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The Executive must deliver on commitment to eradicate Child Poverty

25 September, 2007


Sue Ramsey MLA, spokesperson on Children and Young People, speaking in a Sinn Fein sponsored debate on Child Poverty has said that child poverty is one of the most serious and pressing issues we face.

Ms Ramsey said:

"Child Poverty is one of the most serious and pressing issues we face as a community and a society. There are 100,000 children in the North who are living in poverty. Children living in our communities and neighbourhoods who are living in families with only 60% of average income - 100,000 children who will go without many of the things their friends take for granted and 100,000 children who will experience the lack of choice and dignity that poverty can too often bring; 100,000 children who will do less well in school.

"From early years and primary school children living in poverty are disadvantaged and do less well. Children living in areas of high deprivation score less well on verbal skills.. By age 11 almost 40% of pupils in deprived areas will have failed to reach level 4 at Key Stage 2 compared to 23% of pupils overall. - among children on free school meals 30% get few or no GCSE's this compares to an average of 14% among all 16 year olds.

"Those with no or few qualifications are twice as likely to be unemployed and 50% of those who find work are in low paid employment. The infant mortality rate for the most deprived areas is 23% higher than the average for the North of Ireland. Children born into poverty are four times more likely to die before the age of 20.

"The devastating and multiple effects of poverty on individuals, families and communities make it essential that the Minister on behalf of the Executive gives a clear commitment to achieving the target of reducing child poverty by half by 2010 on the way to eradicating it fully by 2020.

"This Assembly must be seen to take effective action on addressing poverty and for that to happen we need a clear strategy and plan." ENDS

Full Text of Speech (check against delivery)

I welcome this opportunity to debate the issue of child poverty in this Assembly as it is one of the most serious and pressing issues we face as a community and a society. I intend asking the Minister a range of questions in my speech and I hope if he is unable to answer them all in the time available he will ensure his officials do so by separate correspondence.

There are currently 100,000 children in the North who are living in poverty. These are children living in our communities and neighbourhoods who are living in families with only 60% of average income. In real terms they are 100,000 children who will go without many of the things their friends take for granted and 100,000 children who will experience the lack of choice and dignity that poverty can too often bring.

It is also 100,000 children who will do less well in school. It is right from early years and primary school that children living in poverty are disadvantaged and do less well. Children living in areas of high deprivation score less well on verbal skills and early number concepts. While at primary school there are clear differentials on test scores between children living in poverty and those with more affluent backgrounds. By age 11 almost 40% of pupils in deprived areas will have failed to reach level 4 at Key Stage 2 compared to 23% of pupils overall. - among children on free school meals 30% get few or no GCSE's this compares to an average of 14% among all 16 year olds. Even more concerning this is a trend that has continued for the last ten years and little progress has been made on narrowing the gap.

The failure to assist children living in poverty to do well in school has huge repercussions for their ability to find a route out of poverty. As those with no or few qualifications are twice as likely to be unemployed and 50% of those who find work are in low paid employment.

Living in poverty also has a devastating effect on children's health. The infant mortality rate for the most deprived areas is 23% higher than the average for the North of Ireland. Children born into poverty are four times more likely to die before the age of 20 than those born into more affluent families.

The rate of teenage pregnancy is much higher in areas of greatest social and economic deprivation. Among girls aged 13 - 16; 7 out of every 1000 will give birth in the most deprived areas and in other areas that figure will be 2 out of every 1000. Teenage mothers and their babies face much higher risks of infant mortality, low birth weight and post natal depression.

Commitment Needed

The devastating and multiple effects of poverty on individuals, families and communities make it essential that the Minister on behalf of the Executive gives a clear commitment to achieving the target of reducing child poverty by half by 2010 on the way to eradicating it fully by 2020. Will the Minister provide this clear commitment?

Can the Minister confirm that children and poverty will be a priority in setting the Public Service Agreements and a priority in the allocation of funding? In particular can he assure us that spending on various services to children and families, which has a direct relation to poverty, will receive the highest priority by the Executive in funding allocations? It is not un-related that we spend a third less on children's services in this jurisdiction than they do in England and Wales and that our child poverty levels remain stubbornly high.

Further will the Minister commit to reviewing the targets outlined in Lifetime Opportunities to address the needs of those children and families most in poverty and putting in place the targets and funding required to make this a reality. The current range of targets are too general and un-focused to address the needs of those children most in poverty. This Assembly must be seen to take effective action on addressing poverty and for that to happen we need a clear strategy and plan. Will the Minister confirm when that plan will be available?

Those Most In Poverty

We know that there are particular groups of children and families who are much more likely to be in poverty.

Children living in families with no adults working are at most risk of severe poverty. A family of two children and two adults will currently receive £204 per week in benefit and a lone parent with two children will receive £170 per week. This is below governments own poverty line. There are around 44,000 children living in severe poverty in the North and they require urgent help to address their needs.

Government should give a commitment to putting in place a programme of funding that will provide children in the most severe poverty and in the most deprived areas with additional support and resources that can help improve their life chances. This could be undertaken through the creation of Children's Zones that would focus on improving the life chances of children in a specific geographical area by co-ordinating a funding programme that addressed education, parenting and health and employment needs. A programme that made children in the most severe need the centre of help within their communities. Will the Minister commit to a programme of policy and funding aimed at creating Children's Zones to address the needs of children living in severe poverty?

Other groups of children that are most at risk of poverty are children living in families where either a parent or adult has a disability. Will the Minister confirm that new targets for Lifetime Opportunities will address the needs of families with disabilities. Specifically that a programme of action will consider and address the additional costs of disability and review the opportunities for disabled parents and disabled young people to access training and employment as one mechanism for reducing their poverty.

Can the Minister confirm that as well as the life cycle approach undertaken in Lifetime Opportunities that OFMDFM will co-ordinate a range of actions across all government departments to address the needs of those most likely to be in poverty in a holisitic way. ENDS

Note to Editors

Sinn Féin motion on Child Poverty

That this Assembly regards as unacceptable the current level of child poverty and calls on the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minster to confirm its commitment to the eradication of child poverty by 2020 and to provide an action plan with clear targets and measurable outcomes to ensure that all children are lifted out of poverty.

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