Child Poverty: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— that child poverty is an indictment of our State, robbing children of their childhoods, their health and well-being and squanders a child’s potential later in life;

— that consistent child poverty is the harshest form of poverty where children live in households below 60 per cent of the national median income, and experience deprivation based on 11 deprivation indicators;

— that despite the removal of 14,000 children from consistent child poverty during the lifetime of previous Governments (between 2011 and 2018) the number of children at risk of poverty or in consistent poverty remains unacceptably high, over 200,000 children are currently at risk of poverty and among these children more than 90,000 are in consistent poverty;

— that the previous Government’s target to reduce the number in child poverty by 70,000 by the end of this year, as indicated in the publication, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 2014-2020 (Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures), will not be reached;

— that this wholly unambitious target is unlikely to offset the Economic and Social Research Institute’s (ESRI) prediction of a one-quarter increase in the rate of child income poverty by the end of 2020 if the economy does not recover due to the Covid-19 pandemic;

— that the Government has recommitted to the original target stated in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, in the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 and in the Programme for Government, however, very significant action will be needed in order to achieve these targets;

— the regrettable reality that child poverty rates in Ireland doubled during the last recession resulting in one in every five children currently at risk of poverty

— a stark reminder of the risk for children in the current recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic;

— that for many children, the current recession will be the second one in their lifetimes, meaning for some, they will never have benefited from improved economic conditions;

— that children who experience poverty have poorer physical and mental health, experience social and educational deprivation, contributing to a lower sense of well-being and less opportunities later in life; and

— that investing in poverty reduction measures leads to better outcomes not only for children and their families, but for society as a whole;

acknowledges that:

— this Government has an opportunity to end consistent child poverty in Ireland once and for all;

— the upcoming Budget 2021 is an opportunity to allocate the necessary resources to address consistent child poverty in this State; and

— a systemic approach to ending child poverty is required in Ireland, reflecting the ambition of the European Union (EU) Child Guarantee that every child in Europe should have access to free healthcare, free childcare, decent housing and adequate nutrition with a primary focus on disadvantaged children, including those experiencing poverty, ethnic minority children and refugee children;

calls on the Government to:

— agree to a new and ambitious target of eliminating consistent child poverty within the lifetime of this Dáil;

— legislate for the target to eliminate consistent child poverty within the lifetime of the current Dáil;

— ensure the establishment of an Oireachtas Special Oversight Committee on Child Poverty to monitor the implementation of this target;

— establish a cross-Departmental Child Poverty Unit headed by the Department of the Taoiseach, tasked with the following:

— develop a comprehensive all-of-Government strategy and implementation plan to meet the target of eliminating consistent child poverty within the lifetime of this Dáil;

— ensure that the elimination of consistent child poverty target is a central focus in the new National Children and Young People’s Strategy;

— present an annual report to the Oireachtas Special Oversight Committee on Child Poverty on the progress of the implementation of this strategy and the implementation plan for the new target;

— establishing interim targets between annual budgetary cycles;

— undertake a child poverty audit of all policies across key Departments affecting children and their rights, ensuring that all annual budgets and Departmental budgetary decisions are poverty-proofed, transparent and fair;

— assist in the design of national initiatives to end child poverty;

— reform the current way in which child poverty and overall poverty is measured using the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) data and minimal essential budgets;

— carry out research and make recommendations to the Government on the required levels of investment for services that focus on inclusive universal health development services, early years education, school supports, disability supports, social housing, childcare and one parent family supports in line with EU Child Guarantee ambitions; and

— monitor the State’s implementation of the EU Child Guarantee and Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and

— ensure that adequate funds and resources are provided to facilitate the establishment of the cross-Departmental unit."

Some 90,000 children in Ireland live in consistent poverty. That is 90,000 children who live in households where there is very little income and which cannot afford very simple things like a warm winter coat, to heat the home or a warm, roast dinner once a week. That is 90,000 children who we as a State have failed to protect in their most vulnerable position. None of those 90,000 children has chosen to be in the position they are in; we in this Chamber and successive Governments have made that choice for them. Today we have a choice to think differently. Targets to reduce consistent poverty have come and gone over the years and have not made the difference they needed to make. As such, the time has now come to ensure we eliminate consistent poverty for our children once and for all.

The Social Democrats are putting forward a motion to eliminate consistent child poverty and I will outline how we propose to do that. Our proposal was developed by listening to those on the front line, the NGOs and the child poverty agencies and by looking overseas to see where other countries have done it. Ireland is not an outlier in this regard; child poverty is a problem in many countries. Some of the countries which have taken the strongest steps to eliminate consistent child poverty are those which have legislated for it and that is something we are also putting forward in our motion today. The one consistent point coming out of discussions in the international sphere is that this was done on a whole-of-government basis and across all parties. That is something we must do here if we really want to address the issue. I ask Members listening to my speech to do so without their party political hat on and instead to listen as a parent, brother or sister, neighbour or community member. We need leadership on this issue and we can take that leadership step today.

It is a very complex issue and there is no one answer. It crosses all Departments and all sections of our society. Indeed it is not just the child who is impacted by child poverty but also their family, their community and society as a whole. It is also not the case that it just affects a child at a point in time - it follows that child through their lifetime. This is a burden that children should never be forced to carry. It is well documented that growing up in a poor household is linked with long-term consequences in educational outcomes, physical health and brain development that can follow someone throughout their life.

Growing up in poverty in Ireland means that a person will find it harder to escape poverty in adulthood and if that person has children that cycle continues into the next generation. Childhood poverty also brings with it health implications and increases the chance of developing chronic illnesses as a result. Poverty can also harm a child's brain development and brings lifelong mental health issues. Children in poverty also find it harder to graduate, affecting their chances of employment throughout life and there are even studies which show that childhood poverty leaves its mark on adult genetics. A child can be at risk or in consistent poverty. It can be associated with being born into a marginalised group or with a disability that their parents have perhaps acquired. It can be based on the marital status of a parent, their social status or even linked to a particular geographical location.

In this country we have a particularly shameful record when it comes to one-parent families. The State has consistently failed them and their children. These families have the highest risk of consistent poverty and are almost four times as likely to be living in consistent poverty as two-parent households. The chronic lack of adequate housing, childcare, income supports for one-parent families and the severe cuts to social welfare payments during the last recession mean poverty rates remain high for these families.

Child poverty is also persistently high in minority groups such as the Traveller community. Just a few days ago, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report that found Travellers have the highest rates of acute poverty, the lowest unemployment rates and face of some of the worst discrimination of six Traveller and Roma communities throughout Europe.

The face of poverty in Ireland is also changing and an alarming trend I would imagine we all see in our constituency offices is that more and more children are in poverty despite their parents working. Thousands of working households with children are struggling to stay out of poverty, particularly those living in the private sector and having to pay childcare, rent or mortgages or those living with teenagers and headed by one parent. According to CSO data, approximately 110,000 people who are employed live in poverty. Over time, the poverty figures for this group, the working poor, have shown little movement, reflecting a persistent problem with lower earnings in Ireland. Many working families on low earnings struggle to achieve a very basic standard of living.

Poverty can be geographically linked. The baseline report of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs found that children living in regions other than Dublin display the highest poverty risk, households in rural areas have the highest levels of child poverty in terms of income poverty and consistent poverty, while households in urban areas have the highest levels of material deprivation and low work intensity. Furthermore, Border counties and the south east consistently have high poverty rates more generally among all age groups.

We can see that children often bear the brunt of our decisions and bear the brunt of crises that happen to our society. They are extremely vulnerable to these crises and today they are experiencing three. They are experiencing the housing crisis, the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis. As of July 2020, 2,651 children are living in emergency homeless accommodation in this country. Until we stop families having to choose between paying rent and feeding their children, child poverty rates will never be eradicated. Aside from the housing crisis, children and families have the current global pandemic to contend with, and navigating the changes in the Government's response and facing economic uncertainty has meant more and more families remain on the brink of poverty. The reality for parents under lockdown was bigger food bills, little to no access to school meals programmes and less child maintenance for one-parent families. The provision of childcare at this time is uncertain and was missing for a large part of lockdown, affecting one-parent families in particular as they lost income because they had to care for children.

All of this uncertainty for families was highlighted in the ESRI's report on child poverty and the pandemic, which predicts a very alarming scenario for children in the State entering the current recession. It predicts that without an economic recovery in the latter half of this year, and I do not think anyone can foresee this happening, child income poverty rates are estimated to rise from 16.6% at the beginning of the year to 21.1% by the end of 2020. This is a one quarter increase in the rate of child income poverty.

If we consider how Ireland performed during the last recession we have to rethink our approach to the current one. According to a 2014 UNICEF report, children in Ireland suffered most in the recession and they continue to bear the consequences of this despite child poverty falling in almost half of European countries since the start of the economic crash. Child poverty rates doubled in the recession years, making Ireland one of the worst performing countries in Europe at the time. The sad reality is that many of those 90,000 children living in consistent poverty today went through the first recession and they are now going through a second recession in their very short young lives. Some of them will never experience the benefits of an economic recovery. As we navigate the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic it will be important that we poverty proof Covid supports for children and their families, ensuring they meet the needs of those most at risk of poverty at this time.

We must not forget that children can be very vulnerable to climate change as we transition to a low carbon society. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, in its report Growing up in the Cold, reported that 12.3% of children in Ireland live in homes with leaking roofs, damp walls, floors or foundations, or rotting window frames or floors. It is important that they and their families are not left behind as we transition to a low-carbon economy.

