If Ireland is to be "the best country in Europe to be a child", the new Child Poverty Unit needs to deliver real strategic action

Posted on Monday, 4 September 2023
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Child poverty does not exist in a vacuum. Children live in families, households, and societies. They are impacted by the physical environment in which they live. While the establishment of a Child Poverty and Well-being Programme Office in the Department of the Taoiseach was a key step towards delivering on the Taoiseach’s commitment "to make Ireland the best country in Europe to be a child", real strategic action is required to deliver and make meaningful progress on reducing child poverty and improving children’s well-being. 


At the National Economic Dialogue held in Dublin Castle in June 2023, both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance acknowledged that, even though it hadn’t been the Government’s intention, there were vulnerable populations who slipped further behind during the past year, and this would have to be rectified. Continuing with policies that push vulnerable people further into poverty is unacceptable.

Budget 2024 may contain another series of temporary and once-off measures. This approach carries the same weaknesses as it did last year. One-off measures are welcome when they come but they are gone when they are gone. Income adequacy cannot be resolved through one-off measures. Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in any society. Consequently, the issue of child poverty deserves particular attention. The current surplus of resources available to the Government represents a major opportunity to once and for all address this persistent and damaging problem. 


National Social Monitor: An End to Child Poverty?

This edition of National Social Monitor: An End to Child Poverty launched today examines ten dimensions across society and makes policy proposals that would deliver real progress on eradicating child poverty. 

National Social Monitor: An End to Child Poverty? – main findings:


The gap between the performance of students in disadvantaged areas and their peers is evident in results on education and cognitive development. The Growing up in Ireland survey found significant differences in reading test scores by socio-economic background and a widening of this socio-economic gap in reading test scores in primary school, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds who were early high performers being outperformed by children from more advantaged backgrounds by 9 years of age.

Ireland currently has a pupil teacher ratio at primary level of 15.0 (the EU average is 13.6) and an average class size of 25 (the EU average is 20). The policy focus must be on keeping average class sizes low, reducing the pupil teacher ratio further and ensuring all DEIS Band 1 and 2 schools have sufficient resources to implement strategies to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for pupils.

Government must commit to reducing class sizes and pupil teacher ratios at primary and post primary level by 1 point per annum to 2030.


Budget 2023 extended the provision of free GP care to children under 8. This was a welcome initiative, however, more needs to be done to ensure that adequate numbers of GPs are available to meet demand, particularly in rural areas. In July 2023 there were 85,622 children waiting for outpatient care. Of these, more than 1 in 5 were waiting for 12 months or more, and more than 1 in 10 were waiting more than 18 months.

Delays in assessments of need for children with disabilities is a further area of concern. The Ombudsman for Children’s Office highlighted the adverse effects that delays in obtaining assessments and corresponding services are having on children’s health and development. It reports that in June 2022, some 2,531 assessments were outstanding, while over 17,000 children in Ireland were awaiting a first contact from a Child Disability Network Team at the end of May 2022.1

Government must invest in the provision of increased GP services to support the commitment to free GP care for children under 8 announced in Budget 2023 and increase resources for assessments of children with disabilities.

Rural Ireland

The amount of money required to achieve the Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL) ranges from an estimated amount of €142 per week higher for rural couples with younger children (pre-school and primary age), to €197 per week for rural couples with children of primary and second-level school age, than for their urban counterparts according to the latest MESL figures from the Vincentian MESL Research Centre. Higher costs in 2022 related to household energy, transport and fuel (as was the case in 2020 and 2021), however these costs increased significantly between 2021 and 2022.

Government must Invest in an integrated, accessible and flexible rural transport network, ensure that development initiatives resource areas which are further from the major urban areas and improve and expand public services in remote and rural areas.


The National Minimum Wage (NMW) is €11.30 per hour for employees aged 20+. For employees aged 19, it is reduced to €10.17 p/h, for 18-year-old employees it is €9.04 p/h and for employees aged under 18, it is €7.91. The NMW is not set based on skills or work performance, but on the assumption that younger employees have reduced living costs. However, people under age 20 have many of the same outgoings such as telephone bills, transport, lunches and so on and, depending on circumstances, may be living away from the family home.

One in 12 young people aged 15-24 provide care, that is care being provided to someone with a chronic condition or an infirmity due to old age at least once a week. A report from March 2023 considered the experience of the ‘hidden’ population of young carers (defined as children under the age of 18 who provide regular and ongoing care and emotional support to a family member) and found that 80 per cent were at clinical risk of depression, 86 per cent feel stressed, 56 per cent feel like they cannot cope, 32 per cent struggled to balance school with caring, and 27 per cent did not feel that they had adequate time to spend on schoolwork. A lack of primary care support and supports for carers will have long-term effects on the child’s education, work prospects and social abilities.

Government must replace the NMW with the Living Wage and remove the inherent age-based discrimination by basing the Living Wage on the real cost of living. Also give greater recognition to the work carried out by all carers and invest in supports for young carers so they can thrive academically and socially.


Social Justice Ireland regrets choices made in recent budgets where increases to core welfare rates have not kept pace with inflation. In 2022, 13.1 per cent of people in Ireland were at risk of poverty, an increase on the previous year when the poverty rate was 11.6 per cent. The risk of poverty among children was higher than the general population, at 15.2 per cent in 2022, having increased from 13.6 per cent in 2021. In order to support households with children, all core social welfare payments must increase to take account of inflation in Budget 2024.

Government must set an ambitious poverty-reduction target and commit sufficient resources to achieving it and increase core social welfare payments by €25 per week and Child Benefit by €50 per month in Budget 2024.