Stormont will have failed the people of the north unless politicians actively tackle child poverty, a Derry MLA has warned.
The SDLP’s Colum Eastwood was speaking after shock figures revealed by Barnardo’s Child Poverty Map this week showed more than one in three children in Derry live in poverty - the highest rate in Northern Ireland and the fourth highest across the UK.
Those figures reveal 35% of children live in poverty in Derry while Strabane records 32% of children live in poverty. In Limavady the figure stands at 26%.
Director Barnardo’s NI Lynda Wilson said there is an onus on the north’s politicians to properly address child poverty.
“While the Northern Ireland Executive has already undertaken steps to address child poverty with the introduction of a Child Poverty Strategy there needs to be further emphasis on literacy, numeracy and early intervention to address educational underachievement and the introduction of a Child Care Strategy to help families facing financial hardship.”
Mr Eastwood said child poverty is “the biggest impediment to any sort of social mobility in our society.”
He said the new map confirms child poverty is “an ongoing crisis which, if left unmet, will leave fundamental social and economic legacies and will leave a generation of children abandoned.”
“For some time now, I have been calling on OFMDFM to formulate individual child poverty targets for the Assembly.
“People will, very rightly, view this as a defining test for Stormont’s current leadership.
“If they remain unwilling to take on full responsibility for an issue so important and relevant to the people of the north, the most serious of questions will need to be asked as to whether they are carrying out the expected role of government at all.”
Derry Sinn Fein councillor Patricia Logue said the latest figures were “unfortunately not surprising.”
She said Stormont’s attempts to tackle the issue were being stifled by British government cuts.
“While the Executive is facing this problem head on with a programme for government commitment aimed at eradicating child poverty, they are constrained by the severe British cuts of over £4bn to the block grant along with issues such as the Welfare Reform bill, higher taxes on fuel increasing fuel poverty and decreased public spending.
“However measures from the Executive include the development of a poverty outcomes model along with the progressing of a child poverty action plan, in conjunction with the Poverty and Social Inclusion stakeholder forum, which is working to deliver a number of signature projects that would alleviate child poverty,” she said.