Past Governments have tried and failed to reduce consistent poverty. Going back to 1992, after Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government pledged to commit to the right of children to a childhood free from poverty and deprivation. Almost two decades on from that promise we continue to fail children in this regard. In 2002, the national anti-poverty strategy pledged to reduce the number of children experiencing consistent poverty to 2% and, if possible, to eliminate it by 2007. In 2007, having failed to meet this target, the pledge was repackaged and repeated with an end date pushed out to 2016. Between 2006 and 2016, the national social partnership agreement stated that every child should grow up in a family with access to sufficient resources and supports to nurture and care for the child and to foster the child's development and full and equal participation in society. This target also failed. In 2014, the national policy framework for children and young people included a target to reduce by two thirds the number of children in consistent poverty by 2020. However, because it lacked an implementation plan, child poverty rates only marginally declined within that timeframe. In the same year, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures was published, which set out the Government's previous target of reducing by 70,000 the number of children in consistent poverty by 2020. Unfortunately, this target will also be missed. The roadmap for social inclusion, which was signed off by the previous Government in January, recommitted to this target and it was also acknowledged in the programme for Government. We can all see a pattern here. Where Governments have put in place a target to partially reduce child poverty they have failed. This time we need a new target and a new way of dealing with this. We need a new approach. We need to eliminate child poverty once and for all.

Our motion sets out a four-pronged approach to making child poverty history. It calls on Dáil Éireann to target, legislate, implement and resource. The motion calls on the Government to commit to the ambition target to eliminate child poverty within the lifetime of this Dáil. This target rejects the idea that any amount of poverty is acceptable. All child poverty should be targeted and not just a percentage. The motion calls for legislation to put into law this new target. It has been done in other jurisdictions. It not only puts the onus on Governments to meet targets but also ensures that the issue of poverty remains high on the agenda. Previous targets failed when there was no implementation plan and legislation can only go so far without one. The motion calls for the establishment of a child poverty unit to be housed within the Department of the Taoiseach which, among other things, would help in the design of an implementation plan and monitor its progress. The motion also calls for the establishment of a special Oireachtas oversight committee on child poverty to monitor progress in this area. We need to put funding in place to make sure this happens. This has been lacking in the past. The motion calls for the provision of necessary and available resources to support the target of eliminating child poverty in the lifetime of the Dáil.

We all bear the cost of child poverty. Inaction not only affects those children in poverty but us all as a society. This year, the Hidden Cost of Poverty report by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul found that poverty costs the country €45 billion annually. This figure is not specific to children and child poverty but it looks at and puts costings on the services that deal with child poverty, such as housing, the justice system and education. The money we spend on the consequences of poverty is money that cannot go into other services. It is money we should be investing in children now rather than waiting five or ten years to have to invest it then.

As stated in the motion, income alone will not address child poverty. A systemic approach is required in Ireland reflecting the ambition of the EU child guarantee that every child in Europe should have access to free healthcare, free childcare, decent housing and adequate nutrition, with a primary focus on vulnerable children and those experiencing poverty. With regard to ethnic minority children, including refugee children, we need to address child poverty in an intersectional manner addressing all dimensions and manifestations of child poverty. We are only bringing four children from the camps on Lesbos and I ask the Minister to look at bringing more than this.

I thank the Children's Rights Alliance and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for their input, research and support.

I can only hope the Government chooses to distance itself from this regrettable history we have and chooses a different course of action to eliminate child poverty within the lifetime of this Dáil, to legislate for this new ambitious target, to put in place the necessary mechanisms to implement this target and to provide the necessary resources to end child poverty once and for all. I call on this House to show leadership when it comes to child poverty and work together to ensure we eliminate it from our society because I do not believe any one of us here thinks it is right that we have this in Ireland at the moment.

I am proud to support this motion put forward by the Social Democrats, the case for which has been made strongly by my colleague, Deputy Whitmore. I want to echo her comments regarding Lesbos, the migrant camp there and the four children. I will say to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, that we can do much better as a country than bring four children into Ireland. There is a much greater need than that and I believe there is a strong will from the Irish people. We have a proud history in supporting people in need in different countries and we can do much better than bringing four children here. I strongly urge the Minister to do what he can on that.

As spokesperson on housing for the Social Democrats, I wish to address one particular aspect of child poverty, that is, children and their families who become homeless or are at risk of homelessness. The current situation is that 2,620 children are living in emergency temporary accommodation for homeless people. That is without the security and stability of a home, often in overcrowded situations and with no ability for their family to plan ahead. Those are not the circumstances anyone in this House would support for children growing up and going to school and for families doing their best.

To put this in context, in 1990 in the Dublin area five families were put into emergency temporary accommodation for homeless people. That is five families in the entire year. By mid-2019, we were looking at four families a day being put into emergency accommodation for homeless people and those children were being put into that accommodation. That was just in the Dublin area with additional children and families outside of that area. This is how much this has grown under successive Governments.

The disruption and devastation caused by homelessness can have serious outcomes for children and their families and can impact on their mental health, education and well-being and the family's ability to hold down jobs and plan ahead. This is not a question of resources. Over the last five years, the State has spent more than €565 million on temporary and emergency accommodation for children and their families and for adults who are in homeless emergency accommodation. That is more than €2 million a week being spent. This is not a question of resources; it is a question of how those resources are being spent. It is about political will. We know from international evidence and from other countries how to tackle this. The Housing First model is proven to work. Unfortunately, our plan under the Housing First strategy is to provide secure accommodation for just half of the families and children most at risk. We have identified those who are most at risk - the families and children who have been in and out of emergency accommodation repeatedly over the years, those who need more support and those who have been rough sleeping. It is not acceptable that our ambition as a State is to provide a long-term solution for half of them. The goal of countries such as Finland is to eradicate homelessness, child homelessness and family homelessness and as a result of that ambition they are doing much better at tackling this than we are.

We know from other countries what works. In terms of eradicating child poverty, we can see the policies that work with regard to children and families. We know the Housing First model works but it is across the board in terms of child poverty. We know what policies and strategies work. This is a political choice and a question about what kind of country and what kind of Ireland we want to live in. Do we want to continue to tolerate child poverty or do we decide we will eradicate it? I ask the Minister and the Government take a leadership role in this regard. It is within the Minister's power and ability to do that.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

"commits strongly to the principle that Government should ensure the best start possible for every child, underpinned by the principles of social justice, equality and fairness;

recognises the need for a renewed, target-led, cross-Departmental approach to tackling child poverty through continued collaboration on the Cabinet Committee on Social Affairs and Equality, and through a cross-Government focus on child poverty in the successor framework to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 2014-2020 (Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures);

supports the overall work being co-ordinated by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs through the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures process;

commits to establish and report on a new, ambitious target in respect of child poverty, within the context of the successor strategy for Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, with the aim of reducing the percentage of children under the age of 18 who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion;

welcomes:

— the recent budgets which have included measures specifically aimed at supporting families on low incomes through increases in qualified child rates, including:

— the introduction of separate rates for children aged under and over 12;

— increases in earnings disregards for One Parent Family and Jobseeker Transition payments;

— increases in the income thresholds for the Working Family Payment;

— the introduction of a maintenance disregard for the Working Family Payment; and

— an increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance;

— the overall increase of €93 million or 6.2 per cent over 2019 in the 2020 Estimate Vote of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs with an additional €54 million committed to the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), and an additional €31 million for Tusla;

— the increased investment in early learning and care over the past five budgets and the Government’s commitment to ensuring that high quality developmentally-appropriate early learning and care is accessible and affordable for families throughout Ireland and reflects diversity of need; and

— the establishment of the NCS, which is the first ever statutory entitlement to financial support for childcare;

recognises the Budget 2020 impact on children which included:

— a €3 increase for qualified child dependants aged 12 and over, from €37 to €40, and a €2 increase for qualified child dependants up to age 12, from €34 to €36, in all weekly payments from January 2020;

— an extension of the Hot School Meals scheme for up to 35,000 additional school children;

— the increase for working lone parents in receipt of a One-Parent Family payment or Jobseekers Transitional payment by €15 to €165 per week; and

— an increase of €10 per week in the income thresholds for families with up to three children;

welcomes the publication and ongoing implementation of First Five as a whole-of-Government strategy to improve the lives of babies, young children in the birth to five year age range, and the lives of their families;

further recognises the work of the National Advisory Council under the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures framework and the whole-of-Government working which takes a co-ordinated and collaborative approach in tackling child poverty and emphasises the need for a combined approach to tackling child poverty levels in Ireland, involving both income supports and services;

notes the commitment to reporting on the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020 – 2025, which will be implemented by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection;

acknowledges that, despite the removal of 14,000 children from consistent child poverty during the lifetime of previous Governments (between 2011 and 2018), the number of children at risk of poverty or in consistent poverty remains a significant concern — 190,000 children are currently at risk of poverty and among these children, more than 90,000 are in consistent poverty and that the previous Government’s target to reduce child poverty by 70,000 by the end of this year as indicated in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, will not be reached;

recognises that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will, without appropriate intervention, lead to an increase in the numbers of children experiencing poverty;

notes:

— the Programme for Government commitment to work across Government to address food poverty in children and ensure that no child goes hungry; and

— the Department of Education and Skills initiative of Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) aimed at tackling educational disadvantage in primary and post primary schools in the DEIS Plan 2017, which sets out the vision for future interventions on the critical area of educational disadvantage policy;

further welcomes:

— the recently commissioned baseline research on child poverty on Income, Poverty and Deprivation among children by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which shows that child poverty rates have reduced for young children, down 12.2 per cent between 2010 and 2018, and for young adults, down 10.3 per cent, and that this research is informing Government on current approaches to ending child poverty;

— the publication of the recently commissioned research by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on children and young people, in particular, reports and reviews are welcomed on the research evidence in the areas of family and peer relationships, health and wellbeing, education (from early childhood to third level) and post-school transitions to provide insights into the potential consequences of the current crisis from infancy to early adulthood;

— that in 2018, Ireland had the lowest poverty rate among children aged 0-5 years in the European Union, however, acknowledging that those children aged 6-11 years are showing a worrying trend of increasing income poverty and consistent poverty; and

— the fact the consistent child poverty rate has dropped by 5 per cent between 2014 and 2018; and

further notes the Government’s commitment to initiate and set a new target on consistent child poverty and to include the new target in the successor cross-Government framework to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.”

