End Derry’s ‘vicious cycle of poverty’: Advice NW calls for policy shift

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The chair of Derry & Strabane’s largest advice provider has warned of ‘extreme challenges’ ahead in 2023 as he called for a shift in government policy to break the ‘vicious cycle of poverty’ too many people find themselves trapped in here.

Advice North West chair, Sam McPherson pointed out that the Derry & Strabane Council area suffers the highest poverty rate in Northern Ireland at 22% and warned that the resilience of people and the services is being tested daily, amid soaring inflation and costs.

Speaking at the organisation’s AGM, Mr McPherson said the services being provided locally were a lifeline for many households here and vowed to continue to help people with ‘dedication and commitment’.

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"Our actions in helping will speak louder than words. We need to press upon Government and present our social policy evidence to persuade for change. The key drivers of change we need for our people in poverty are: changes in employment rates, where improvements will reduce poverty; changes in earnings and housing. This will improve poverty if earnings increase more for lower income households than middle-income households; changes in the benefits system, particularly abolition of the 2-child limit and reintroduction of the £20 uplift on Universal Credit - improvements in these areas will reduce poverty; and changes in housing costs, where decreases will reduce poverty.”

Pictured at Advice North-West’s Annual General Meeting are, front seated Sam McPherson Chair, Advice North West. Jackie Gallagher, Manager, Advice NW, Councillor Raymond Barr, Councillor Gary Donnelly Eddie Doherty, Bernie Heery, Vice Chair, Jodi Harte, Gerry Deeney. Back from left, Kevin Bradley Treasurer, Advice NW, Rosaleen French, Deputy Manager, Advice NW. (Photo: Jim McCafferty Photography)Pictured at Advice North-West’s Annual General Meeting are, front seated Sam McPherson Chair, Advice North West. Jackie Gallagher, Manager, Advice NW, Councillor Raymond Barr, Councillor Gary Donnelly Eddie Doherty, Bernie Heery, Vice Chair, Jodi Harte, Gerry Deeney. Back from left, Kevin Bradley Treasurer, Advice NW, Rosaleen French, Deputy Manager, Advice NW. (Photo: Jim McCafferty Photography)
Pictured at Advice North-West’s Annual General Meeting are, front seated Sam McPherson Chair, Advice North West. Jackie Gallagher, Manager, Advice NW, Councillor Raymond Barr, Councillor Gary Donnelly Eddie Doherty, Bernie Heery, Vice Chair, Jodi Harte, Gerry Deeney. Back from left, Kevin Bradley Treasurer, Advice NW, Rosaleen French, Deputy Manager, Advice NW. (Photo: Jim McCafferty Photography)

Mr McPherson said various factors tend to combine with others to create what he described as, ‘a vicious cycle of poverty’ that was structural and visibly concentrated in Derry and Strabane.

This point was, he suggested, particularly important as poverty not only exacerbates social differences between people and groups; but also leads to significant effects on the way that areas are defined.

‘As poverty increases, so too does the risk of concentration of the urban poor in deprived areas, which are characterised by social segregation, stigmatisation of a wider section of citizens, reduced mobility (incl. less access to public transport), limited access to credit, and housing deprivation.”

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The poverty rate for Derry & Strabane stands at 22%, those gathered were told.

Officers and committee members pictured at Frida’s Advice North-West AGM held at the Embassy Building, Strand Road, Derry.Officers and committee members pictured at Frida’s Advice North-West AGM held at the Embassy Building, Strand Road, Derry.
Officers and committee members pictured at Frida’s Advice North-West AGM held at the Embassy Building, Strand Road, Derry.

The squeeze in incomes, the cost of basic foodstuffs, the massive increase in fuel costs, and even the outworking of global events such as Covid and the war in Ukraine have combined to make an already difficult economic situation much, much worse for many families here.

That was the hard-hitting message from Advice North West chair, Sam McPherson when speaking at Friday’s third Annual General Meeting of the organisation. In his report the chair said his report overlaps with ‘one of the most severe squeezes on living standards in living memory’.

Mr. McPherson commented: “Inflation costs are likely to run at over 8% for quite some time, driven in the main by astonishing increases in energy bills and food costs, people living in poverty face precarious and impossible choices to make household budgets last each week. We know only too well how these impacts on our people.

