The headline in a Belfast newspaper about two months ago caught my eye: “24% of N.I. children ‘living in poverty’”. The End Child Poverty Coalition(founded in 2001) released a report for the UK based on detailed research that at least 24% of children in N.I. are in poor households where income is less than 60% of the average after housing costs. They found that the constituencies of Foyle, West Belfast and North Belfast had the highest levels of poverty with more than 33% (one in three) growing up in poverty. Peter Bryson of the Coalition said: “This shocking map of poverty across N.Ireland demonstrates just how widely and deeply child poverty reaches into our communities.” They called on the government to address this issue.
That is the last I heard of it. I doubt if it has ever been mentioned in the Stormont Assembly by any member. The burning issue at the moment is the waste of money (almost £500 million) on the RHI scheme introduced by the First Minister, Arlene Foster, and as we have been reliably informed, her advisers, when she was in charge of Trade and Enterprise.
The failure to deal with poverty and unemployment throughout the six counties has serious consequences for our young people. We all know about the prevalence of drug abuse. There are many other social problems that result from the refusal to deal with this issue of child poverty and neglect.
About a year ago, I heard that young school children in Enniskillen were going to school hungry, without any breakfast. Some schools were providing breakfast for these children. I was a bit shocked to hear about this for I cannot remember this being the case when I was going to school in Fermanagh and there was quite a lot of poverty around in those days. It would seem the situation regarding child poverty and deprivation is getting worse instead of better.
The reality of child poverty in the north of Ireland is shocking and it is even more shocking that nothing is being done about it by those in power who could bring about change if they were interested. This, I propose, should be at the top of the voters agenda in the next election and in every future election.
(According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential or participate as full and equal members of society”.)