I start by thanking Deputy Whitmore for bringing this motion forward. It is absolutely crucial that we take this time to discuss the issue of child poverty and how we respond to it as a country. Over the last few months, we have seen unprecedented turmoil as a result of Covid-19 and we are now facing into a recession. As Minister, I am acutely aware of the risk the economic downturn poses to children and, particularly, those living in or at risk of poverty.

While we have made progress in recent years, we know that poverty continues to steal childhoods and children's futures. Poverty affects not only children's material living conditions but also their sense of belonging, their well-being and their physical health. Every child should have the best start to life. It is not acceptable to me or to any Member of this House that children continue to live in poverty in Ireland today.

The effects of child poverty are both immediate and long-term. Growing up in a marginalised and disadvantaged community experiencing intergenerational cycles of poverty, educational disadvantage and unemployment seriously hinders the opportunities of a child or young person.

Those worst affected by child poverty are those with the least access to power to make their voices heard. Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, we have heard many representative groups and trade organisations speak on behalf of their members about the genuine and devastating impacts the pandemic has had upon them. However, so much of the suffering caused by child poverty happens silently behind closed doors to children and families who are marginalised and vulnerable. When we look at how we live with Covid-19 and what kind of country we want to create when we emerge from the pandemic, we will fall short if we focus on the economic health of the country only. Therefore, it is my absolute priority and that of this Government to ensure these most vulnerable members of our society are protected during the pandemic but also during the lifetime of this Government.

Any measure we take in regard to child poverty has to be based on the strongest possible evidence. This is why since I was appointed as Minister, the Department has published two pieces of research looking at child poverty. The first is a statistical baseline analysis of the prevalence of child poverty in the country and the second looks at the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and young people. This second report found that school closures and the lack of face-to-face engagement with peers is having a direct effect on the lives of children and young people. The impact of the pandemic will be felt most by young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs. Parental job loss and the possibility of long-term unemployment will affect children's well-being through greater stress within the family but also as result of loss of income. As the pandemic continues and the restrictions remain in place, these risks become more pronounced and demand a stronger policy response.

With the challenges presented by Covid-19 in mind, the programme for Government makes commitments aimed at addressing child poverty. The Government will work to end food poverty and a key component of this will be the school meals programme. With the co-operation of our schools around the country this programme continued during the summer months this year in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the programme for Government commits to initiating a new anti-poverty social inclusion and community development action plan underpinning sound community development practices and reflecting a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This will build on the existing sustainable inclusive and empowered communities strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland.

There are also a range of measures that will speak to the wider mission of improving the well-being of children, extending free GP care to more children, abolishing in-hospital charges for children and extending free dental care to more children.

The programme for Government also commits to the development of a specific youth homelessness strategy so we can end the practice that previous Deputies alluded to earlier of housing hundreds of children in emergency accommodation such as hotels.

The programme for Government also commits to the creation of a successor strategy to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. In 2014, the then Government launched Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, which provided a national policy framework for children and young people. This framework recognised that poverty, substandard housing and social exclusion have a significant impact on a child's life outcomes and we needed to redouble our efforts to reduce these inequalities. Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures set a target of reducing consistent poverty for children by two-thirds of the 2011 level. It was a challenging target. The target aimed that by 2020 the number of children in consistent poverty would be reduced to 37,000 children at most. The figures available for 2018 show that the consistent poverty rate for children had decreased from 9.3% in 2011 to 7.7%, a reduction of 1.6%. This corresponds to a reduction of 14,000 children living in consistent poverty between 2011 and 2018. Despite the progress that was made, it is clear at this point that the target set in 2014 will not be achieved. I am deeply conscious that these are not just numbers we are speaking about. These are children facing hunger, deprivation and all the physical and mental affects and impacts we have spoken about today. This is happening to children all over our country.

As the new Minister with responsibility for children, I am committed to establishing a new and ambitious target to reduce child poverty. This target will form the central element of the successor strategy to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. However, an ambitious target on its own is of little value without the means, the structures and the will and drive to meet it. As part of the successor strategy that I will be bringing forward, I will establish new infrastructure within my Department and across Government for the delivery of our child poverty reduction goals. This new strategy will contain mid-term targets and monitoring mechanisms such that we are better able to measure progress and address any potential slippage. I look forward to engaging with Deputy Whitmore and members of the joint Oireachtas committee on children, equality, disability, integration and youth to examine the best mechanisms to ensure the delivery of these goals. I agree with Deputy that we need to work across party lines on this issue.

Central to the success of any target on child poverty is a whole-of-Government approach. Such an approach to tackling child poverty has been adopted, building on the lifecycle approach adopted in the previous national action plan for social inclusion. There is clear evidence about what works in terms of reducing child poverty. Ireland's historical approach to tackling child poverty has focused on cash transfers and this approach has resulted in Ireland consistently ranking as one of the top performing EU countries in the poverty reduction effect of social transfers. However, despite the relevant of success of social transfers, in order to have a comprehensive and sustainable impact on child poverty, newer strategies must focus on improving service provision. Doing so can have a meaningful impact on reducing the cost of living for families with children. The diverse nature of these challenges demonstrate why a whole-of-Government approach is essential to tackling child poverty effectively. I agree with the Deputy's assertion that we need to strengthen oversight.

Earlier this year, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection published the roadmap for social inclusion and identified child poverty as a cross-sectoral issue that needs to be addressed. Officials in my Department continue to work closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I recently met the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on the issue of child poverty and on initiating discussions on the development of the new poverty targets in the successor to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. I welcome the support today of the Department through the contribution of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien.

Government leadership can and has been supported by the experience and expertise of members of civil society groups, academia and other Government-funded organisations. My Department always engages positively with our partners. This has involved close co-operation with the National Advisory Council, which is currently chaired by Tanya Ward, the chief executive officer of the Children's Rights Alliance. The council brings together a diverse range of specialists in children and young people's policy and provision. It provides advice and recommendations on child poverty to me as Minister. Shortly after I was appointed Minister, I had the opportunity to meet the council. It was the first external organisation that I met and in our discussions that day we focused on the issue of child poverty.

Earlier this month, I visited Hill Street Family Resource Centre in the north inner city, where the project manager showed me around and introduced me to some of the parents who use the centre. The breadth of what they do there is extraordinary, from adult education to parenting support to child care. The complexity of the work and the compassion with which it is done is deeply impressive. Each of the parents I met spoke about the support and sense of community they find there. What I heard and saw in Hill Street underlines the complexity of child poverty but also that solutions exist. As a Government, we will lead on and progress a strategy to reduce child poverty in conjunction with our partners in the non-governmental organisation, NGO, sector, civil society and, I hope, with other parties. We are committed to setting and achieving an ambitious target to reduce poverty, underpinned by the necessary resources and structures. We will not be found wanting in our determination to achieve this.

The next speaking slot is Sinn Féin. There are five speakers, commencing with Deputy Funchion.

I pay tribute to and thank Deputy Whitmore and her party for bringing forward this motion. It is an excellent motion, but it is a shame that we have to be discussing such a subject. However, that is the reality. As I stand here today, approximately 700,000 of our fellow citizens live on a poverty income, of which approximately 225,000, or 30%, are children. If this was not startling enough, in June this year, a Society of St. Vincent de Paul study, entitled, The Hidden Cost of Poverty, reported that poverty costs the State in the region of €4.5 billion. When we speak about child poverty what we are talking about is children going to bed hungry, children going to school without lunches, without warm coats as we approach autumn-winter and without the correct footwear. It is important to remember that is the reality for children. That in 2020 there are children in this country going to bed hungry or going to school hungry is heartbreaking to say the least. What these children need is not sympathy, they need action.

When I was preparing for my contribution today I realised that this is not a new phenomenon. We have been talking about child poverty since as far back as the first Dáil in 1919 when the State pledged then, as its first duty, "...to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter..." Yet, here we are more than 100 years later and children are still suffering from the same plight. It is important to say that this has a knock-on effect on every part of a child's life. A child cannot go into school and function properly if he or she is hungry, tired or freezing. That is the reality for so many children. There are additional issues in regard to direct provision with children in direct provision not having the same opportunities and likewise children in homeless services, by which I mean not just children living in hotels and bed and breakfasts but children living in overcrowded situations with families and friends. These are people who are trying to keep themselves out of the emergency accommodation system and are the hidden homeless. There are children growing up squashed into one room with their entire family. There are no opportunities for these children such as the normal things many children take for granted such as having school friends to their home, birthday parties and so on.

Child poverty has always been with us and unless we do something radical it will always be with us. Covid has highlighted the crisis. While all children missed the benefits of school, their child care or the early years placement, for many children these were the places they went to that were safe, warm and provided them with a meal. I know so many organisations and services did so much good work during Covid trying to get meals, etc., out to children. An enormous number of children are potentially going to fall through the cracks as a result of Covid. It is important that we remain focused on that and ensure measures are put in place in that regard. The Minister mentioned the schools meal programme in his speech. It is an excellent programme, as are breakfast clubs. Another initiative I regularly talk about that sometimes does not get enough attention is the school completion programme. While it operates primarily in DEIS schools, it is also in other schools and it could be rolled-out to all schools, but its funding would need to be increased because none of the funding cuts applied to it in the recession has been restored. The programme enables excellent work in a range of areas and it flies under the radar, which is exactly what a child in that situation needs.

They do not need it to be highlighted that they are somehow different or have a red circle put around them. That is what is excellent about the school completion programme. It is ironic that responsibility for that is moving from the Minister's Department but I ask about any influence he might have in the time remaining to increase its funding or its mandate to allow it roll out more schools because the work it does is invaluable. I will pass over to my colleagues but I want to commend Deputy Whitmore again and say that we fully support the motion.