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“Our Council area suffers the highest rate of poverty at 22%. The many challenges faced by the people of Derry is relentless and painful to individuals, families and communities. The personal dilemmas and burdens faced by many today is excruciating. Coping is difficult and many of our clients. Some just can’t find the power and resilience required to meet these daily challenges. We exist to help them live. We are their powerful resource. Their needs are ours.”

Sam McPherson Chair, Advice North West addressing the attendance at Friday’s AGM.Sam McPherson Chair, Advice North West addressing the attendance at Friday’s AGM.
Sam McPherson Chair, Advice North West addressing the attendance at Friday’s AGM.

Spelling out clearly just how difficult things have been in recent times the Advice NW chair said he believed we have all learned over recent years how our lives can unravel speedily and how interconnectedness is vital to recovery. The loss of social connections, he said, has made life for many extremely daunting.

The AGM, which was held in the Embassy Buildings on Derry’s Strand Road, got underway with the presentation of the Annual Report and the subsequent election of office bearers for 2022-2023.

Addressing those present, Mr. McPherson said the big message he wanted to get out from the AGM to the public was that if they were worried or in difficulties they should not hesitate to come forward. Advice North West, he explained, serves people living in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area and service is independent, providing free, confidential, impartial and high-quality advice to everybody regardless of ability, age, gender, gender identity, race, religion, political opinion, sexual orientation and social or economic status.

He went on: ‘The main aims of Advice North West are to ensure that individuals do not suffer through ignorance of their rights and responsibilities; lack of knowledge of the services available to them; an inability to express their needs effectively and ability to exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services, both locally and nationally.

Advice North West has been described as a ‘unique organisation’ which holds a very special place not only in the hearts of the people of Strabane and Derry but also in wider society – transforming peoples’ lives and increasing their resourcefulness for living.

Mr. McPherson had no doubt why this was so: ‘Our specialist Services creates a lifeblood for both our urban and rural communities. Accessible Quality Advice and varied Service Delivery Models will take precedence – ensuring we uphold and champion the rights of citizens in all we do – ‘the Client First and Always’ – ‘Where Advice is Free and Peace of Mind Priceless’. We are responding by offering an unprecedented number of communicative and point of entry channels to help speedily deal with enquiries and people’s needs.’

Looking ahead the chair said he would love to be able to say things would get easier sooner rather than later but he had little doubt that extremely challenging times lie ahead: ‘However, we will embrace obstacles with the resolve, willingness, dedication and commitment to helping our clients. Our actions in helping will speak louder than words. We need to press upon Government and present our social policy evidence to persuade for change. The key drivers of change we need for our people in poverty are: changes in employment rates, where improvements will reduce poverty; changes in earnings and housing. This will improve poverty if earnings increase more for lower income households than middle-income households; changes in the benefits system, particularly abolition of the 2-child limit and reintroduction of the £20 uplift on UC - improvements in these areas will reduce poverty; and changes in housing costs, where decreases will reduce poverty.’

Mr McPherson said these factors tend to combine with others to create what he described as, ‘a vicious cycle of poverty” that was structural and visibly concentrated in Derry and Strabane. This point was, he suggested, particularly important as poverty not only exacerbates social differences between people and groups; but also leads to significant effects on the way that areas are defined.

‘As poverty increases, so too does the risk of concentration of the urban poor in deprived areas, which are characterized by social segregation, stigmatisation of a wider section of citizens, reduced mobility (incl. less access to public transport), limited access to credit, and housing deprivation.’

Mr. McPherson said as chair both himself and his committee would continue to value diversity, champion equality and challenge discrimination by ensuring their shared values are upheld in all they do.

He concluded his address by stating: ‘I will continue to lead Advice North West and our guiding principle of A.C.H.I.E.V.E. will underpin all we do in pursuit of a better life for our clients A - Advance and Promote Equality; C - Challenge discrimination and injustice; H - Help and advocate on behalf of our marginalised and vulnerable; I - Invest in our staff and support their learning and development; E - Empower citizens to increase their resourcefulness for living; V - Value diversity; E - Effect positive change by influencing/lobbying policymakers

During the AGM the chair and other contributors paid tribute to the diverse range of funders to whom they are eternally grateful. Mr McPherson said he wanted to assure those funders that Advice NW will ensure that great diligence is required in the provision of value for money with respect to their generosity. He wished to publicly thank all the organisations and Government Departments which fund and work with them, adding that he and his committee “look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.’

Advice NW can be contacted on 0300 30 33 650 or by email [email protected] or via social media. For debt advice call 02871370337 or email [email protected]