Speaking following International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said, “The number of children trapped in poverty here will increase due to changes to social security benefits, we are far from eradicating child poverty in Northern Ireland, and quite frankly we are taking backwards steps.”
“Children are independent rights holders and decisions which affect their family income have a direct impact on their quality of life and their right to an adequate standard of living.”
The Commissioner made a specific call for any benefit decisions to be made only after a ‘Child’s Rights Impact Assessment’ is carried out.
“We must make sure the social security system is the safety net it was intended to be. Government is ignoring the child’s right to a decent quality of life when it doesn’t assess how benefit decisions affect children in the home” said the Commissioner.
Evidence from across the UK indicates that welfare reform changes have disproportionately targeted families with children.
Koulla continued, “The clearest example of this is the Two Child Limit on Child Tax Credits and Universal Credit, however, these are not they only changes that target families with children.
“An estimated 2,518 families were affected by Child Tax Credit cuts in 2017-18, which equates to at least 7,500 children, as there would have been at least three children in each family affected. This rises to 11,870 families and at least 35,610 children who will be affected in 2019-20.”
“Children have consistently been the age group at most risk of being in poverty in Northern Ireland. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies indicates these changes in social security, including benefit sanctions on parents, will again have a considerable impact on the numbers of children in poverty.”
Its report ‘Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2017–18 to 2021–22’ found that, between 2015-16 and 2021-22, the poverty rate is projected to rise by 7 percentage points for children.
Koulla continued, “This will mean 1 in every 3 children in Northern Ireland will be forced into poverty by 2022.
“Evidence shows children in poverty are twice as likely to leave school without five good GCSEs. They are more likely to suffer poor mental health, have fewer years of good physical health and a lower life expectancy – yet the Government roll out of benefit changes are set to force more children here to experience these outcomes”
Families who experience poverty report struggling to provide for basic needs, provide a warm, adequate home, nutritious food, appropriate clothing and to pay for childcare. Parents say they often have to ‘go without’ themselves and get into debt to make ends meet; they do not have the means to save money for unexpected costs or family outings.
The Commissioner concluded, “We care about children and their life outcomes in Northern Ireland, we like to think that every child and young person has a home, enough food and clothing, and the chance to thrive. Without help, these children risk poor health, disrupted education – and even losing their homes.
“While Government is pushing through these changes, which will have a huge impact on the lives of our children and young people, and in the absence of the Welfare Reform roll out being stopped, Government must:
Notes to Editors