I too welcome this motion and commend the Social Democrats on bringing it forward. Before we ever heard of Covid-19 the Government was telling us about low unemployment, plenty of jobs and Ireland being the fastest growing economy in the EU but what good is any of that when we have children going hungry, are cold in their own homes and some who are without any home living in bed and breakfast accommodation and homeless accommodation across the State? It is a rich economy but a very poor society. That is the reality for more than 90,000 children who live in consistent poverty every single day. Those children have been robbed of their childhood. That carefree nature, the fun and the make-believe has been replaced with worry, uncertainty, and in some cases fear.

The Minister's amendment welcomes increases in the earnings disregard for the one parent family payment. We remember that was done after it had been previously cut and the age reduced to seven. Indecon reported on the impact of those very changes on lone parent families, which were made by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. We secured in the Social Welfare Act in 2016 an independent Indecon report to examine those changes. That reported concluded very clearly that all evidence indicated that it was those very changes that made life more difficult for lone parent families. That policy was introduced without any regard for the consequences and for lone parent families the consequences of those changes were detrimental.

The Minister welcomes a maintenance disregard for the working family payment. That is a payment that is badly needed but why is it needed? It is needed to top up poor wages and again shows the prevalence of low pay in this State. Last year, almost €400 million was spent by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the working family payment. It shows that because a job no longer guarantees a route out of poverty. We know that more than 100,000 people at work are living in poverty so that guarantee of employment no longer exists.

We know that deprivation levels have increased. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, report on enforced deprivation published earlier this month showed an increase of 45.4% to lone parent families and one in five children experiences deprivation every day.

When it comes to child maintenance, and the Minister referred to the maintenance disregard, that is a payment that is taken into account as household means for all social welfare payments. That should never be the case. Child maintenance, if it is actually paid, should be seen as income for the child to help raise that child, not as a household income. That must change. I welcome the disregard but it should be available for all social welfare payments.

We are blue in the face saying that we need a child maintenance service in this State, similar to what is in place in the North. In the past three years, we twice published proposals on how we can get that service in these Twenty-six Counties and have consistently raised that issue. Last year, we had a motion passed in this House that for the establishment of that child maintenance service, and I welcome that it is committed to in the programme. I am aware that work is under way but that needs to happen very quickly because if someone is seen to be in receipt of child maintenance it reduces their other social welfare payments, regardless of whether they are receiving it. They might not be getting the child maintenance payment but it cuts their other payments. That cannot continue and it should never be the case.

The other issue in that regard is the liable relative unit in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which is dysfunctional. Its objective is to go after the liable relative, who is the non-custodial parent, to recoup money to pay for the one parent family payment. It is to recoup costs for the State as opposed to costs for that child or children, or that family. That is very disturbing. When we looked at this previously between January 2018 and August 2019, that unit examined more than 18,000 cases and in just over 2,000 of them a non-custodial parent began making payments. Of the almost 16,000 cases, nothing happened; they were simply left. That child maintenance is needed urgently.

The motion also makes reference to the roadmap on social inclusion, which is welcome, but it was two years late. We had been calling for it in those two years. That fails to mention benchmarking social welfare payments to adequacy, which was highlighted by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Social Justice Ireland and the Anti-Poverty Network, which has stated that benchmarking to adequacy is not in this social inclusion model. Social Justice Ireland went as far as to say that when this social inclusion roadmap is finished, there will be no change in poverty rates. That in itself is very stark. We have raised this issue. We published legislation for a social welfare commission to do two things. It should make sure that households were lifted out of poverty and that their social welfare support met a basic need for that household, whether it was rural or urban. That takes out the shameful political football that we have every year as the budget approaches in terms of €5 for this group but no €5 for that group, which is based on nothing. We need to see an end to that because poverty in this State is an ongoing crisis but we can take three simple steps very quickly. We need to establish a child maintenance service for those lone parents who are struggling; we need adequate social welfare supports; and we need a living wage to ensure that work actually pays.

I commend the Social Democrats on bringing forward this important motion. Child poverty has a huge impact in my constituency. I represent Limerick city, which includes part of north Tipperary, and we have serious problems in the area. In Limerick, 18 electoral divisions were classified as unemployment blackspots, which is twice as many in any other part of the country. The average unemployment rate in those areas is 43%. The last census identified Limerick city as having eight of the top ten worst unemployment black spots in the State.

I do not profess to be an expert on child poverty but I profess to be an expert on the outcomes of not dealing with child poverty. We have massive issues, of which the Minister will be well aware. There was a Government intervention in the mid-2000s when a drugs war was costing lives and deprivation was rampant. While we had a robust Garda response at that time which put a lid on drug dealing and drug violence, the regeneration plans and promised reinvestment did not deliver in many areas of my home city out of deprivation. Unfortunately, it continues to this day.

The most deprived area in the entire State is in my city of Limerick. Limerick really is a tale of two cities. We have massive wealth on one side and mass deprivation on the other side. Unfortunately, Pobal, CSO and census statistics tell us there is no change in those areas. They will always remain at or near the bottom. The only change is that an area of the city might not be the very last in one census but is last in the next census and it goes over and back with no real change, no access and nothing done to improve matters.

My colleague, Deputy Funchion, referenced the impact of Covid-19, which exposed many issues, including the importance of schools, particularly the DEIS schools. I have been in a number of them since Covid-19 came to our shores and saw the great work. School meals continued through the summer. Some of the schools in my city opened. It was the only safe place for children to go. They go home to families which are dysfunctional. Poverty is rife and that issue is not being addressed in the way it needs to be addressed.

The motion is very important. I want to mention St. Munchin's Community Centre on the north side of Limerick, which has done a fantastic job making sure that people are fed. It may sound strange to many people but when schools are not open, unfortunately, some children do not get fed. They made sure that service continued throughout the pandemic lockdown and the school closures. I want to commend Linda Ledger and her team, led by Bobby O'Halloran, in St. Munchin's Community Centre, who have done a fantastic job.

In November 2019, Social Justice Ireland released figures showing that 200,000 children were living in poverty in this State. As a State we have seen some economic growth over recent years. The working poor and their families have been left behind. It is not a surprise that we have such levels of poverty among children when this Parliament cannot legislate for a living wage of €12 per hour. My time is short and I will give the remainder to my colleagues.

I wish to commend Deputy Whitmore and the Social Democrats on introducing this motion, which I fully support. The fact that more than 200,000 children are living in poverty in Ireland today is a disgrace and is an issue that must be addressed immediately. Children living in poverty miss out on so much; it is very tough on them. They miss out on the things we take for granted such as warm clothes, participating in activities and going on school trips.

Before being elected, I taught in a secondary school in Cavan. Last year, I had a first-year class, and on Thursday, first years were allowed out early before lunch to go to the canteen because it was a particularly busy day. There were five or six students who remained behind because they did not have a hot meal ordered. I asked had they all brought lunch and they said they had, except one little girl. She told me not only did she not have lunch, but she had not eaten since 5 o'clock the evening before. My heart went out to her and I was able, because we were in a DEIS school, to talk to the relevant staff and organise that she would receive a hot meal in future at school. I found out by chance that she had no food. She might not have admitted that to me and she is probably one of many.

Living in poverty affects health and well-being and it increases anxiety and other mental health issues. It means a person is less likely to go to college. If a person is cold and hungry, he or she will not be able to concentrate in school or proceed. Therefore, it becomes a generational issue. There have been some efforts made by Government in recent times to address some of the issues, but it has not been near enough and targets are consistently not being met. One of the issues is the cost of education, which is proving prohibitive. When Donogh O'Malley introduced free education in 1966 he described it as "the one great leveller-upper". I am not sure about his grammar but his sentiment was absolutely correct. However, education is no longer free. Uniforms, books, materials, and transport all cost money. I know there is a back-to-school allowance but it needs to be broadened and increased.

School closures as a result of Covid have been mentioned by others here. Such closures have impacted on poorer children more because of simple things such as access to technology not being available. The supports they receive in school were also absent.

Children of lone parents are four times more likely to be living in poverty than those in two-parent families. Deputy Kerrane has dealt with the maintenance issue but there needs to be a statutory entitlement to seek and receive maintenance in this country, as there is in many other countries. People should not have to constantly go to court to receive maintenance for their children.

There needs to be significant investment in children and families at the beginning of their lives. It would pay dividends and make savings in the long term in areas such as health, the prison system and in relation to other interventions that it is to be hoped will not be needed if children are invested in at the start of their lives.

I welcome this motion put forward by the Social Democrats. The issue of child poverty is something I have great interest in. As a parent, there is nothing that means more to me than the welfare of children. What parents does not want to do their best for their children? Who would not want to provide their children with a stable life in a caring environment? The reality is that many parents struggle even to put food on the table for their children. For many children, the only hot meal they receive each day or the only breakfast they will get is the one provided by their school under the school meals programme.

According to Social Justice Ireland, there are close to 700,000 people living in poverty in Ireland today, of which almost 230,000 are children. That is one in five children under 18 living in poverty in Ireland today. According to Focus Ireland, child homelessness has risen by over 250% over the past six years. The crisis of child poverty is creating a lost generation of young people. A poor standard of living and a poor quality of life has a huge impact on a child's formative years, their educational potential and, later, their employment prospects. These are the hidden costs of child poverty.

The pandemic has been a nightmare for those who are homeless and has been especially hard for children living in emergency accommodation. The stress of being homeless and under lockdown has for many had a serious detrimental effect on their mental health. Much of the child poverty we see today is the result of families struggling to survive on low incomes. We need to develop a roadmap out of poverty for families that will involve serious policy challenges for Government. Some measures we could look at for decreasing child property would be decent pay and conditions for working parents, building more social and affordable houses, keeping welfare payments in line with minimum essential standard of living rates, having affordable childcare, increasing child benefit, especially for families on low incomes, extending access to free medical care for all children, and much more. Children cannot be taken out of poverty unless and until their families are taken out of poverty.

I commend my friend and colleague, Deputy Whitmore, on bringing forward this motion on child poverty. It is an issue we all care deeply about and hope to address in the lifetime of this Dáil because we have waited far too long.

