Addressing child poverty ‘goes beyond political nonsense we routinely hear’ - Derry & Strabane reps back key campaign

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Derry City & Strabane District Councillors have said that one in four children living in poverty here is an ‘absolute disgrace’ as they backed five key measures to help tens of thousands of local children living in impoverished households.

The recommendations for change are contained within a hard-hitting report from Save The Children, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau which was presented before the local Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee at its November meeting.

Oonagh McGillion, Council’s Legacy director, told the committee how Action for Children had presented the joint paper recently before the local Council’s Anti-Poverty Task and Finish Group, ahead of local elected representatives paying a visit to the organisation’s new premises in Ebrington on Tuesday, December 7.

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She added that this work ‘ties in very closely’ with the work of the Department for Communities, which is currently developing an anti-poverty strategy for the north.

Tens of thousands of children across the north west are living in poverty.Tens of thousands of children across the north west are living in poverty.
Tens of thousands of children across the north west are living in poverty.

The report states: “We are at a crossroads: governments have delivered welcome support for families during the pandemic, but with furlough ending, families facing the largest overnight cut to social security since WW2, and ongoing rises in the cost of living, the UK government and the Executive need to act to prevent a surge in child poverty in the coming years.

“The cut to social security will plunge 11,000 children in Northern Ireland into poverty: 100,000 households will be affected, three in four families with children affected are single parent families. The cut will cause financial distress for households, and hit the economy as households struggle to manage a £1,000 cut and rises in the cost of living,

“100,000 children in Northern Ireland were pulled into poverty before the pandemic, with no improvement in the last decade: the pandemic has made life harder for children and their families. Without a renewed effort on the root cause of poverty – a lack of money – there is a risk that we will see a surge in child poverty after the pandemic.

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“The UK government and the Executive have the powers to prevent a surge in child poverty: measures to help parents with work, to support families with the cost of living and to strengthen our social security system will all help prevent a surge in poverty. Governments need to build on the work that has been done during the pandemic.”

The expert organisations have listed five measures that need to happen to help impoverished children and their families: ‘The UK government must do the right thing and keep the lifeline (£20 uplift); the Executive should urgently close the welfare mitigations loopholes; the Executive should strengthen the welfare mitigations to include the two-child limit; the Executive should make the fix to up-front childcare costs in Universal Credit permanent; the Executive should review the criteria and the levels of support provided through the Uniform Grant and Free School Meals’.

Backing the recommendations, Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy said: “Absolutely no child should be growing up and living in poverty at this stage. In terms of the long term effects of poverty on a child they are far reaching.

“The DfC Minister (Deirdre Hargey) has been working very hard to bring the mitigations paper on to the Executive table and this being blocked 39 times could be seen as despicable in terms of ensuring these loopholes are closed and that people are able to continue to receive the mitigations they are entitled to and that the Minister has the money there to cover that.”

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DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney said: “The recommendations, our party the DUP has no problem in supporting them. We all recognise the difficulties; we know the discussion we had on the £20 tax credit issue, we see the increase in every day living costs, the cost of food going up, the cost of heating going up - electric and gas getting huge increases at the moment and maybe more coming into the Christmas period.”

People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin said progress has been made at Council level on looking into tackling persistent poverty faced locally. “The fact that Stormont doesn’t have an Anti-Poverty Strategy is all the more shocking given everything we are seeing rolling out in front of us now. One of four children living in poverty in the north is an absolute disgrace. I think that is the measure of any society, the measure of the success of any government. I know there is talk about doing something on this but there has been inaction.”

Colr. Harkin agreed that it was despicable that attempts to close loopholes to help people living in poverty have been blocked in Stormont, adding that it was also despicable that the NI Executive failed to mitigate against the removal of the £20 a week uplift in benefits introduced by the UK government during the pandemic.

UUP Alderman Ryan McCready said: “If we consider our children are our future...if we can’t have a safe, secure and prosperous start to life for all our children it is shameful and it is a failure at all levels and one we need to take action against.

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“A child living in poverty in Galliagh affects me the same way as a child living in poverty in Tullyally. It affects us all; it goes beyond any of the political nonsense we routinely hear in my short time in politics. We need the confidence to break through that and think of the children.”

Ald. McCready said the reports made for stark reading.

SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell said his party supported every aspect and recommendation within the report. “If implemented they will make a massive difference to standards of living for our children,” he said, adding:

“Some members have alluded to it here, there’s a certain blockage that exists in Stormont, and specifically the DUP, regarding the implementation of welfare mitigations against the Bedroom Tax and closing loopholes and it’s not often I agree with Colr. Duffy but to block that legislation coming to the Executive on 39 occasions is actually disgraceful.”

He said the DUP need to take a look at themselves on this matter as soon as possible.

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Ms. McGillion said it was ‘great to see that level of endorsement’ from across the Council chamber for the report and recommendations.

Save the Children was founded in 1919, and is a global organisation helping children to survive and thrive in 120 countries. Its mission is to reduce the number of children living in poverty.

Action for Children protects and supports children and young people, providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard, and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives.

The National Children’s Bureau (NBC) meanwhile brings people and organisations together to drive change in society and deliver a better childhood. NCB also chairs the End Child Poverty (ECP) coalition.