All research and data provided by many different organisations dealing with the causes of intergenerational poverty say that its elimination can be achieved by education and productive employment. At this moment in time, in Ireland, we have 137,000 children who live in consistent poverty, an indictment on the way our Governments have chosen to abandon a whole section of society with the policies they continue to pursue. We all know families who are consistently poor from generation to generation and life appears to have dealt them a raw deal. They are excluded from society, are in constant difficulties, many have criminal inclinations, drug and alcohol addictions, gambling addictions, poor health and are lacking in literacy and numeracy skills. They pass on all of these disadvantages to their children and another generation remains poor.
A wide range of issues are associated with the intergenerational transmission of poverty from parents to children. A complex set of negative factors make up the package that is transferred from generation to generation. A poor child becomes a poor adult because of the way in which they were reared and the values given to them. If you come from a family where nobody works, have constant financial troubles and little motivation, the example shown by parents is how that child will live. Just like a household where there is a work ethos and education is of paramount importance, these skills will be passed to their children who will then have all the advantages and choices of having a successful way of living.
Discrimination and intolerance by society surrounding those who spend their lives “living off the state” adds to the problems of children from poor families. If you live in a home where early childhood education is taboo and going to school every day is not important, then from the start a child is disadvantaged through no fault of their own. Addictions, domestic violence, poor nutrition and healthcare, exclusion associated with class, ethniticy, gender or religion are all signs known to be the pathway to poverty. A poor child who is disadvantaged from birth will be more likely to eventually become a poor adult. This is what the statistics tell us.
Other factors that keep people poor are sickness, adolescent pregnancies, early school leaving, coping with family conflicts, household degeneration and mental distress. Those with little coping skills and low educational levels will find themselves poor and isolated and excluded from society at large when trying to deal with all these negative issues.
Household income and individual assets are another facet of intergenerational poverty. Where parents have no disposable income, have no assets and who continually struggle to pay the day to day costs of running a home, have no way of giving their children a helping hand when they need assistance. The breakdown in relationships with the resultant fall in income for the family all add to rates of poverty that is unacceptable for the children who suffer.
According to EU SILC 2013, we have 12% of children between the ages of 0-17 living in consistent poverty. How do those in authority condone such disadvantage that will have long-term negative consequences for other citizens in this country into the future? How can leaders and policy makers who know what the statistics say, as well as the numerous reports that Government agencies pay large sums to produce, choose to do nothing about the results?
The poverty figures surrounding children have doubled from 6% in 2008 to 12% in 2013 in spite of the fact that our minister for Social and Family affairs tell us differently. In July of this year all lone parents with children over seven will lose their lone parents allowance and the additional supplementary payments that they receive. Seeing that the figures produced show that 63% of lone parent households experience deprivation, it is inconceivable that further poverty will be inflicted on these children. These are the children of the future and to escalate their lives into a poverty trap belies the equality that we should be promoting. Down the road poverty will have to be addressed and the further escalation of children into a lifetime of being poor is a question that we should all ask ourselves. Is this how we want our country to progress? Education and gainful employment supporting a living wage is not too much to give the children of the nation, and bring a secure future which will benefit every citizen and allow a better standard of living to all, could be addressed if the will and the policies were implemented by government. Intergenerational transmission of poverty from parents to children, especially families where criminality is resorted to, interferes with the rights of every citizen. So why then do we condone the infliction of poverty on our most vulnerable citizens when education is a basic right and equality is part of our constitution which we are supposed to uphold.
Until such time as government policy change in favour of a just income for parents with children and the educational system erases literacy and numeracy problems, we will continue to have intergenerational poverty. Intergenerational poverty affects us all either directly or indirectly and its consequences have far reaching circumstances for all of society. We need to address poverty in all its forms to make our society just and equitable and each one of us are duty bound to achieve this goal.
Peg Hanafin, MSc