Time for anti-child poverty ambitions to deliver

Posted on Monday, 6 November 2023
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Child poverty is a reality for one in every seven children in Ireland, about 190,000 children; a stark statistic that raises major questions for fairness and progress. Despite some recent progress, our long-standing failure as a society to adequately engage with the issue of child poverty, and drive substantial and permanent reductions in it, is building long-term problems for those currently experiencing child poverty and for our society. 

Social Justice Ireland launches Poverty Focus 2023 with an emphasis on child poverty, which is essentially an issue of low-income families, and its prevalence highlights the scale of such households across the State. Recent years have seen long overdue improvements in Ireland’s child poverty rate; falling from 1 in 5 children to 1 in 7. In particular, these decreases have been driven by targeted welfare payments for families which were welcomed by Social Justice Ireland. 

Child poverty solutions hinge on issues such as adequate adult welfare rates, decent rates of pay and conditions for working parents and aspiring parents, and adequate and available public services. Child benefit also remains a key route to tackling child poverty. Budget 2024 did not contain the measures that would have delivered further progress in tackling child poverty. 

Despite the recent and welcome increased political focus on child poverty, Budget 2024 did not contain the measures that would tackle child poverty, that would put more income into poorer families’ pockets and make the public services they rely on more available and more affordable. While some welcome changes were announced regarding the Free School Book Scheme, National Childcare Scheme funding, the Hot School Meals Programme and maintenance grant thresholds, these remain insufficient. 


Poverty Focus 2023: key findings

  • The 2022 CSO SILC survey indicates that 15.2 per cent of children were at risk of poverty. Translating this percentage into numbers of children implies that in 2022 around 190,000 (one in seven) children lived in households that were experiencing poverty. The scale of this statistic is alarming.
  • One in every eight people in Ireland lives on an income below the poverty line (13.1 per cent of the population). Based on the most recent Census data, this corresponds to almost 670,000 people.
  • When poverty is analysed by age the 2022 figures show that 19 per cent of those aged above 65 years live in relative income poverty - about 143,000 pensioners. They represent about one-fifth (21.4 per cent) of all those living below the poverty line in Ireland.
  • About 130,000 workers are living at risk of poverty, 6 per cent of those who are employed. Poverty figures for the working poor have shown little movement over time reflecting a persistent problem with low earnings.
  • Data for the period 2016-2022 demonstrate how the headline poverty rate in Ireland has fallen, driven in particular by increased supports to welfare dependent households.
  • Targeted measures that prioritise those households with the least resources and the most needs can yield welcome poverty reductions. However, these anti-poverty interventions need to be sustained; something than has been lacking in recent budgetary policy.

Social welfare rates inadequate

Social Justice Ireland has consistently argued for the prioritisation of low-income welfare dependent families in Budgetary policy and as our findings show, prioritising these families works, and leads to reductions in poverty. Unfortunately, the most recent Budgets have shifted away from this approach; meaning much of the recent progress will be reversed. More needs to be down to target low-income households. We warmly welcome progress in reducing Ireland’s overall poverty rate. However, the underlying trends in the income distribution; where there are small nominal increases in welfare alongside more pronounced increases in earnings and reductions in income taxation are likely to widen income divides and push poverty upwards. Government’s failure to raise core social welfare rates by €25 and to introduce a cost of disability payment in Budget 2023 will see this progress reversed. It is essential that Government address this in advance of the Social Welfare Bill 2023. 

The impact of inflation is most severe on lower-income households. Short-term Budgetary measures, while welcome, will increase inequality if income adequacy is not properly addressed. Following the announcement of Budget 2024, Social Justice Ireland continues to call on Government to increase core social welfare rates by the full €25 per week necessary to cover the cost of inflation as a move towards benchmarking social welfare rates. This requires the provision of an additional €13 per week to what was allocated in Budget 2024, in the Social Welfare Bill 2023.


Reducing Poverty – policy priorities

Social Justice Ireland believes that in the period ahead Government and policy-makers generally should:

  • Immediately provide for an additional €13 per week (€25 in total) in core social welfare rates in the Social Welfare Bill 2023.
  • Acknowledge that Ireland has an on-going poverty problem.
  • Adopt targets aimed at reducing poverty among particular vulnerable groups such as children, lone parents, jobless households and those in social rented housing.
  • Examine and support viable, alternative policy options aimed at giving priority to protecting vulnerable sectors of society.
  • Carry out in-depth social impact assessments prior to implementing proposed policy initiatives that impact on the income and public services that many low-income households depend on. This should include the poverty-proofing of all public policy initiatives.
  • Recognise the problem of the ‘working poor’. Make tax credits refundable to address the situation of households in poverty which are headed by a person with a job.
  • Support the widespread adoption of a Living Wage so that low paid workers receive an adequate income and can afford a minimum, but decent, standard of living.
  • Introduce a cost of disability allowance to address the poverty and social exclusion of people with a long-term illness or disability.
  • Recognise the reality of poverty among migrants and adopt policies to assist this group. Including the full implementation of the White Paper on the Elimination of Direct Provision.
  • Accept that persistent poverty should be used as the primary indicator of poverty measurement and assist the CSO in allocating sufficient resources to collect this data.
  • Introduce a universal basic income system. No other approach has the capacity to ensure all members of society have sufficient income to live life with dignity.
  • Acknowledge the failure to meet repeated policy targets on poverty reduction and commit sufficient resources to achieve credible new targets.

Poverty Focus 2023 is available to download here.