When I took on the role of Commissioner for Children and Young People it was entirely clear to me that poverty was one of the most pernicious and persistent issues affecting children in Northern Ireland.
It is difficult to find a more shocking breach of children’s rights, given the number of children affected (currently over 100,000 in Northern Ireland which equates to 23% of our children), and how it’s devastating impact is felt in every aspect of a child’s life: education, health and home life.
- Two thirds of children living in poverty in NI live in households where at least one parent works.
- We have the highest percentage of children living in ‘workless’ households (15% compared to 9.3% across Britain).
- Children are the group most likely to experience poverty: a higher proportion of children are in poverty than working age adults, or older people.
- Over the 13 years poverty data has been collected here, there has been no sustained reduction in child poverty.
And all before we feel the full effects of social security cuts here.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has just published a report forecasting changes in living standards, poverty and inequality. The findings confirm our worst fears, and highlight that government is targeting children with its cuts to social security, it says:
‘All of the projected increase in relative poverty is driven by relative child poverty, which is projected to increase by almost 7 percentage points. The relative poverty rates among pensioners and working-age non-parents are projected to remain fairly constant.’
It also highlights how the most recent tranche of so-called reforms, including the ‘two child limit’ is likely to make child poverty worse.
‘The two child limit is projected to increase absolute child poverty by 2 percentage points. Some regions are affected much more heavily than others: Northern Ireland and the West Midlands, with twice as many large families as Scotland and the South West, are projected to see a larger increase in poverty as a result of the policy.’
In the face of such clear evidence of how children’s lives are blighted by poverty, where is the outrage? and why aren’t people marching on the streets calling for government action to end child poverty?
To answer this, we commissioned a survey of 1001 adults across Northern Ireland, and the findings were fascinating:
- People know about child poverty
- 82% said there was ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ in NI
- Two thirds (68%) personally knew someone currently in poverty, or were in poverty themselves
- People recognise that parents don’t choose to bring their children up in poverty, but find themselves in circumstances that make it difficult to make ends meet
- 69% blamed poverty on circumstance beyond the control of parents, while only 20% blamed parents for not doing enough to escape poverty
- Parents, in particular, worry about poverty
- 75% of parents said that they worried about falling into poverty in the future.
I have come to the conclusion the main reason people aren’t motivated to march on the streets to demand action on child poverty is that they have become resigned to poverty as a natural social evil,that cannot be tackled. This is not the case!
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently published a report with recommendations for governments, businesses, communities and citizens to tackle poverty, emphasising this very point, entitling it: ‘We can solve poverty in the UK’.
Successive governments have had remarkable success in reducing pensioner poverty across the UK and sustained action will hopefully result in the eradication of poverty amongst our older people.
Yet there has been no progress in lifting children out of poverty and furthermore it is projected to rise significantly. The cynic in me wonders if children could vote would this change the priorities of Government?
Child poverty is not natural, nor is it accidental – but an outcome of government decision-making.
We need to give a voice to the voiceless and come together to take a stand against child poverty and any action - or inaction - which keeps families in or drives families into poverty. Do this now - click here and take action to play your part in eradicating child poverty.
There can be no more worthy a social justice cause. As Nelson Mandela said:
‘Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of fundamental human rights.’
 Analysis by Child Poverty Action Group shows that, across the UK all families with children will be worse off by an average of £960 a year in 2020 compared with the income they could have expected in the absence of cuts to universal credit. Families dependent on Universal Credit will be considerably worse off than this. CPAG (October 2017), ‘Briefing for MPs – Opposition day Debate: Pause and fix of roll-out of Universal Credit’, (London:CPAG)