Budget 2018: The Lives of Children Hang in the Balance
During his campaign for leadership earlier this year, Leo Varadkar pledged to develop Ireland into a ‘Republic of Opportunity’. Outlining his plan further at his party’s think-in last month, the Taoiseach spoke of a republic in which ‘everyone has equal opportunity to be the best person they can be … in particular, that every child has the chance to grow up to be the best person they can be’. His rhetoric focuses on hope and the future, creating a ‘culture of aspiration’, supporting ambition - but as it stands, hundreds of thousands of children in Ireland are not and will not be supported to fulfil their potential, they will not be afforded that opportunity. For so many children in Ireland their potential is swiftly limited and in some cases lost altogether because of where they live, their household income or the circumstances they were born into writes June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy.
Children are the innocent victims of many of the challenges we face as a society: over 3000 children are currently homeless, thousands of children endure excessively long waits for medical assessments and treatment, one in nine children live in consistent poverty. A lifetime of damage is being done in these early years. Having proper supports in place can mean the difference between poverty or stability, a safe home or homelessness, health and development or illness and delay. Holistic investment is needed to ensure that children are supported in all areas of their lives – Budget 2018 can do this.
There is no doubt that the most difficult challenge currently facing the Government and our society as a whole is the homelessness crisis. Over 8,000 people registered as homeless is a damning consequence of policy failures of the past. But for children and families experiencing homelessness, this is more than just a housing crisis; it is also a health crisis and an education crisis.
Being homeless takes a significant toll on a child’s mental health. Removed from the stability and comfort of their own home – placed into a stressful and at times dangerous setting, concerned for their parents who no doubt display signs of stress and distress.
“I am keeping my kids positive but deep down I am falling apart” said one parent living in emergency accommodation. The negative consequences of homelessness are further exacerbated by the long waiting lists for diagnosis and treatment in child and adolescent mental health services.
Back to school time brings a whole new level of stress as parents try to cope with the excessive back to school costs. Families often have to take long journeys to and from crèche and school from their new hotel room or other temporary accommodation – which can be exhausting for children and costly for parents. Children also have no space to do their homework or study. One mother spoke to us about the impact that living in a hotel room is having on her daughter’s potential to succeed in an upcoming state exam - “My daughter is in her junior cert year and my concern is -is she actually going to be able to pass it? She has no space in the room to study.”
As if 3,000 children without a home was not enough of a devastating figure, through our work we come across many more hidden homeless families who are living in houses often with three generations and multiple families. Although they may be in a family home, they are still confined to one room – often one bed. “There is also a lot of stress at times with so many in the one house. The children are upset, not understanding why they are stuck in a room with their mother. Why they cannot have their toys around or their alone time” – explained a parent accessing Barnardos services.
The time has come for the Taoiseach and the Government to turn words into action and make a firm commitment to children in Ireland – a commitment to safeguard their childhood and their potential. Budget 2018 must invest in quality public services when and where they are needed most, services that support families and protect children.
Last week marked the 25th anniversary of Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – 25 years of a commitment to children’s rights. One of the UN Committee’s key recommendations to Ireland at the last review was to utilise a child rights approach to budgeting.
Barnardos is calling on the Government to consider the impact of Budget 2018 on children, and to make the following investments to ensure that the rights and the potential of children are protected and supported:
- Ensure that children’s right to an adequate standard of living is protected through investing in the building of social and affordable housing and by keeping Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payment rates in line with market rents.
- Uphold children’s right to health by committing €54m annually for the next five years to clear waiting lists, ensuring children have timely access to vital health assessments and treatments.
- Protect children’s right to education through increasing the education budget by 1.1% (€103.2m) to guarantee truly free primary education. At a minimum, this year commit €20m to ensure free school books for all primary school pupils.
- Invest in early childhood care and education with a focus on improving quality and access of services to ensure Ireland reaches the target of spending 1% GDP on early years within a five year timeframe.
- Allocate an additional €20m to Tusla's budget for preventative work to support families in crisis, keeping children out of state care.
If we don’t support children to thrive, we’re setting them up to fail. Budget 2018 can build solid foundations, it simply must, the lives of children hang in the balance.