and under successive governments, that it cannot provide adequate protection for some of the most helpless in society: the children.
      There has been much talk in recent months of the children’s referendum. Of course any issue that illuminates the plight of disadvantaged children is admirable; however, it is quite sinister that this issue has been so silent for so long.
      At not one of the many moments when the present government was writing cheques to corrupt billionaires did they sit down and think how the billions they were committing to rescuing the wealthy might benefit a homeless child or one of the tens of thousands living in poverty every day.
      This government has collaborated with the European Union in forcing perverse levels of austerity onto an already battered people. These measures have, naturally, exacerbated the problem of child poverty. While billions were siphoned off to put a sturdy foundation under the privileged and the affluent, one in ten children are living in constant poverty. More than 300,000 children—well over 30 per cent of all children in Ireland—live in some degree of poverty.
      The larger economic situation has an immense impact on the conditions in which children live. The constant cuts to health, education and housing mean that thousands of children are simply unable to live at a standard that is acceptable according to the basic rights and charters that cover the rights of a child. As many as 15 per cent of children leave school without the Leaving Cert, and 3 per cent leave without any qualification. Another 1,000 per year do not pass from primary to secondary school—a ridiculous figure for a country in the “developed world.”
      Recent figures show that it costs an average of €770 a year per secondary school pupil and the best part of €500 for a child in primary school.
      These costs are putting working-class families up against an immovable barrier when it comes to educating their children.
      It would be bizarre to say that child poverty was not an issue in the so-called boom years: it is precisely the fact that this has been an ever-present issue for decades that underlines the neglect of children by successive governments. It also illustrates the need for a comprehensive commitment to the welfare of children, one that goes far beyond referendums but addresses the consistent struggles of young people in Ireland, one that makes children, and other vulnerable people in society, exempt from Berlin’s budgetary diktats.
      Ireland ranks as one of the highest in child poverty among the developed countries, just ahead of the United States—not an accolade by any standard.
      These statistics are a shameful indictment of this country and of how it fails children. The cost of capitalism, and all its vices, on the children of the country amounts to a severe violation of basic human rights. From the decades of rejecting health services for mothers and babies, the extortionate cost of education and a chronic lack of social housing to the criminal cover-ups of clerical child abuse, this government, and its predecessors, have a lot to answer for.
      It’s a remarkable situation that the parties that have overseen the implementation of the Troika’s austerity demands—the same demands that are putting more and more children into poverty—are now claiming to have the needs of children at heart. Fine Gael has said the children’s referendum will give children a “voice.” This voice, however, has been made more silent since Fine Gael took power, continuing the austere measures of their predecessors.
      There is no doubt that the issue of child poverty will not go away. The two-tier nature of Irish society ensures that the parasites, the executives, the bankers, the upper class, will continue to drain resources that should be used for helping to end—and end for good—the cancer that is child poverty.
      Ireland needs a permanent solution, a socialist solution, that ensures that the needs of children are tied to the needs of the state and are unbreakable.
      How many hospital beds could have been secured for sick children had the bondholder bail-out gone to the cause of children? How many children could have been taken out of homelessness if our natural resources—all €560 billion worth—had been put into the development of safe and modern social housing? How many children could have finished schooling and gone on to third level had Ireland repudiated its stagnant and odious debt?
      Austerity, it has been said, is the poor paying for the crimes of the rich. In Ireland it’s the most vulnerable paying for the excesses of the wealthy.

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