Derry & Strabane area has highest poverty rates of all N.I. Councils
There are almost 400,000 people in Northern Ireland living in poverty and 27% of them live in the Derry City & Strabane District Council area.
The shocking statistics were brought to the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee this week in a report which outlined recommendations from the Expert Panel established for the NI Anti Poverty Strategy.
Council Officers had attended a briefing section with the Department for Communities (DfC) which outlined the key findings of the expert panel and their overarching recommendations. Derry & Strabane was found to have the highest poverty rate anywhere in the north.
Recommendations include the establishment of a Poverty Commission and ‘Poverty Truth’ process to ensure that people who know what it is like to live in poverty are part of the decision making process and can influence actions going forward.
The development of an Anti-Poverty Act which includes a duty to reduce child poverty, setting targets and timetables for 2030 and beyond, and including four objective measures of poverty, has also been proposed.
Other recommendations made by the expert panel include the introduction of a new non-taxable weekly Child Payment for all 0-4-year olds and for 5-15-year olds who are in receipt of free school meals.
They also proposed that the Child Payment is set at between £12.50 and £15 per week initially.
They made a number of recommendations on benefit cuts, welfare reform mitigations and Universal Credit on the grounds that the benefit system itself has become a driver of poverty and destitution.
These include permanently ending the ‘bedroom tax’, the two-child limit, the benefit cap and the five-week wait.
Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy welcomed the report and its progression.
“This is something we have been waiting to see for quite some time,” said the Ballyarnett Councillor.
“The co-design element involving the stakeholders is going to be key to this and we do need to be taking a proactive role in how we shape this ourselves, particularly around the inequalities we do face here as a Council area.
“The Anti Poverty Act which encompasses some of the issues we have seen – child benefit, the living wage, the two child policy – all these things need to be taken forward.
“I do have concerns about the lack of regional targets but I do welcome the Minister’s determination to get this on the table and get it delivered. However, we do need to make sure we are addressing the regional inequalities we have faced for so long.
“In terms of being proactive and addressing the anti poverty issues we have a long way to go but we are moving in the right direction.”
Cllr Duffy proposed that the recommendations be taken to the Anti Poverty Group to allow them to start moving forward to try and shape the co-design element. Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher seconded the proposal.
DUP Alderman Ryan McCready said he ‘principally’ supported it , however, he wanted assurances that the recommendations in the report were financially resourced.
He said: “There is a departmental responsibility here. I want to ensure if we are driving this forward that if it is to be done that it is done properly. It must be financially resourced to deliver on all of this.
“If it is not ring fenced or allocated to that level then are we serious about tackling poverty specifically in our Council area which should be a focus?”
SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell, his party’s representative on the Anti poverty Working Group, welcomed the progress.
“There’s a lot to welcome in terms of recommendations,” said the Ballyarnett Councillor. “There’s a lot of interesting proposals that will tackle destitution across the North.
“27% of people living in poverty live in our Council area so there needs to be intervention. There should be a specific strategy for our Council area and that should apply to the Anti Poverty Strategy.”
PBP Councillor Shaun Harkin, also a member of the Working Group added: “It’s a shocking documentation of the scale of deprivation across our district and across the North.
“Almost 400,000 people are living below the poverty line, these are shocking statistics and we should be ashamed of them and 27% are in our district.
“I think everything is documented now so it needs to progress quickly to allow the decision makers to take action.
“The delay is allowing more poverty to develop. We as a Council will have a role to play being the voice of our constituents.”
Committee Chair Derek Hussey welcomed the fact that rural poverty would also be looked at, adding that a multi agency approach is required.
Councillor Duffy’s proposal was passed and the recommendations will now be taken to the Anti Poverty Group to allow them to start moving forward.