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NI child poverty 'among worst in the UK'

Three places in NI listed among the worst for child poverty levels.

Northern Ireland has some of the worst child poverty levels in the UK, according to new research.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013
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Londonderry, Belfast and Strabane are among the most poverty-stricken places for children, the End Child Poverty campaign has found.

The areas placed fourth, fifth and 14th in the 20 most impoverished places to grow up in the UK.

West Belfast was the second worst place for children to live when broken into local authorities, with 43% of children living in poverty.

Northern Ireland's least affected areas have 13% of children living in need.

Commenting on the figures, Enver Solomon, Chair of the End Child Poverty campaign said the child poverty map reveals the "gross levels of inequality that children face in every region".

"Far too many children, whose parents are struggling to make a living, are having to go hungry and miss out on the essentials of a decent childhood that all young people should be entitled to," he said.

"Local authorities are having to deal with reduced budgets, but they have critical decisions to make."

The huge disparities that exist across the country have become more entrenched and are now an enduring reality, as many more children are set to become trapped in long-term poverty and disadvantage.

Enver Solomon, End Child Poverty

Mr Solomon called on authorities to prioritise low income families in welfare spending, including spending on the new council tax benefit and the bedroom tax.

"This week, we have written to local authority leaders in the local authorities with the most child poverty, asking them what they will do to tackle child poverty in their local area," he added.

"The government must also closely examine its current strategy for reducing poverty and consider what more it could do to ensure millions of children's lives are not blighted by the corrosive impact that poverty has on their daily existence.''

Leading children's charity Barnardo's has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to focus on tackling the problem.

"Behind today's statistics sit the most vulnerable children in society, whose life chances risk being compromised by our failure to tackle child poverty effectively," Lynda Wilson, Director of Barnardo's NI, said

"Barnardo's NI works day in and day out with families in the most deprived areas. The grim reality is that many families face vicious cycles of debt and impossible choices between heating homes or cooking hot meals for their children."

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood expressed shock at the statistics for his west Belfast constituency.

"It is unacceptable that the Falls, Shankill and Whiterock wards remain amongst the most deprived wards in the North," he said.

"It is a scandal that life expectancy for men in some parts of west Belfast is ten years less compared to men in parts of south Belfast, which is just a stone's throw away."

Mr Attwood added that urgent radical and affirmative action is needed by all agencies.

"We need to set out a vision for west Belfast for the next 15 years which identifies clear, deliverable targets which will reduce health and social inequalities, and which will ultimately lift communities from disadvantage," he said.

"We need to make every agency directly accountable for these targets."

It is unacceptable that children in a modern society are going hungry or parents cannot afford to heat their homes due to lack of money.

Paul Maskey, Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin's MP for the west of the city, Paul Maskey, said major investment and a multi-agency approach is needed to comprehensively tackle child poverty.

"Low wages, as well as high unemployment, are contributing to the poverty faced by entire communities in west Belfast due to generational neglect by successive British governments," he said.

"It's clear that all agencies and government departments have a duty to tackle child poverty as it is a main objective of the Programme of Government in the Assembly."

He added that if high unemployment is reduced, "it will go a long way to reducing the child poverty statistics".

DUP Strangford MLA and Junior Minister Jonathan Bell said the figures highlight the importance of tackling the problem.

"The Executive agreed the Child Poverty Strategy in March 2011 and the second annual report on the delivery of this strategy is due to come before the Assembly by the end of March," he said.

"This strategy guides the actions across all government departments and it is vital that we focus on the most urgent and significant problems we face. These include poor educational outcomes, poor physical and mental health, social exclusion and disadvantage."

He added that a Children and Young Persons Early Action Document was also recently agreed, identifying key priorities to be taken forward over the coming years under the Delivering Social Change programme.