Launching landmark reports on welfare reform at an event in Belfast, the Commissioner said that the Assembly must fight to protect children or it once again will fail to meet targets to reduce child poverty – leading to worse living standards for thousands of children and young people.
The reports assess the impact of forthcoming welfare reform proposals on children in Northern Ireland, and explore the potential for the Northern Ireland Executive to adapt the ‘reforms’ to better protect children’s best interests.
“There is a real need to improve the current benefits and social security system, but I fear that many thousands of children and young people will suffer increased hardship. Despite the claim that the Executive has little choice but to implement the same changes as in other parts of the UK, this is not necessarily the case.
One of my reports explores the ‘parity principle’ and has found many examples for breaking parity with the UK. There is a need for flexibility in adapting the ‘reforms’ to protect children and their families,” said Ms Lewsley-Mooney.
“The Northern Ireland Executive must make sure that the particular circumstances here are addressed. We have a larger proportion of children under 18, and a larger proportion of children with disabilities – added to this we have communities still dealing with the legacy of the conflict and a high level of people suffering from mental illness as a result of this”
The reports show that many thousands of children and young people will suffer significantly reduced living standards. Indeed, few families with children will be unaffected.
“Any reduction in household income has been proven to have an adverse effect on the emotional and physical health of children, as well as the longer term outcomes for those children,” said the Commissioner.
“The Assembly must make sure, for example, that housing benefit is sufficient to ensure that families do not have to spend on rent, money which is supposed to provide food, heat and other necessities for children.
“Children are particularly vulnerable to poverty and are unable themselves to influence their economic circumstances. The inequalities already experienced by many children living in poverty could worsen considerably as a result of this Welfare Reform legislation, if action is not taken.”
Notes to Editors
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