This is a matter that the Minister and I have spoken about at times before. I do not doubt his sincerity and commitment to addressing this issue. I am pleased to see there are commitments in the programme for Government on the difficult issue of child poverty. There has been work across government to address the issue of food poverty to ensure no child goes hungry. There has been work on school meals. As expressed in the Ombudsman for Children’s report, there is a commitment to a right to housing, this being important in helping to address the issue of poverty. There have been commitments to prioritise and protect supports for lone parents. Children of lone parents are the most likely to be in poverty in this country.
Many of us have been quoting statistics from a variety of reports. The report that really brought the issue home for me and grounded it the most, in the starkest terms, is the one Deputy Farrell quoted, the Irish Youth Foundation’s report Generation Pandemic. It states that of the 40,000 children born since Covid hit, 8,000 left hospital and spent their first night in marginalisation, disadvantage, poverty and homelessness. That is a bleak statistic. When one adds to that the intergenerational cycle of poverty and how these children are at risk of becoming yet another such generation with the risk of the continuation of such child poverty into their children as well, the need to act becomes very clear.
The Minister has said himself that this is a huge area. Every Department needs to row in behind the initiative. While we could talk to every Minister in this Chamber about what he or she is doing about child poverty, I want to pick up on one area in which we need to act. It relates to after-school programmes. Children, simply because their parents cannot get work, are no longer able to access after-school programmes. After-school programmes are incredibly important where there is educational disadvantage. An education is important in breaking the intergenerational cycle I have spoken about. After-school projects, the community aftercare private clubs that provide support in the areas of education, nutrition, meals and positive relationships, are the key services that children need access to and that the Minister talked about. These are the targeted services that the Ombudsman for Children talks about. Supporting them is building on the work, already under way, that the Office of the Ombudsman for Children refers to in its report. We need to be considering the community services that provide after-school support and ensure that all children facing poverty or educational disadvantage can gain access to them. We need to regard these services as anti-poverty measures, not simply as childcare or labour activation schemes. That parents cannot get work or are unable to work is not a reason to exclude children from these vital services.
Numerous community groups in my constituency have come together and have engaged with me and lobbied me on this important issue. No doubt they have been on to the Minister also. I am sure they will be working in other constituencies too. This is an issue we must address. We must ensure after-school services — aftercare is another issue that we also need to talk about — can continue and that children whose parents do not work or cannot work will not be excluded from a service that is vital in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.