Covid and Poverty

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Children are the biggest single population group in Northern Ireland who experience poverty.  There was a significant risk that the impact on the economy of Covid-19 would plunge a far greater number of families into poverty and deepen its effects on those already in its grip.

However, the response from government has been unprecedented and broadly welcomed. Government schemes helping companies to ‘furlough’ workers at 80% of their salaries has prevented many from losing their jobs and becoming dependant on benefits. The Department for Communities has put in place many measures to protect the poorest families, including ensuring that social or private tenants cannot be evicted from their homes over the lockdown period and that additional funds are provided for through Discretionary Support grants.  Local communities have also played an important part, rallying round to provide thousands of food and care parcels for families in crisis, demonstrating a kindness of spirit and collective generosity at this time of great adversity for those in most need.

NI was the first jurisdiction on these islands to implement a practical and workable solution for the free school meals situation. This has ensured that over 90% of families got payment within weeks. However, it was only this week that the final group of families received payments.  I want to thank the EA, DE and DfC for their commendable work on this important issue and I hope the solutions and approach they have taken in making payments during school holidays will continue after the pandemic, and will become the new normal going forward.

While it is extremely heartening to see such quick and determined responses in combatting the potential impacts of this pandemic on family incomes, and on the many families who are struggling to make ends meet now – the impacts will continue to be felt for some time to come and – this must not be underestimated. I am determined that we keep our resolve and maintain a steady focus on the poorest children throughout this time and in the years to come. We must ensure that we quickly identify and mend any holes in our safety net, and begin to value, and resource it properly once more.