“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity it is an act of justice” - Nelson Mandela
Too many children are refusing to ask their parents for money for school trips and activities. Not only because they know their parents can’t afford it but to shield them from the shame and stress that fills a family home caught up in a cycle of poverty.
A cycle that forces parents to make tough decisions between choosing heating or buying food and has a detrimental effect throughout a child’s life. Children in Northern Ireland are not only impacted by poverty, they are keenly aware that the options afforded to them are less than their peers. As a society we cannot allow this situation to continue.
Too little consideration is given to the impact of welfare reform on children’s lives. This week, my office and others in the children’s sector are working together to raise public awareness that #ChildPovertyIsHere in Northern Ireland.
Children continue to be the age group at the highest risk of poverty, with a poverty rate of 23% compared to 17% for working age adults and 15% for pensioners. The consequences are that poorer children do less well at school, have many more health problems, are at greater risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system and have lower levels of life expectancy. These are very real but avoidable problems.
While government initiatives have led to decreases in child poverty in other parts of the UK, there have been no sustained decreases in child poverty in Northern Ireland since official poverty statistics were first collated in 2002. While there have been small drops from one year to the next, these have been inevitably followed by increases again, and we have not seen the consistent reduction in number of children in poverty required to demonstrate progress.
In May this year the UN General Assembly published the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty’s visit to the UK. This was uncompromising in outlining how the UK government’s fiscal policies have detrimentally impacted on vulnerable individuals and groups including children and young people.
Low-paid, unstable jobs mean more and more families are under pressure to put food on the table. The use of food banks in Northern Ireland is increasing year on year. Increasing costs of living means that many are trapped in a daily struggle to make ends meet and unable to take control and step into a different future.
Government has an absolute responsibility to make sure no child is living in poverty – this is an act of justice.
During this week we will see evidence of life-changing initiatives and services being delivered by agencies and charities across Northern Ireland. We are a compassionate society but without justice all we ensure is an ever growing network of foodbanks.
Justice means our locally elected politicians back in Stormont working to make life better for these children and their families. Justice means redesigning the way our economy works to free people from the grip of poverty and this must start by finding a way to extend the social security mitigation package in Northern Ireland beyond March 2020. It is time for Government to do better for children experiencing poverty in Northern Ireland.
Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People