'They are attacking the rights of our children': Cuts leaving Derry communities at the 'mercy of the wolf'

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Representatives from Derry’s community, youth and education sectors has accused the government of ‘attacking the rights of children’ through budget cuts while the Mayor called for unity in resisting people being left at ‘the mercy of the wolf’.

Repeated and impassioned calls for a reversal of the cuts were delivered by community, youth, voluntary and education sector workers during a Community Day of Action at Ebrington.

To cheers, Alison Wallace from Waterside Neighbourhood Partnership told those gathered: "The Secretary of State has said that this isn’t a punishment budget. Then why punish our children and young people and the most vulnerable by inflicting a budget that forces cuts that impact them the most through cuts to SureStart, Extended Schools, Pathways, Holiday Hunger payments, Supporting People and many many other vital support services? These cuts are pennywise and pound foolish.”

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Mayor Sandra Duffy said she had tried to stay apolitical on most issues, but that this was political.

People gathered at Ebrington Square for the Communities Day of Action.People gathered at Ebrington Square for the Communities Day of Action.
People gathered at Ebrington Square for the Communities Day of Action.

"Over the course of the last number of weeks were we have had a drip feed of cuts announcements we have made it really clear to the British government that it is totally unacceptable that vital support for our children in our schools and in our communities will be removed by Tory cuts to our budgets.

"Let’s be clear these are savage Tory cuts that are punishing ordinary people.

"Our society has been left at the mercy of a savage and unadulterated Tory budget as a result of one party that is blocking the Executive with no local Ministers at the helm to take local decisions and protect our people from the worst impact of these cuts.”

Calling for a restoration of power-sharing, Mayor Duffy said: "I have walked and driven the length and breadth of this city and district over the course of the last year and even before that, I see the value of the community and voluntary sector, I see the work they do on a shoestring, I see the safety net it provides. And to take that away just leaves our communities at the mercy of the wolf and I think we have an absolute moral responsibility to stand up against that.”

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Mayor Sandra Duffy addresses the rally.Mayor Sandra Duffy addresses the rally.
Mayor Sandra Duffy addresses the rally.

Christopher Cooper from Foyle Down Syndrome Trust said the cuts would have a direct impact on projects across Northern Ireland designed to help child development.

"For us in the early years sector they are attacking the rights of our children, they are attacking our futures. Every child has the right to an education. The current cuts are removing that basic right.

"The Pathway Fund who supports Foyle Down Syndrome Trust, they support 187 organisations across Northern Ireland delivering to over 10,00 children aged 0-4, the vast majority living in deprived areas.”

Government initiatives like the Best Start in Life, the 1001 Critical Days are just being torn up and thrown away because of the government-imposed cuts, he said.

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He also warned that without these early intervention programmes, “we will see massive rises with health issues”.

"Without these early intervention programmes, we will see massive rises with health issues, with more speech and language delays, more child protection issues – things aren’t getting picked up, more social and emotional challenges for children, more depression, higher suicide rates, the list goes on. I could stand here all day and name the challenges that are going to come with these cuts.”

He told those politicians gathered: “You have to be our voice, you have to be our children’s voices going forward. We need the decision makers in the British government to see the devastating and dire impact these cuts will have on our children not only now but for generations to come. Stop The Cuts.”

Oliver Green from Studio 2, who has worked in the community arts sector in Galliagh for 25 years, also described the cuts as “devastating” particularly on communities that have been unfairly discriminated against.

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He accused the British government of not caring “when they cut vital programmes and services that our community and voluntary sector have worked tirelessly to put in place to try and address the gaps in social provision that decades of under-investment and discrimination has inflicted on our communities".

He said that in the community arts sector hundreds of the most deprived children won’t have access to summer schemes or art programmes and isolated and older adults while now not be able to access vital creative and support programmes.

"We need to send a message of defiance. We need to say: no more to these cuts. We need our politicians to come together with a single common voice, a common goal of standing up for our communities.”

Mr Green made a direct appeal to the DUP to join the other parties and stand together for the communities.

“These cuts will tear the capacity of our caring community apart,” he warned.

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Gareth McClafferty, a youth support worker from Creggan, told those gathered of how when he left school at 16, it was the youth service that put him and his peers through inhouse training to the point where he has now been offered a university place in Belfast for a degree in youth and community services.

"The only problem with that being was travelling to Belfast every week. There was no option to study at Magee so once these cuts were put in place, our jobs are all under threat, we are going month by month, our hours are cut… we have all been handed our notices, so basically we could be let go at any time.

“Due to this it has been putting financial stress on us all so I now had to drop out this year because I just can’t afford to be travelling to Belfast every week. This isn’t just me, there are loads of us being affected by this.

"The youth services within this city have been offering peace and stability for years and I don’t think whoever is handing out these cuts is realising the detrimental effect this is going to have in years to come in the community.”

Mr McClafferty said he and his peers were now forced to look for second jobs and the cuts were limiting what they could do for young people.