The National Economic and Social Forum's Opinion No. 8 commented that 25% of children live in households with below half the average income and that Irish children have the highest rate of income poverty in the EU. Based on the 1997 figures, this places Ireland in a similar position to the UK and Portugal as regards income poverty.
The PPF provides an opportunity to progress a number of policies on the needs of children. Under the terms of Framework III of the pro gramme, new targets will be considered under the various NAPS themes, including child poverty. These targets are to be considered in consultation with the social partners.
The view that child benefit represents a key instrument in tackling child poverty is widely acknowledged. The 2000 budget provided substantial increases in monthly rates of child benefit resulting in a full year increase in investment of £106 million – a record increase in child benefit. This brings the total investment in the scheme to £575 million.
The PPF also contains a commitment to substantially increase child benefit over the lifetime of the programme with a priority focus towards £100 per month for the third and subsequent children. This year the basic monthly rates for child benefit have risen to £42.50 for the first two children and £56 for the third and subsequent children.
I have always stated that employment is the best way out of poverty for adults and children. The Government's policy is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to fully participate in society and work is the key to achieving this objective for those who can work. Measures such as the family income supplement have helped to encourage parents back into the work force By increasing income from work, the individuals themselves are not the only ones to benefit, but also the families and communities in which they live.
On a more general note, all policy proposals across Departments are poverty proofed to ensure the needs of children along with other target groups are kept to the fore in the design of policy.