Over 100,000 children in Ireland are living in consistent poverty and the Government must ensure that Budget 2020 takes the vital steps needed to put an end to this, the Children's Rights Alliance has said.
According to the alliance, the Budget "is the last chance for this Government to do something to free families trapped in poverty".
"It should mark the beginning of what needs to be a long-term, concerted effort by our political leaders to end child poverty at the scale we have now.
"This Budget, and subsequent budgets, should be focused on ensuring that our children have access to basic healthcare, the opportunity to participate in society, free primary education and fundamentals like a hot nutritious meal every day," commented the alliance's CEO, Tanya Ward.
She pointed out that every day in Ireland, children are going to school hungry, while one-third of their parents are getting into debt just so that they can send their children back to school.
The alliance has said that the Government can take a number of steps in the next Budget to tackle this. In the area of health, it notes that one in every four families in poverty do not have a medical card and the income thresholds currently in place have not been reviewed since 2005.
"That means that lower income working families who are struggling to make ends meet often do not qualify for a medical card, which would give them access to basic healthcare for their children.
"Universal quality healthcare for all should be a key goal for Government and by increasing the thresholds, we can begin to close the gap between these families and the healthcare supports they need," commented Tricia Keilthy, head of social justice at St Vincent de Paul.
In relation to food poverty, the alliance welcomed the recent announcement by the Government that 36 pilot schools would receive the hot school meal programme from this month. However, it noted that demand for the programme far exceeded the places offered.
"Having a hot meal in your belly helps you to learn, sustains you throughout the day and keeps you warm, especially in winter. This is a scheme that every child can benefit from, but especially lower-income families. It is also an incredibly positive social activity for the children in school.
"However, the demand for the programme far exceeds the 36 pilot places, with 470 schools unsuccessful in their application. We want to see the programme rolled out nationally as it is in most other EU countries," Ms Ward said.
The alliance also called for primary education to be made "truly free" for children.
"We need a concerted effort to address the rising school costs in both primary and secondary school that are squeezing the opportunities of children to participate fully in education and reach their full potential.
"Action to address inequality in education does not have to wait. The Government can use Budget 2020 to make a start by making school books free for every child in primary school. This can be done with €20 million, just 0.2% of the Department of Education's budget," commented Suzanne Connolly, CEO of Barnardos.
These and other recommendations are proposed as first steps that the Government can take in order to end child poverty, the alliance insisted.
"These recommendations are proposed as first steps of what needs to be a larger, long-term plan, directed by a lead or a unit entirely focused on reducing these numbers. The Budget presents an opportunity for the Government to turn the tide of child poverty, but these measures will not solve these problems overnight," Ms Ward added.