More than 200,000 children are at risk of poverty, 90,000 children are living in consistent poverty, and behind every one of those children there is a parent, often a mother, who is afflicted by that exact same poverty and in many cases suffering and going without so the child does not have to. In my contribution, I will give voice to that. The consistently most vulnerable group of people in our State have been lone parents. A shocking 50.1% of people in one-parent families with a child or children under the age of 18 are living in poverty. That is a sad indictment on our State. I raise the issue of poverty constantly because I grew up in a constituency where it surrounded and impacted me and made me passionate about making these changes. When we hear the word "poverty" sometimes, we sometimes forget what it means. It just comes across as the word and a statement and what that means to the person who has impacted by it is lost. I will give voice to that if I can.

There are indicators that were developed in 2007 to give an indication of what poverty means, and I will go through some of them. Poverty is the lack of two pairs of strong shoes; the lack of a warm waterproof overcoat; an inability to eat a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day; it is the lack of capacity for a parent to go out and socialise with a friend. Poverty is all-encompassing. It isolates and renders a person hungry and cold. It is detrimental to the human condition, but I believe it is more than that. From conversations I have had since I have been involved in politics and working in the north inner-city community in the community development sector, I believe poverty impacts on every one of our senses as human beings. It is possible to smell poverty and taste, touch and feel poverty.

Walking around canvassing, as all of us have done over the past year or five years, we have knocked at a door and spoken to a person who has told us about his or her poverty. Walking up the North Circular Road and knocking on the doors of some of our migrant community, I walk in and see they have nowhere to store their bins. They tell me they would just like somewhere where they could store the bins so they did not have to smell it. Regarding how poverty tastes, mothers on low incomes have no alternative but to provide cheap ready-made meals because, first, they cannot afford a more nutritious variety and, second, food has to be cooked quickly because they are running out to do the cleaning jobs or are going to work.

Regarding how poverty sounds, poverty is never silent. People are in conditions that are overcrowded and vulnerable and mothers with children in those conditions have nowhere they can find a bit of silence. I had a heart-rending conversation with a mother who was homeless and placed in hotel accommodation. She told me about the indignity of being able to tuck her child into bed but not being able to leave the room and watch the television or find her own space to just be. Poverty never affords silence.

Regarding how poverty feels, I remember my first canvass for a local election in 2014, knocking at a door and a woman talked to me about the deprivation she was experiencing. She brought me into her house to show me her fridge. She opened her fridge door and there were Tupperware boxes with all the food for the week. It was clear there was one day a week where she did not eat.

Regarding how one can touch poverty, it is the old furniture that cannot be replaced, the old clothes and jackets and the impact all of that has on that person and on the human condition. Poverty is detrimental and we must endeavour to address that problem, because not to do so is enforcing a grotesque inhumanity on citizens in this State and it is not by any means a small number.

More than 700,000 people are at risk of poverty, 100,000 people are working and still experiencing poverty and 90,000 children are affected. If addressing that is not the great ambition of what we can achieve in the Dáil, I do not know what we are doing here.

I am conscious that when one talks about poverty and who is impacted by it, one starts to see history replicating itself. People who were locked away in mother and baby homes or Magdalen laundries, now that those institutions are gone, are simply being ignored by the State. Having been forced into Magdalen laundries or mother and baby homes, those people are being placed into hotel rooms and asked to live in cramped and overcrowded conditions, often to the benefit of hoteliers who we choose to benefit from other people's suffering in this country. History starts to replicate itself. Despite all the talk of ambitious targets that are not going to be met, we ignore people in poverty and choose not to do anything. We commend and change motions, or bring forward countermotions referencing welcome Government action, when the reality for people on the ground is one of suffering, hunger, pain and hardship. It is cruel and we need to address it.

There are structural changes that we can choose to make if we actually want to address the fact that children and other people in this country live in poverty. Social Justice Ireland, Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids, SPARK, One Family and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have a wealth of policy recommendations that would vastly improve the circumstances of people suffering from poverty in this country. Those policy recommendations include linking welfare rates to a minimum essential standard of living, providing housing first, investing in local authorities and publicly-owned homes. Those organisations advocate investing in a publicly-funded model of childcare. There are old things to which we should always go back, such as strong public services that seek to eradicate the suffering of the population. If that is not what governance and being involved in the State is about, we are failing miserably.

It is also important to talk about poverty as it is experienced in schools, an area about which I am passionate. When I think about what the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed, I am almost amused at the way in which we, in Ireland, use words to cover what we actually mean. When children were sent home from school in March, we talked about a "digital divide" in this country. That means that many people were unable to educate their children and young people because they did not have access to a laptop. It is interesting that we can talk about a laptop in those terms. Perhaps we can aspire to one day giving kids laptops. If a child does not have a laptop, it is not that his or her parents did not work hard enough. The truth is that a divide exists in homes all over this country and is the reason kids were not able to be educated at home when they were sent home from school. It is not only a digital divide, it is a divide in terms of basic provisions such as a table on which children can do their homework. Most young people and teenagers who were sent home from school had to step in and do care work because their parents were off working in supermarkets and elsewhere, providing essential front-line services that were keeping our hospitals and supermarkets open. We never acknowledged that. All we said was that there was a digital divide. The divide that exists for students and young people in this country is far more substantial than that.

Poverty is never inevitable. Nobody chooses poverty, neither child nor adult. No parent would choose poverty when considering how to raise a child. These problems can be addressed and solved. We are a small nation and if we cannot address the poverty of our own citizens while we are still relatively wealthy, we need to up our ambition. There is much suffering out there that can be alleviated with the right level of effort and consideration for who we are as a republic.

The Labour Party and I wholeheartedly support this excellent motion and the recommendations therein.

The European Court of Auditors recently published a special report, Combating Child Poverty - Better Targeting of Commission Support. Mr. Tony Murphy, the Irish member of the court, was clear in his messaging about the European Union's response to eliminating child poverty. He stated:

Child poverty is a serious issue in the EU. Without a sustained and targeted action, the current unacceptable level is unlikely to decrease. It is becoming more critical because of the expected impact of the pandemic.

Those are stark words and bear closer scrutiny.

The report stated:

EU legislation does not target funding directly at combating child poverty. Both the Commission and the Member States visited could not quantify the amount of funds allocated to projects directly tackling child poverty and therefore could not assess their effectiveness.

By any standard, that is a damning indictment of us, as a country, and successive Governments, including the one of which I was a part. We now need radical action to ensure that this issue is addressed.

There were presentations during the week by the European Court of Auditors and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The central message from Mr. Murphy, the Irish member of the court, was that because EU instruments targeted at eliminating child poverty are not legally binding, it has become difficult to measure the true impact of measures intended to eliminate child poverty. The EU target of removing 20 million citizens from poverty has no sub-target for children and no adjusted target has been set even though it has been clear for some time that this objective will not be met. Mr. Murphy's critique, if I can use that word, was not just of the Commission for failing to pressure member states, but of member states themselves for being deliberately obtuse in drafting policy, interpreting directives and reporting results. Ms Karen Kiernan, chief executive officer of One Family, bore that out when she said that was her experience and that it applies to Ireland.

The policy discussion during the Society of St. Vincent de Paul presentation included policymakers from New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland. They discussed how best to respond to child poverty in an increasingly uncertain economic landscape. Ms Kristie Carter, director of the child poverty unit in New Zealand, spoke about the child poverty unit in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's department. The Prime Minister has a child poverty unit within her department. That is the level of importance that is ascribed to this issue in New Zealand. We can learn from that. I note that the Minister with responsibility for children is here today and I accept his bona fides but the example of New Zealand shows what can be done when political parentage, if you will, is given to this issue such that it is elevated to the equivalent level of the Department of the Taoiseach. That is when one starts seeing real action because that is when resources are made available. Policymakers, people who are charged with implementing policy, and stakeholders can then see real results from the efforts to eliminate child poverty.

Ms Carter highlighted that the creation of the child poverty unit was crucially accompanied by cutting red tape for non-governmental organisations, NGOs, as well as increasing funding. The logic was simply that if this was not made a priority, targets would be missed. That sums up the Irish scenario on the issue. It seems reasonable to request then that in addition to reporting, measuring and setting targets, the Government provides the necessary funding as happens in New Zealand.

We endorse the setting of legislative targets because we feel strongly it would guarantee accountability. Where there are nebulous targets, there is nebulous policy-making. Where people must account for themselves and their actions, one starts to see real results. The two events that took place this week were, arguably, very prescient because they dealt directly with the substance of the motion before us today. We are here again in the Dáil talking about these issues, and there is a working out of these issues when we talk about child poverty. All Members of the Oireachtas have countless examples of constituents who are suffering because of a lack of proper income but also because, increasingly, children do not have access to the basic services they require. From an answer to a parliamentary question I tabled this week on access for children and the number of children waiting for occupational therapy through the HSE, I learned there are now 21,000 children who have been waiting for up to one year. I have stated before in this House that there is something illogical about the fact that occupational therapists, front-line workers, are being deployed to do testing, swabbing and tracing when any reasonable non-medical person could be trained to do so. The net effect of the loss of an occupational therapy service is that children, by and large, suffer. We need to start producing logical public policy, particularly health policy, in respect of children. The lack of such policy leads to greater impoverishment. I use the term "impoverishment" broadly. We support the motion.

I welcome the opportunity, afforded to us by the Social Democrats' motion, to discuss this important issue. We recently celebrated, with some fanfare, the 100th anniversary of the Dáil. The statement adopted by the First Dáil 100 years ago reads: "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland." It is staggering that, in the intervening 100 years, we have failed so badly. Today, as this motion points out, there are over 200,000 children in poverty and a total of over 600,000 people in poverty. The rate of poverty is not an accident or unfortunate oversight. Unfortunately, it is not something that will be changed by Dáil motions, reviews, commissioning reports, setting targets or even convening august bodies of experts. It is systemic and ingrained, and it is a wholly foreseen consequence of our economic system and the priorities and policies of the current and past Governments.

