I am committed to reducing child poverty levels in Ireland. My Department is currently working on a new Roadmap for Social Inclusion which includes concrete commitments, policies and strategies in to reduce child poverty. The Roadmap will include targets designed to address poverty and social exclusion including specific targets in relation to child poverty. I expect to bring the Roadmap to Government for approval in the near future and to publish it prior to the summer recess.
The existing National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, called Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, includes a target to reduce, by two-thirds, the number of children in consistent poverty from its 2011 level of 106,000 to no more than 37,000 by 2020. Given the impact of the deep recession this target is extremely challenging. In fact the number of children recorded as being in consistent poverty increased to just over 148,000 during 2013.
The latest data from the 2017 Survey on Income and Living Conditions, or SILC, show a significant reduction in the consistent poverty rate for children, which decreased from 10.9% to 8.8%, a reduction of just over 2 percentage points, the second highest reduction in the rate since the collection of SILC data began in 2004. In terms of numbers, there were on average 105,000 children in consistent poverty during 2017 - a reduction of 30% on its peak level in 2013; so contrary to the proposition set out in the question the number of children in poverty is falling, not as much as we would like or as fast as we would like but still we are making progress. We have yet to receive the up to date data for 2018 and 2019, however, if this rate of reduction continues (and given the continued recovery in our economic fortunes, we expect that it has) we should get close to the national target by the end of 2020.
We will be helped in meeting that target by changes I made to child related welfare payments over the past two budgets the impact of which have yet to be reflected in the SILC data. These include the first increases for many years in payments for child dependents, the introduction of a new higher rate of payment in respect of children over 12 and increases in income thresholds and disregards for the Working Family payment and the One Parent Family payment. I have also provided increased funding for free school meals and launched a new Hot School Meals pilot programme this year. In making these changes I have, together with other colleagues who have, for example, extended free GP and affordable child care services, specifically targeted the issue of child poverty and we expect that these changes will bear fruit.
The new Roadmap for Social Inclusion takes a whole-of government approach, and will collect in one place the range of policy measures across government Departments that are designed to address the different aspects of poverty and social exclusion. This Roadmap sets out our ambition to significantly reduce poverty levels and identifies a specific set of commitments to help deliver on this ambition for different groups, including children. It also identifies the Departments repsonsbile for delivering on these commitments and the timeline for delivery of these commitments. In this way I, as Minister, intend to hold all of Government agencies and Departments to account for ensuring that we become the most socially inclusive State in the EU.