Speech by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, at the Launch of the Participation and Practice of Rights Project Report – “Making & Measuring change – A human Rights Based Approach to Health”

Thank you for invitation to launch.

Today is about showing the importance of participation by those in a community most affected by the many issues surrounding them and in this case of this community its health and housing. For me it’s about Equipping communities like yours with the Human Rights tools to challenge government in addressing these very issues that we are talking about today in North Belfast.

My Role as Commissioner for Children and Young People is three fold:

  • To act as an Ombudsman for children and young people, through our legal and complaints work;
  • To carry out research and reviews into services to ensure the rights of children are met.
  • To communicate widely with children and young people and with the general public about the work of the office and about the rights children in Northern Ireland are entitled to

But the reality is that Northern Ireland continues to have one of the highest levels of children living in poverty than any other region of the UK. We know that currently over 32,000 (8%) children in Northern Ireland are living in severe poverty, with 38% of our children identified as deprived of one or more child necessities (NI Anti-Poverty Network).

Even though Northern Ireland has been considered to be one of the most deprived parts of the United Kingdom and for many years was an EU Objective 1 region, we have heard today that poverty measurement and poverty alleviation strategies have however been poorly developed until very recently when we have seen our own Anti poverty strategy produced and yet I see many opportunities where things could be better.

Last week we have seen the launch of the Save the Children findings. Sadly doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, and sadly there are nearly 6,000 children in North Belfast alone living in poverty. But more importantly these statistics are specific to N.I and Save the Children will continue to produce a report on an annual basis to help track if change is happening on the ground.

The first Commissioner, Nigel Williams, first visited the 7 Towers but nothing has changed since my visit. I have now asked for meeting with new Minister and Housing Executive to discuss the situation further.

As a champion of children’s rights I fully endorse the call for a preventative approach to health by investing in community and school based health programmes. But to do this we need commitment from our politicians and key stakeholders to allocate the necessary resources, and to listen to those children, young people and adults who are living in poverty (all Section 75 groups) when developing and prioritizing services. It is often the case that the delivery of the very services on which children rely most – health, education, early years provision, youth work – are liable to fragmentation and are often compartmentalised across government departments but today is about challenging this fragmentation by proving that at a local level you can with help and support and a rights based approach make a difference.

Measurement tools such as government statistics, and human rights indicators are then essential to the process of tracking whether change is happening on the ground and for whom.

Demonstrating change is central to what I believe to be government’s obligations to progressively realise economic and social rights. There is an obligation on government to ensure that things improve, year on year. When this doesn’t happen, as we can see from today the most vulnerable are usually the most affected.

This project’s work enables these tools of indicators and statistics to be used by those at local level to measure and make visible whether the most vulnerable are getting change or are still at the bottom of the agenda. They are the tools that should be used by government departments in working with affected groups to make and measure change and by bodies such as NICCY to hold government to account.

What we really need is joined up government, the implementation of the Anti poverty Strategy with a strong action plan that is rights based and reflects the needs of individual communities.

What we really want is to empower communities to change the cycle of poverty. To ensure that tomorrow’s parents are not living in the same conditions as today with their children.

Thank you