It is true that the rates of poverty soared during the last recession but, despite some falls in recent years, there are still more children in poverty now than ten years ago. It is also true, unfortunately, that what the ESRI warned about in July will almost certainly come to pass, that is, that the Covid pandemic and recession will likely see an increase in the poverty rates by around one quarter. The persistent, endemic and extraordinary issue of child poverty is not ultimately caused by one recession or another but by the very structure of Ireland's economic and social fabric. Our industrial, housing, welfare and even climate policies will ensure this remains the case.

Over 100,000 of those in poverty are working. They are the working poor. The children of those workers are living in poverty not because of an oversight but because we have an economy that encourages low pay and precarious employment with minimal oversight and enforcement in respect of workers' rights and statutory entitlements. We pride ourselves on a voluntarist model of employer–worker relations. This is code for a lack of workers' rights and entitlements enforced by the State. Ireland is a haven for bad employers. A direct consequence of that system, carefully built up over decades, is the working poor and their children. So long as the Government's primary concern is to sell this country to national and international investors as a low-wage, deregulated economy with little oversight or enforcement of worker' rights we will continue to see high child poverty rates.

Thousands will be in emergency accommodation tonight. Thousands of children will be in poverty. Tomorrow, they will face gruelling journeys to and from school and the impact of not having a stable, secure home. This, again, is entirely foreseeable. It is a consequence of a housing policy that eulogies the private market and private provision of housing, that regards housing as a commodity to make some people wealthy and whose purpose is to generate wealth for a few rather than shelter for the many. As long as we have a system of REITS, vulture funds and untrammeled rights for landlords, it will continue. As long as the Government is more concerned about ending an eviction ban, in case it disturbs landlords, than about providing shelter and secure homes for people, we will continue to see high poverty rates in the wider society.

We are aware that 12% of children live in fuel poverty and that some 140,000 homes are cold and damp, yet we have a climate policy that prioritises individual responsibility in addressing carbon dioxide emissions, that allows organisations to get off the hook in terms of corporate responsibility and that regards raising carbon taxes on the fuel, heating and transport of ordinary people as a way to change personal behaviour. In short, it is a policy that is designed to fail in limiting the rise in carbon dioxide emissions and that is guaranteed to keep people in fuel poverty, with no alternatives. As long as the Government regards carbon tax increases on the fuel and heating needed by ordinary people as comprising the chief measure needed, we will continue to see high child poverty rates.

The slight falls in child poverty rates noticed in recent years are being wiped away as we speak, I suspect, because of the effects of the Covid crisis on carbon dioxide emissions and the minimal increase in social welfare rates. In one sense, there is no mystery about how to end child poverty, if that is the goal; it is entirely possible to target State supports in housing, employment, health, education, climate mitigation and, especially, social protection and welfare to make a real impact. Again, however, we see from recent steps and actions of the Government that, when the chips are down, these are not among its priorities. It is entirely foreseeable that the recent cuts in the pandemic unemployment payments for over 200,000 recipients and the wage subsidy scheme payments for another 300,000 will add to the misery, the difficulty in making ends meet, and the worry, stress and uncertainty for thousands upon thousands. Ultimately, this will result in an increase in the rates of child poverty, fuel poverty and food poverty seen in the statistics.

We support this motion, but in the unfortunate certainty that it will have no impact on the lives of those children in poverty tonight and those whom this Government and its policies will keep in poverty in the coming months and years. To achieve change, we ultimately need more than a Dáil motion. We need a mass movement of workers, families and others affected by the headline rates that will force the current and future Governments to address the deep structural injustices and inequalities that have been ingrained in our economic and social system since the State was founded. We discussed motions such as this 100 years ago and we are still doing so today. The problem is systemic and endemic and needs to be addressed from the bottom up.

One of the first responsibilities of any nation is to make sure no child grows up hungry, without a roof over his or her head and without access to healthcare and education.

These are very simple and basic objectives that any republic should hold as its first priorities. The truth of the matter is that these are not the priorities of this State. That can be seen in the radical numbers of children and people who live in poverty, not just people who are out of work but also the working poor who are living in poverty in the State.

I have to agree to a certain extent with previous speakers that we often hear a lot of worthy words coming from Government parties around the issues of child poverty, but child poverty is not a mistake, an accident or a situation that has happened despite all the best efforts of previous Governments and the policies they were involved in. Child poverty exists because of the policies and efforts of and decisions made by previous Governments.

I heard the Minister speak. He spoke about the fact that he felt it was an extremely complex situation. Many family situations can be extremely complex. I have no doubt that there are a lot of individual reasons families find themselves in poverty, but in the general scheme of things the issue of child poverty is not a deeply complex one. It is a very simple issue. At the heart of it is the massive inequalities of wealth that exist in this country and the world.

We are living at a time where there is a phenomenal concentration of wealth in the hands of just a few individuals. Figures from a number of weeks ago show that about 2,100 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as 4.6 billion people, which is about 60% of the population of the planet. Jeff Bezos, who is likely to become the first trillionaire in 2026, will at that stage, it is estimated, have as much wealth as 137 individual countries. That is breathtaking. We are living at a time of income inequality that has not been as big since probably medieval times.

The reasons that is happening are many, but one of the key issues is tax injustice. It is feeding the massive wealth creation of a small number of individuals and as a result is robbing the vast majority of people of the ability to raise their families and put a roof over their heads, gain access to education and healthcare and feed their families. This country's taxation policies are one of the driving forces of tax injustice.

Aontú firmly believes that foreign direct investment is massively important for the development of the future of this country and we welcome foreign direct investment into this country, but we believe that it should be based on competitive advantages in education, transport, ICT communications and the quality of life that exists. It should not be based on bargain basement taxes, as is currently the case.

Wealth inequality is leading to massive poverty throughout Ireland. In my constituency, Meath West, my constituency office is the home of the Meath Food Bank. That organisation does massive work to make sure that the people of Meath have access to food in these difficult times. It has helped well over 600 families this year alone with the distribution of food packages. Most of the families who use the food bank told its head, Aisling Lowe, that the fears they had with regard to the return to school were not necessarily about to Covid but rather their ability to feed their children when school restarted.

It would be impossible to discuss the issue of child poverty today without discussing the policies of the Government with regard to Covid-19. We have to be careful and cautious about Covid-19. It is important that we socially distance, that people work from home where possible, that people do their best to keep the numbers down, etc. I also believe that the Government is involved in delivering policies that are having a radical effect on society, and which are causing child poverty now and will cause it in the future. In his speech the Minister said he is carrying out research on the effects of Covid-19 on children, which I welcome. The Government is not doing enough research on the effect of its policies on poverty throughout the country at the moment. We do not have the necessary research on mortality and morbidity from non-Covid health issues. We do not have the necessary research on what is happening economically to many of our families. If the Government is involved in delivering such a radical economic policy without carrying out that research, that means it is, in many ways, operating blind and is operating a policy which shows that it does not understand the ramifications of that policy for the people of the country.

Hundreds of thousands of families have had their incomes radically reduced. The families who own small businesses throughout the country have had their incomes massacred. There is no doubt that the biggest driver of poverty is currently Covid and the Government's response to it. We are adding €30 billion of deficit debt onto the State this year. The State already has one of the largest national debts of any country in the world per capita. It is likely that within, three, four or five years - perhaps within the lifetime of the Government - we could have a debt of €300 billion a year in this State. That would be a radical debt and would mean we would have to increase our interest repayments significantly. Interest repayments currently cost the State about €6 billion per year, which is two-thirds of the education budget from preschool right up to fourth level. If that has to be increased to about €9 billion over the next number of years in order to meet that new debt, that is an opportunity cost. It is money that will come out of housing, education, healthcare and the pockets of families throughout Ireland. It will add significantly to child poverty within the country. It is time for the Government to challenge and fight Covid in the best way it can, but we need some level of proportion, balance and understanding of the ramifications for the rest of society of those policies.

There are four speakers in the Rural Independent Group.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Private Members' motion, which is very important. We need to take into consideration the ramifications Covid-19 will create for low-income families over the next number of months and into next year. Anybody studying the statistics which show the number of young people who are in, or are in danger of being in, poverty at present will know that this is indeed a very frightening time.

Social welfare payments will be extremely important over the next number of months. It is very important that, now more than ever before, our community welfare officers, who do excellent work, play an important role. They have knowledge of their local communities. I remind the House that there were plans by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to do away with social welfare inspectors and community officers. Thankfully, the Department has realised how important those eyes and ears are and how important it is to have people on the ground who know local families who are what I would call vulnerable and are in need and who can ensure those needs can be addressed. It is terribly important to retain that connectivity.

Welfare inspectors cannot have the type of face-to-face meetings they used to have, but when they see applications for supplementary welfare allowances for whatever a need may be they can deal with them using their local knowledge which is terribly important. The next number of months will be vital and it is important that we protect children from poverty by protecting their parents from it.

I acknowledge the courage shown by the Social Democrats in bringing forward this motion on childhood poverty. I agree 100% with the motion in that child poverty is a criticism of the Government. What does poverty do to children? It takes away their childhood that they do not understand is missing. It can impair their education, health and well-being. Child poverty rates in Ireland doubled during the last recession. One in five children is currently at risk of poverty. Who knows what figures Covid will bring? According to the Central Statistics Office survey on income and living conditions published in 2019, more than 200,000 Irish children are living in poverty. The survey indicated that 689,000 people, including 202,000 children, are living under the poverty line. There are 36,000 more people living in poverty compared with the number a decade ago. It is worth mentioning that the number of people aged 65 or over living in poverty has risen staggeringly since the previous report in 2008, from 20,000 to 78,000. I strongly support the motion on child poverty. The Government must recognise that children and the elderly are the most vulnerable people in society. We need to look after the well-being of children and others around the country. The Government should do the right thing. I support the motion 100%.

