CHILDREN’S OMBUDSMAN CALLS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A CROSS PARTY INITIATIVE TO END THE SCANDAL OF CHILD POVERTY WHICH IS BEING EXASPERATED BY THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE TO COVID
The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon is calling for the establishment of a time-limited, cross departmental Joint Oireachtas Committee to bring together Government departments, those working in the children’s sector and other experts to make a swift and transformative impact on the goal of eradicating child poverty and eliminating child homelessness.
Speaking ahead of last week’s Dáil debate on child poverty, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon said:
“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that the impossible is possible. Government departments and state agencies have adapted in ways that we never could have imagined. I am calling for the same solutions focused attitude to be applied to the long-standing issues of child poverty and homelessness.
“We are looking for all parties to commit to the Eradication of child poverty and the Elimination of child homelessness. In order to achieve this a number of key changes must be made:
We must provide families with an Adequate Standard of Living: Adjusting social welfare by €5 or €10 depending on economic boom or bust does not serve children and families well.
A better, data driven approach, must be found to provide children and families with the financial support they need. Utilising MESL data is one option that should be explored.
Those at risk of slipping below the poverty line must be identified, helped first and supported often through Free School Dinners, develop the Area Based Childhood (ABC) Programme and provide supports for everyday expenses.
Ireland must enshrine in our Constitution the Right to Housing for everyone in Ireland.
Eliminate family homelessness within five years should be the first step in fulfilling commitment to eradicate homelessness by 2030.
“The Government has signed up to the EU Child Guarantee which requires the State to submit a national plan with specific targets focusing on breaking cycles of poverty – so taking action in this area is not optional.”
“As we plan for life post-Covid, it is vital that amidst the clamour of noise from some of the most powerful industries, we do not forget the children who have suffered most during this time.”
“Over the course of the summer I have communicated with all party leaders seeking their support for A Better Normal. (1)
“A Better Normal” is an initiative by the Children’s Ombudsman designed to ensure that children are considered and prioritised.
2020 was a devastating year for children.
No young person was untouched. During the Covid-19 pandemic, children were described as vectors and blamed for transmission. Children were seen as carriers, children were not welcome in public places. Schools closed, sports facilities closed, music, art and other hobbies came to an abrupt halt. Children couldn’t see family or each other.
All the rites of passage – Communion, Confirmation, Debs, Graduation, and things that make childhood fun, were taken away.
The National Clinical Review on the Impact of COVID-19 Restrictions on Children and Guidance on Reopening of Schools and the Normalisation of Paediatric Healthcare Services in Ireland, published by the HSE stated that “children have become invisible despite the fact that they account for 25% of the country’s population….. Children are not the face of this pandemic, but they risk being among its biggest victims.”
For some children, the consequences of Covid-19 will be long lasting. The ESRI report on Child poverty in Ireland and the pandemic recession explores the probable impact of the pandemic on child poverty and concludes that even with
a partial economic recovery, child poverty rates could increase to 19%, up from 16% in 2018 (latest available data).
This is not surprising as “previous recessions have exacerbated levels of child poverty, with long-lasting consequences for children’s health, wellbeing and learning outcomes”.
The Irish Youth Foundation report Generation Pandemic states that “Of the 40,000 babies born since the start of the pandemic, 8,000 of them will have left maternity hospital to spend the first night in marginalisation, disadvantage and in many cases homelessness.
Professor Aoife Nolan, contributing to a Children’s Rights Alliance publication stated that “at best, we have seen a ‘rapidly evolving situation that will continue to massively affect children in general and aggravate the conditions of the most vulnerable groups.” “At worst, governments’ responses have laid bare and exacerbated pre- existing long-time structural inequalities and social vulnerabilities”.
This document was created by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office to highlight the need for urgent political and cross departmental action in planning for children post Covid. It particularly underlines the opportunity at hand to eradicate the longstanding issues of child poverty and family homelessness which impact on every aspect of children’s lives.