Over 100,000 people living in poverty in Derry and Strabane
The report is the result of a survey of almost 200 welfare advice workers in the North, carried out by Participation and the Practice of Rights and The Right to Work: Right to Welfare campaign as part of ongoing monitoring of Department for Communities’ compliance with international human rights obligations.
It found that 400,000 people in Northern Ireland are living in poverty, and 27 per cent of these people - 108,000 - are from the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.
Rónán Moyne, Deputy Manager of Advice North West and one of the groups who took part in the survery, said: “As the largest advice provider in our district, we deal with in excess of 25,000 enquiries each year, the vast majority of these are from citizens seeking help and support with welfare benefit related issues.”
Mr Moyne said Advice North West “felt duty bound to those people we serve to contribute to the report.”
“We consistently see those with the least power in society struggle to access essential basic income via the social security system. Government is failing to provide a welfare state system that can provide a decent standard of living and dignity to its people,” he added.
“We hope that by taking part in this study we can highlight further, that the social welfare system is broken and is causing further harm to citizens.”
The other key findings of the report include that in 75 per cent of cases, advice workers anticipated a denial of the minimum essential level of benefits to access food, housing and healthcare.
It also found that 11 out of 20 claimants were not able to access professional advice and representation and 80 per cent did not fully understand the assessment process. This figure rose to 98 percent in relation to Universal Credit claimants.
The organisation behind the report has sought an urgent meeting with the Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, to discuss the report and the recommendations made within it.
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: “The Minister has engaged with the Human Rights Commission to develop practical ways to further embed human rights within the Department and the social security system.
“The Department has ensured people have access to free independent community-based advice services, and has extensive engagement with advice sector organisations, charities and third party organisations.
They added that the Minister is determined to extend the current mitigation package, which is a ‘unique package of financial support’ and also to strengthen it where possible.
The spokesperson continued: “The Minister believes more can be done and has recently appointed an independent panel to complete a review of Discretionary Support and is committed to an independent review of the Welfare Mitigations Scheme.”