I too wish to compliment the Social Democrats on tabling the motion. As the Minister stated, we all know how important children are and how vital it is that they are protected. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. As the adage goes, praise the young and they will come on in leaps and bounds. Surveys carried out by Family Carers Ireland indicate that many children are family carers. This issue involves significant amounts of money. Imagine teenagers or younger children caring for sick people because the Government will not step in and does not have proper care systems in place. Imagine the damage that is doing to those children. They are being denied their right to take part in sport, the arts, creative work or whatever else they wish to do. Some of them are even being denied their right to attend second level education. In my opinion, that is noting short of child abuse.

We need to deal with this issue. The motion is fine but there should be no more talk. What is going to be done? Will these children be looked after properly? The House has passed legislation dealing with children. There was a children's referendum. It involved very pious platitudes, but what came out of it? Tusla is going around doing investigations and, in many cases, intervening and taking children from homes. It is a shocking indictment of the State that in 2020 and even before Covid there are no proper supports or respect for na daoine óige. Young people are our future. They are our brightest and best and will go on to fulfil their promise if they get the proper opportunities. There should be equal opportunity. There is much talk in this House about equality. Much of it is tokenism. Where is the equality for the many children who are in poverty or being encouraged to act as drug mules and money mules and other things like that? That was addressed last week in the House. The opportunity for such children to be exploited in that way is there because the legislation is not strong enough. Do we care enough about children? We should care more about them. They certainly should not be expected to have to be the carer for a grandparent, parent or sibling. The State should employ the necessary staff to work as carers. I support the motion.

I thank Deputy Gannon and the Social Democrats for tabling this important motion. It gives us an opportunity to discuss this issue. Low- and medium-income families are under savage financial pressure. The cost of providing a home, by renting or otherwise, and putting food on the table is a real problem for many families. I wish to appeal to community welfare officers, who are doing very good work, to continue to look after low-income families and ensure that children have food and that all their needs are met. Some children go to school hungry in the mornings. The schools discreetly look after them and give them the opportunity to get food. That is one aspect of the matter that we, as elected representatives, should address by insisting that schools get financial assistance to provide this service for children who go into their classroom hungry. It is not a widespread problem, but it is a real problem that is happening in rural and urban schools. It is a problem that arises because money is scarce. For those who are living on the bread line, money is very tight. Whatever else happens, we must ensure that children are not left hungry. In these times, many people are eating more than they ought. I may be one of them. We must ensure that school children and other young children have enough to eat and that their needs are met. We have a duty to do so.

Deputies Joan Collins and Connolly are sharing time.

I absolutely support the motion brought forward by the Social Democrats on child poverty. As the country entered the current crisis, 700,000 people were living below the poverty line and 225,000 of them were children. The ESRI sounded a stark warning on a big increase in child poverty this year. Social supports are very important and I support all measures called for in the motion. The Government has committed to maintaining social welfare payments but they are not enough. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul estimates that an individual needs at least €250 per week for a basic standard of living.

I wish to concentrate on a key factor in widespread poverty, namely, the prevalence of low pay and precarious work and the high number of part-time workers who wish to be allocated more hours. Some one in five workers is low paid. Many of them, such as porters, cleaners, catering staff, retail workers, workers in the HSE and other workers across the board, played a front-line role in the pandemic. Dublin is the second most expensive city in the EU in which to live, with only Copenhagen being more expensive. It is impossible to survive on a minimum wage or working part time with limited hours.

Patricia King of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Gerry Light of Mandate Trade Union were absolutely correct to withdraw from the Low Pay Commission. A rise of less than 1% in the minimum wage is a derisory offer. We need to move to the living wage, which currently stands at €12.30. It should be at least €15 per hour. The minimum wage is supposed to be a floor, but for many workers it is a ceiling. In the hospitality sector in particular, it is the maximum wage and the norm, leaving workers to rely on tips, if they get them. In the past, sectoral employment orders were used in areas in which it was difficult to organise workers into unions. This is now a significant problem for workers on low pay or with limited hours and precarious employment. There is a virtual reign of terror by management and workers are afraid to raise their voices, never mind join a union.

The key to combatting low pay and child poverty is a well-organised, unionised work force. Legislative change is necessary to help unions and workers to organise. Two things are required. First, unions should have a right of access to workplaces for health and safety inspections, to check conditions for compliance with labour law and to talk to workers without threats or reprisals by management. Second, workers should have the right not just to join a union, but to be represented by a union of their choice. I raise these issues while fully supporting the motion because as long as we have widespread low pay, we will have widespread child poverty.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a gabháil chuig an Teachta Whitmore as ucht an rún seo a chuir os comhair na Dála. I thank Deputy Whitmore and the Social Democrats for bringing the motion before the Dáil. It is a reflection on how seriously the House takes this subject that there was barely a quorum to deal with this business today. The silence of the Dáil speaks volumes.

In that sense, I feel sorry for the Minister, but perhaps that will give him more inspiration to begin to lead. While I welcome the Minister's speech and the positive things the Minister has said, I am disappointed that there is no commitment to the eradication of poverty. We do not want a reduction in policy. We want an eradication in policy. If we do not that, we cannot call ourselves a republic.

Many references have been made to the Constitution, which I have not time to go into. I refer to Article 42A, where we committed to cherishing all of the nation equally. Here we are in 2020 and we cannot call ourselves a republic if we tolerate poverty. The figures are startling and it does not matter where one quotes them from. There is no getting away from it. I welcome the steps that have been taken but those steps have failed to realise, as has been pointed out by other speakers, that poverty is a direct result of Government policy over the years. For example, one of the strongest messages from myself, from other Deputies and from Social Justice Ireland is that there is a need to build public housing on public land and stop privatising our housing, which is one of the major contributors to poverty. For a long time, social welfare expenditure was up around €19 billion. It is higher now with Covid. Without social welfare, we would have a country full of poverty. It is social welfare that is lifting people out of the poverty. Notwithstanding social welfare, in 2018 almost 680,000 people were living below the poverty line, of whom 200,000 were under 18. I could quote many figures but I do not want to quote figures. I want to appeal to the Minister to begin to look at the policies of the Government and to poverty proof them. Years ago, the Combat Poverty Agency attempted to do something like that before the Government abolished it. We are back now with a motion drawing attention to the levels of poverty in Ireland without directly looking at the cause.

Europe and the European Court of Auditors have been mentioned. One of the articles of the Lisbon treaty, on which we were forced to vote twice to get the right answer, includes a strong commitment to increase our military spending progressively. Can the Minister imagine if we had an article in the Lisbon treaty requiring us to increase progressively our spending to eradicate poverty by 2025? Can the Minister imagine the difference that would make? We can do it with military spending. Can the Minister imagine that we have it in black and white that all countries, including Ireland, will progressively increase our military spending? Following up on that, they have regular meetings to examine how much is being spent and how effectively it is being spent with a view to going forward to a European army, which is for another day's discussion. If we can set such targets for military spending, surely we can set a realistic target to eliminate poverty in Ireland, not only for the sake of eliminating poverty but also because we would then have a thriving economy. Our economy will thrive when we do not have poverty and we realise that we should not be concerned with lifting adults and children out of poverty for their own sake, but for our sake. That is when we will have a true republic and a truly thriving economy, and that is when we will be able to call ourselves one of the fastest growing and richest countries in the world with pride. We will have pride in having eliminated a gap that is a direct result of Government policies.

The Minister has a golden opportunity. We will be behind him. We will work with him, but he must have a target to eradicate poverty and to poverty proof all his policies.

Is Deputy Joe O'Brien sharing time with the Minister?

No. I will take it all, if I can.

I thank Deputy Whitmore for bringing forward this motion and I thank the other Deputies for their thoughtful and well-considered contributions to this debate.

Perhaps nothing encapsulates the inequality and unfairness of our society more than issue of child poverty. Up the road in the Rotunda, some children will be born today and during this week into situations where they will virtually have every opportunity in the world open to them. There will be others who, by chance of birth, will be born into poverty. The unfairness and wrongness of that should eat us all to the core. For children born into that situation, their window of opportunity starts to tighten almost immediately. It is our job to slow that tightening to keep that window of opportunity open.

I feel very strongly about this issue. I am glad to have an opportunity to work on this issue over the next few years and glad to be working with my colleague for some years, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, on the issue of child poverty.

A range of important issues have been raised throughout the course of this debate. I would like to be clear that from my point of view and that of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Government as a whole, tackling child poverty is a Government priority, especially in the context of the potentially destructive effects that will come from the impacts of the Covid crisis, the full extent of which we have yet to learn.

As the House may be aware, the programme for Government commits to the publication and implementation of a successor to the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures strategy, as mentioned earlier by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. Continuing to address child poverty will be a central component of this strategy, according to an ambitious target-led strategy, and I welcome the commitment from the Minister in that regard today.

The programme also commits to implement the current First 5 strategy for babies, young children and their families, which outlines a number of poverty prevention measures. We have also committed to work across Government to address food poverty. The school meals programme is a key component of this and with the co-operation of our schools around the country, this programme continued during the summer months and during the pandemic. I was also pleased to see that my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, recently announced a €152 million package for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance which has been extended to include parents receiving the pandemic unemployment payment.

The current target in relation to child poverty is to lift 70,000 children out of consistent poverty by 2020, which would represent a reduction of at least two thirds on the 2011 level. Significant progress has been made in addressing child poverty in recent years, although I acknowledge, as others have, that significant work remains if we are to achieve a truly meaningful reduction. It is important to acknowledge progress because it gives us hope and makes us realise that this is achievable. In that regard, it is important to mention a couple of figures. In 2013, the consistent poverty rate for children peaked at 12.7% or 150,000 children. By 2018, we had reduced that to 7.7% or 92,000 children. This means that 58,000 children, or over one third of the peak total, were taken out of consistent poverty between 2013 and 2018. This is achievable. The 2018 rate of 7.7% was the lowest since 2008, when the rate was 6.2%.

The previous four budgets have introduced a number of measures that will continue to have a direct and positive impact on poverty, particularly child poverty. The full impact of these measures is still being realised, although I acknowledge that Covid-19 creates further challenges.

