I thank the committee for the opportunity to present the results of our annual report card.
Before we go further I want to talk a little about the Children's Rights Alliance. We are a membership body that is almost 25 years old. We are an umbrella organisation for organisations campaigning for children and young people in Ireland.
The report card is one of our flagship projects and it is an annual project. The report tracks how the Government is delivering on its promises to children in the programme for Government. These are not promises we have made up; they have been made by the Government and the Government has committed to them in the programme for Government.
One significant point about the report card is that while the Children's Rights Alliance writes and researches the report, an independent panel grades the report card every year. The panel is chaired by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness and includes a range of different experts. That is important for us because while we are close to the issues, the panel tries to be as neutral as possible in grading the report card.
I will comment on this year's report card. We are three years into the current programme for Government. The Government got a C grade, which is the highest grade to date for this programme for Government. This is because in nearly every area we have seen progress on the commitments the Government has made.
I will outline some of the high points in the report card. The Government gets an A grade for the LGBTI+ strategy. I will comment on the detail of that strategy. It is probably one of the biggest and most effective consultations ever undertaken for a youth initiative by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. One significant point is that the measures in the strategy will deal with some of the key problems that we know LGBTI children face. During the consultation we heard that many young people suffer from bullying in the school place. They are stereotyped and many self-harm. Even though we saw a high point with marriage equality, things have not changed sufficiently for LGBTI+ young people in schools. I hope the strategy will get us there.
Another high point relates to child poverty. The reason I say that is because last year, we had the most progressive budget to date since before the recession when it comes to child poverty. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection budget included a range of different measures that will have an impact for children. We have over 100,000 children living in consistent poverty. That number grew exponentially at different points during the recession. We had a decrease in December, with 25,000 children lifted out of consistent poverty. The types of measures in the budget related to older children, who are more likely to experience poverty. There was an extra €5 in welfare payments for those children. There was extra funding for the school meals programme, including the piloting of a hot school meals programme. That is really important because that is one of the answers when we are dealing with child poverty in Ireland. There was also the possibility of lone parents being able to earn more every week before losing their benefits. These kinds of targeted measures will make a major difference to families. Obviously, however, we are only part of the way there and we need sustained investment and programmes if we are going to change the dial when it comes to child poverty.
Another area I wish to highlight as a high point relates to childcare. Last year a total of 72,000 families got to benefit from a childcare subsidy. That is significant in our history. Committee members will know that we are far behind when it comes to childcare. Other countries were developing their national childcare systems in the 1940s and 1950s and so we are years behind. What is significant about last year is the fact that €574 million was secured to provide a national childcare scheme subsidy. There are issues in respect of whether that scheme will be wide enough for people living in poverty and I can talk to the committee in more detail about that but it is a milestone in the development of our system.
I will make some final points, including some points on direct provision. We saw some significant developments in the past year when it comes to children living in direct provision. The direct provision payment that children receive on a weekly basis was increased from €21.10 to €29.80. That is significant because for 15 years, children in direct provision were only receiving €9.60 per week.
Another important point is that national standards for refugee accommodation have been developed.
These have yet to be published and to be honest, unless there are independent inspections these standards will not be meaningful and will not result in the change that we need to see in this area.
There are low points too. Committee members will see in the report card that the Government gets an F grade when it comes to child homelessness. It is not that we fail to recognise there is much happening across the board. We know over €60 million is going into homeless services. We know €1 billion is going into housing assistance payments to help families try to stay in rented accommodation. However, the reality is that between 2017 and 2018 an extra 500 children entered homeless accommodation. These measures have not been sufficient to turn the tide when it comes to child homelessness. We know that approximately 12% of children in homeless accommodation have been there for two years or more. We are highly concerned about the impact of institutionalisation on these children, as well as the impact on their education and welfare.
Lastly, I wish to highlight the area of Travellers. This is to my shame. I have been chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance for seven years at this stage. We are seeing a serious deterioration in the situation for Traveller children, especially when it comes to accommodation. We know that 40% of Traveller children are living in overcrowded accommodation. That makes it very difficult for them and it is a very stressful situation. Oftentimes, they do not have access to sanitation. We hear parents talking about bringing children out during the night to urinate. We also hear, despite all of this, that central government is making money available to invest in Traveller accommodation but it is not being spent. That is one of the major scandals when it comes to Travellers.
Those are some of the main points. I am happy to answer any questions from committee members.