Published date: 10 Oct 2023
Budget 2024 delivers key universal measures for children, but targeted interventions on income don’t go far enough for low-income families
Commenting on Budget 2024 measures announced today (10.10.2023), Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said;
“For the second year in a row, we see significant effort from Government to address the high cost of education that places a serious strain on families each September. The provision of free school books at primary level last year has already seen positive outcomes, with calls for support from our members St Vincent de Paul, down by 20% in the first year of the scheme. Investing in these services puts money back in the pockets of families juggling the increased cost of living. The continued investment to expand free school books to second level is hugely positive. It will provide certainty that many families living in poverty do not have when it comes to how they will get their children ready for back to school. We know that the cost of books increases alongside the cost of clothes, food and activities for teenagers. We urge Government to progress this to ensure every student can benefit from this scheme by extending this to all of second level in next year’s budget.”
“In order to break the cycle of poverty, we need to see ambitious investment in the early years of a child’s life to change the trajectory of their future. Ireland has one of the highest childcare costs in Europe. Securing a further 25% cut in Budget 2024 will go a huge way to alleviating the pressure on families. However, childcare is only one part of the picture. The evidence tells us that by the time a child turns three, many outcomes have already been determined so investment in the first few years is critical. Early years is the single biggest leveller but we know access to early childhood education and care is far from equal. For the most disadvantaged children, there are more barriers to accessing the services and support they need, when and where they need it,” said Tanya Ward. “To reach these children early in their life, we need a shift of focus to bring the services to them.”
“A DEIS style model of early years provision has the potential to ensure these children and their families have access to the right supports, at the right time. There is compelling evidence of the positive outcomes these types of programmes can have. We know that children who availed of similar programmes in other countries had improved IQ scores, reading and mathematical skills, social skills and better education and employment opportunities. The programmes also reported a decrease in young people repeating years in schools and smoking and drug use.”
“Today’s Budget announcement includes an initial €4.5million to get the Department of Children’s (DCEDIY) new Equal Participation Model up and running. The Model will see a DEIS-style approach to early childhood education and care that focuses on children most impacted by poverty including Traveller and Roma children, a group often left behind in Budget discussions.”
“Once off payments will only ever have a fleeting impact on the children and families who are already struggling. It is welcome to see some permanent increases, including to the Qualified Child Increase (QCI; a welfare payment for children available for parents who are on social welfare). However, with the current cost of raising a child in Ireland, today’s announcement of an increase of €4 a week does not go far enough to break the cycle of poverty. With the double child benefit payment coming at a cost of €179 million, it begs the question if that money could have been used more effectively to reach children whose lives are curtailed by child poverty.”
“Last year, it was children that had the highest rate of consistent poverty. Right now, there are over 90,000 children who know what it feels like to go to school hungry or wear shoes that are sizes too small. There are young people living in homelessness emergency accommodation who cannot have their friends over to play or those walking to college because they cannot afford the bus trip. We have heard from parents who are going without dinner to ensure their child has a hot meal that night. Government needs to start thinking beyond the next few months, and beyond cost of living, to the systemic issues pulling families into poverty and the income gap that will continue to deepen with these minimal increases.”
“It is positive to see Government follow through on its commitment to expand the Hot School Meals Programme to an additional 900 primary schools. Budget 2024 also finally delivers an increase in the foster care payment – an increase we have waited for since 2009. Given the current recruitment and retention issues faced in the sector, the fact that this will be brought in before the end of the year is welcome.”
“Through successive budgets, we have witnessed how political decisions can make or break early interventions, the effectiveness of services for children and, the access to opportunities for children and young people. Child poverty is not inevitable. It is a direct result of political decisions and with Budget 2024, it is clear that Government has started to consider what decisions are in the best interest of children and young people. It will take successive budgets to deliver the significant investment and ambitious long-term thinking that is needed to end child poverty but at the very least, this Budget lays the foundation for renewed political attention and action to realise this vision,” Tanya Ward concluded.
Notes to Editors:
- Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance is available for media interviews.
- The Children’s Rights Alliance Pre Budget Submission is available here.
- Literature Review of Early Interventions and Public Childcare Approaches available here.
About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 145 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL #ChildrensBudget24