In terms of my own direct responsibility, the Roadmap for Social Inclusion was adopted in January of this year and is the latest in a series of national inclusion strategies dating back to 1997 and the time of the Combat Poverty Agency, to which Deputy Connolly referred. This overarching statement of Government strategy acknowledges a range of sectoral plans with social inclusion as a core objective. The roadmap sets targets against a number of key aspects of social inclusion with a view to positioning Ireland as a top performer within Europe. With regard to child poverty, the target is to reduce the at risk of poverty or social exclusion rate for those under 18 years sufficiently to move Ireland into the top five EU countries by 2025. To this end, the roadmap establishes a series of commitments, one of which is to continue to target a reduction in poverty among children and families on low incomes as part of the annual budget process and to establish a report on a new target in respect of child poverty. As part of the governance process underpinning this strategy, I will chair the interdepartmental steering group tasked with monitoring progress against each of the 66 unique commitments outlined in the roadmap.

I have to agree that having some 92,000 children in consistent poverty is not acceptable.

That is why recent budgets have focused on improvements for families and children through various measures, such as targeted increases in social welfare payments and supports for families; increases in the weekly qualified child rates; increases in the income thresholds for the working family payment; increases in the earnings disregard for the lone parent and jobseeker's transition payments; the roll-out of the national childcare scheme to support parents in employment and those who wish to return to employment to take up education or training opportunities; the extension of the free GP care to children under eight years; the introduction of free dental care for children up to six years; the availability of free universal preschool provision for two years through the early childhood care and education scheme; and the introduction of paternity and parental leave to support parents of young children. There is also the continued implementation of the DEIS action plan to address and prioritise the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities from preschool to second level. In the context of the pandemic and what this Government has achieved, this has been a crucial anti-poverty measure to get the schools open and keep them open. Everyone will agree that has been an important achievement in recent months.

When I have the opportunity to speak, I like to bring the voice of the people we talk about into the debate as much as possible. I thank Deputy Gannon for this in particular. I will read some short testimonies from the Children's Rights Alliance report on children in homelessness. I have asked my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to take heed of these accounts. This is the personal testimony from Veronica, aged 26:

It was costing me €6 every morning on a lunch for Alice going to school and I’d have to buy that in the garage. So I was driving to the garage, getting the breakfast because I had no fridge I couldn’t store anything. Then coming up to the Christmas I was trying to save a few quid for Santa so I went and bought some yoghurts and butter and cheese and I left it in my car because it was freezing, so that was my fridge. There was a communal kitchen but there were no locks on anything, so if you went and done your shopping and there was another family there that didn't, they would help themselves to your food. When you came back later in the afternoon everything was gone. Eventually I bought a kettle, I boiled eggs in it and steamed the baby's bottles with it, and we used it for soup, we had soup and rolls.

I will read one more, the personal testimony of Jessica, aged 24:

When we were in the hotel and moving around, Clare's behaviour got very, very bad you know. She was very, I don’t like to say bold but she was very bold, you know she was just acting up all the time like, attention-seeking and screaming, all this stuff. She lashed out all the time, you know we’d come back to the hotel, and then, if we were after booking out and booking back in, we’d change room, like they’d give us a different room. Clare wouldn’t understand. She’d be on the floor in the hallway shouting, 'This is our house!' You know so I had to kind of explain to her somehow like, 'No we’re in this one today', it wasn’t nice to try to explain that to her.

I reaffirm my commitment and that of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Government to tackling child poverty. The most recent data from 2018 show how far we have come but also how much further there is to go. We have set ourselves an ambitious target which we remain committed to. Strategies such as the Roadmap for Social Inclusion and the successor, Better Outcomes, Brighter Future, will help us to achieve the target.

I call Deputies Cairns and Whitmore to conclude.

I echo the concerns of my colleagues in the Social Democrats that only four children are to be welcomed here from Greece. The people we represent expect better. I urge the Minister of State and his Department to do more and do better. I say that respectfully, as I think he agrees.

Our motion speaks to an ugly truth in Irish society. It highlights a reality that is often overlooked. While the "term child poverty" conjures up images of 20th century slums, the fact is that over 200,000 children are at risk of poverty in Ireland and more than 90,000 are in consistent poverty. That is more children than the entire population of my constituency. These children are at risk of, or live in, economic and material deprivation. This means that they do not have guaranteed access to sufficient food, shelter, health care, and other essentials that so many of us take for granted. These are truly shocking figures, all the more so for a country that is considered one of the wealthiest in Europe. These children are living in households with low incomes. They experience what it is like to go without basics, to go without food when they are hungry or heat when they are cold and to grow up with entire families in cramped hotel rooms or bed and breakfast accommodation, without room to develop or a quiet place to do their schoolwork.

Analysis by the CSO has found that the risk of poverty is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. The consistent erosion of working conditions means that many farming and fishing families fall below the poverty line. At the start of the pandemic, volunteers in west Cork food banks were worried that they would not be able to get enough supplies to ensure families in my constituency would be fed. A primary school principal recently explained to me how several households were dependent on the school meals scheme. This reality often goes unnoticed. In both rural and urban Ireland, there are children going hungry or without the structures they need to develop healthily and to their full potential. Their childhoods will be book-ended by two recessions, and this will leave an impact on their opportunities and ability to reach their potential for the rest of their lives. We know children bore the brunt of the last recession. We cannot allow that to happen again.

These inequalities will perpetuate class and social division for future generations and lead to social exclusion for many of these children. They have not made this choice. They are victims of a society that does not see them as important as corporate tax breaks, or investment companies and housing developers.

We also know that poverty affects children from minority backgrounds or children with disabilities more. Our disability support organisations and professionals do amazing work, but they simply do not have the resources to help everybody properly. We all know stories of children waiting years for vital operations and therapeutic services, confined to inappropriate wheelchairs, or not being able to be educated in their area. If their family has the means, they can get these privately; if not, they must wait, sometimes in pain, for the State to get around to them. This is the reality of child poverty in Ireland.

It is a huge indictment of our society that child poverty continues to persist in any form, let alone in the significant numbers that we see today. Our youngest and most vulnerable citizens continue to be deprived of their childhood, their health and their well-being. It does not have to be like this. The eradication of child poverty is fully within our reach, and it can be done within the lifetime of this Dáil if the Government shows ambition and provides the commitment and means to do so.

Our motion today aims to address child poverty in Ireland and elicit a whole-of-Government response. We are echoing calls by Social Justice Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, the Children's Rights Alliance and others. This Government needs to legislate to end child poverty and establish a child poverty unit, headed by the Department of the Taoiseach. The only way to do this is with collaboration across all Departments, including that of the Minister of State, and by poverty proofing every piece of legislation, starting with the budget. This motion is a means to end child poverty. It goes to the heart of why we are public representatives. We have a choice today. I urge our fellow Deputies both in opposition and in government to support this motion and to make a commitment not just to reduce child poverty or increase funding, but to implement real change underpinned by legislation and end child poverty in Ireland for good. We can and should end child poverty. I thank other parties for their support today and thank my colleague, Deputy Whitmore, for the work she has put into this motion.

I thank the Members who have supported the motion. While I thank the Minister for his contribution, I was incredibly disappointed with it because it did not address the issue. In order for us to solve a problem, we must acknowledge that it exists. The Government's amendment does not recognise that there is a problem with poverty or child poverty in this country. It suggests the Government thinks that the steps it and previous Governments have taken are sufficient for us to address the major issue of poverty that we have.

Simply by setting a target to pull 70,000 children out of consistent child poverty over a seven-year period, the Government of the time acknowledged that it was okay to leave 30,000 or 35,000 children behind. I do not believe it is acceptable for any child in this country to live in consistent poverty. Any child who does live in consistent poverty reflects a failure by the Government in its duty of care to those children.

When we set such targets, we are acknowledging that we are okay with allowing a certain number of children to fall between the cracks. That is not okay. It is why the Social Democrats have set a target of elimination. It is only then that we will show real leadership on addressing this problem. We need to be ambitious. It is not ambitious to say that we will leave thousands of children behind because our policies cannot be refined or robust enough to deal with them.

The Minister stated that the programme for Government committed to addressing child poverty, but it does not even mention the term "child poverty". The Minister referred to how we needed evidence to address the issue, but we already have that evidence. We have target after target that we have not met. We have report after report. For example, there have been 12 reports on one-parent families and poverty. We have the reports and evidence that we need. We do not need any more. Rather, we need action to address these issues. The children who are living in consistent poverty now and who were living in it in the previous recession need us to move quickly. Otherwise, we will burden them through our inaction and poor decisions. It is not fair.

I was disappointed that the Minister did not take the opportunity to be strong and brave on this matter. As new Deputies, we come into the Dáil and think about what we can achieve and the difference we can make. The Minister, his party colleagues and every other new Deputy have come to the Dáil with those ambitions, but it is through decisions like the one to be taken today that we will actually realise them. It will not be done by postponing, playing politics with or ripping everything out of a solid motion and replacing it with something that is wishy-washy and has no concrete targets or objectives. That is not how we will address this issue. The children of the country deserve much better.

Deputy Connolly referred to how it was difficult to get a quorum today. I wonder whether that was because many Deputies were up watching last night's debate in the US. This raises a point that we need to be conscious about. We look to the US in shock, horror or, sometimes, derision. Unless we start tackling our systemic societal issues, we will split our country in two and face the exact same situation as the US or, indeed, the UK, with whole generations left behind and feeling disenfranchised. It is on a day like today that we can actually stop that from happening.

Before they vote, I call on all Deputies, in particular Government Deputies, to please think about why they got involved in politics and what they wanted to achieve. Our children need us to be brave and ambitious. They need us in their corner. They cannot afford to bear the burden of our inaction or bad policy decisions on their shoulders any longer.

Amendment put.

Insofar as a vote has been demanded, it will be postponed until the weekly division time this evening in accordance with Standing Order 80(2).