Billed as a budget to tackle child poverty, Budget 2024 failed to live up to expectations. Child poverty is a reality for one in every seven children in Ireland, about 190,000 children; a stark statistic which raises major questions for fairness and progress. The recent increased political focus on child poverty (via the establishment of a Child Poverty and Well-Being Office in the Department of the Taoiseach, the launch of its ‘Initial Programme Plan’ 2023-25, and measures in Budget 2024) is welcome and overdue. Given the slow and limited progress achieved by many previous anti-poverty strategies, it is crucial that these new anti-child poverty ambitions translate into actual measures that put more income in the pockets of poorer families and make the public services they rely on more available and more affordable.
Child poverty is essentially an issue of low income families and child poverty solutions hinge on issues such as adequate adult welfare rates, decent rates of pay and conditions for working parents, and adequate and available public services. Child benefit also remains a key route to tackling child poverty. It is of particular value to those families on the lowest incomes. Social Justice Ireland welcomes Government’s identification of key areas for policy focus to address child poverty, including income levels and the cost and availability of services. Unfortunately Budget 2024 failed to adequately prioritise and resource these areas.
Income supports and joblessness
Budget 2024 increased the qualified child payment by €4 per week, increased core social welfare rates by €12 per week, increased the Domiciliary Care Allowance, maintained the Christmas Bonus, increased the Working Family Payment threshold and contained a number of other one-off payments. The failure to increase core social welfare rates by €25 per week and Child Benefit by €50 per month means that the most vulnerable children and their families were not a priority in Budget 2024. The failure to make tax credits refundable and to introduce a Living Wage means that vulnerable households in employment have also been left behind. Low income families find themselves in the same position as last year, with Government again relying on once-off payments rather than addressing income adequacy.
Early Learning and Childcare
Budget 2024 increased the minimum subsidy to the National Childcare Scheme and increased core funding by €10.5m. We regret that it failed to invest sufficiently in ECCE to support staff professionalism, expansion of provision through the Irish language and non-contact time.
Reducing the cost of education
Budget 2024 extended child benefit to children over the age of 18 in full time secondary education, extended the free school books scheme, increased the maintenance grant threshold and contained a one-off reduction in student contribution. While these measures are welcome, Government failed to increase the capitation grants sufficiently at primary and second level, and made limited progress on reducing pupil teacher ratios and average class sizes.
Budget 2024 failed to expand the remit of Housing First to homeless families accessing emergency accommodation, nor did it introduce a limit to the amount of time a family may spend in emergency housing.
Pathways to access the services children and families need
Budget 2024 extended the Hot School Meals programme and the waiver for school transport for one year. However, in terms of increasing the availability of services, Budget 2024 did not deliver. It failed to provide adequate resources to Tusla for child protection and increased social provision for children and families, failed to fully resource the rollout of Sláintecare infrastructure to enhance access to healthcare for families, and failed to provide sufficient resources to expand the number of GP and Practice Teams to provide universal access to GP care.
Participation in arts, culture and sports opportunities
We regret that Budget 2024 did not resource the Arts Council to embed arts and cultural participation as part of the ECCE framework.
Our full analysis of Budget 2024 is available now: Budget 2024 Analysis and Critique | Social Justice Ireland