Surge in child poverty rates 'shameful' - Finlay
SPIRALLING Irish child poverty rates are a "shameful indictment" of austerity policies and ravaged budgets for crucial public support services.
Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos, pleaded for a radical re-think of Ireland's approach to youth and family supports after a UNICEF report revealed a shocking surge in child poverty in Ireland over the past five years.
Meanwhile, St Vincent de Paul officials said the UNICEF report merely confirmed what most charity officials dealing with youth issues already knew.
And opposition Health spokesman Billy Kelleher warned that there was now a case for "ring-fencing" critical child and youth support services.
Mr Kelleher said Ireland clearly had to prioritise youth funding over the coming decade.
Ireland's recession and the resultant austerity policies imposed by two Governments since 2008 has triggered a surge in the number of poverty-hit families.
A UNICEF assessment found that there were now 130,000 more 'poor' in Ireland between 2008 and 2012.
The international agency classified a child as being poor if the annual family income is below €12,455.
The poverty rate for Ireland's pensioners increased by just 2.5pc over the same period, just a fraction compared to the child poverty rate.
The UNICEF report revealed that families with children were hardest hit by the recession - losing the equivalent of 10 years of "income progress" in just four years.
This meant the child poverty ratio soared from 18pc in 2008 to 28.6pc in 2012.
The UNICEF report found that more than one-in-four Irish children were at risk of poverty.
This trend also meant Ireland plunged to 37th out of 41 OECD countries. Only Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland fared worse.
Critically, four of the five worst performing countries in the UNICEF report had suffered major economic recessions.
In 23 of the 41 countries investigated, child poverty increased since 2008 although it fell in 18 states including Chile, Australia and Poland.
The recession also hit young people in the 15 to 24 age bracket who are not in education, employment or training.
Mr Finlay described the findings as "shameful".
He warned that the situation could have been avoided through alternative policy priorities and officials had warned that cuts to key family support budgets would have consequences.
"UNICEF's report shows other countries have managed to improve and even reverse child poverty figures despite the recession," he said.
"We must improve access to quality early childhood care and education, and continue to invest in child benefit as a universal payment."
He said these measures had proven to be the best approach to tackle child poverty.
"Poor children grow up in poor families; breaking this cycle by investing in children is not only better for them, but the economy and wider society too," he told the Herald.
UNICEF Ireland boss, Peter Power, stressed the protection of children during times of recession was "a moral obligation".
"Countries should place the well-being of children at the top of their priorities during economic recessions," he said.
"Not only is this a moral obligation, but it is in the long-term self-interest of societies," he added.
St Vincent de Paul said that it had never experienced such levels of child and family poverty over the past six years due to the recession.