The 2010 study of the Irish Health Behaviour in School – Aged Children (HBSC) is an interesting read, as it provides a barometer on how various government policies and initiatives are reaching and influencing the lives of the nations’ children. More importantly, it illustrates inequalities that go against the hopes and aspirations contained in the Proclamation; that is; to cherish all of the nations children equally.
A quick read through of the report stops suddenly when confronted with the statistic that 21% of children when asked the question, ‘have you ever gone to bed or school hungry?’ reported yes as their answer. That is an increase from the 2006 report of 17% (still an uncomfortable figure, possibly evidence, for those who need it, that the Celtic Tiger ‘boom’ years did not reach everyone). So when confronted with an answer like that, it begs, the question why? Why has there been such an increase in the statistics over that four year period and what can be done about it.
Over the recent years, with increased financial hardship and Austerity Budgets, families have had less money to cover basic necessities, economising on food bills to cover energy costs and mortgages etc. Even allowing for the fact that a lot of parents themselves would go hungry, before allowing their children to do so, means that these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, when we look at families as a whole. Sadly, the most vocal people, especially in the media, maintain there is no problem because they cannot see it. These figures tell different, with recent budgets favouring the wealthy, and attacking struggling families. This year’s St. Vincent de Paul pre-budget submission uses the following case study as an example;
‘Books or food?
Derek contacted the SVP on a Friday evening when his family had €3 to last them until the next week. He had to pay school expenses for his three children which meant the family had no money for food that week.
The SVP organised an immediate visit with food vouchers so that they could eat until their social welfare payment came through.’
An increase, can be turned into a decrease if there is the will to do so. Around the time of the last budget, this problem had been foreseen by Sinn Féin through their proposed provision of school meals in their pre-budget submission, (p26) which would at least take some pressure of parents, decreasing the risk of children either going to bed or to school hungry. That is one targeted and costed solution for struggling families.
Nobody believed that rescuing the wealthy of this nation was going to be easy, but surely this is too high a price to pay. I say rescuing the wealthy, on purpose, because up until now that has been and will continue to be government policy unless you change it.