1 Child In Every 3 Lives In Poverty

One child in three in Omagh District is living in poverty, putting it at the highest level in the whole of the North. That’s the shocking revelation of new government figures released this week, which show the council areas of Omagh and neighbouring Strabane as having child poverty rates of up to 35%.

Save the Children says that we are now entering a critical phase in the battle against child poverty. Its new report – A 2020 Vision – states that 35,000 young people will have to be rescued from poverty here if the government is to meet the target of halving child poverty by 2010.

Kieran Downey, assistant director for women’s and children’s services in the Western Trust says child poverty has a significant impact on a child’s health and not only in respect of their physical health but also their emotional and mental health.

“The figures released from this recent research are worrying and the Western Health and Social Care Trust reaffirms its commitment to working in partnership with all the relevant authorities to reduce the impact of child poverty within its region.”

An Omagh-based spokesperson for children’s charity Barnardo’s highlighted that its studies show there are currently 100,000 children living in officially defined levels of poverty in communities across the North, going without many of the material things and activities that their friends take for granted.

The children’s charity spokesperson feels that the restoration of the Assembly, coupled with the main parties’ commitment to tackling the issue, has created positive conditions for progress.

They said, “There is a general acceptance by government and ordinary members of the public that we do have far too many children living in poverty and now we have to ask what can our Executive do to address this issue?

“The government can do many things for children in relation to tax and benefits that can help poor families. But devolved administrations can also do a lot with local initiatives such as undertaking a review of how we support second earners to return to work. Even families with one wage earner can be living in poverty.

“Party leaders have frequently mentioned children as the reason that we needed a lasting political settlement. They now have the chance to improve the lives of our most disadvantaged children and they must seize it.”

Mustafa Ben Hassine is a social worker in Strabane, and points to the town’s economic plight and jobs situation as a key factor behind the high level of child poverty in Strabane and the surrounding district. He said, “Living in poverty in Strabane is very different to living say in Ethiopia or in some other parts of Africa. The concept of poverty here is in a Western European sense, as opposed to comparing to a Third World country.

“The problems these children face are different, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important. It’s also unclear as to how poverty has been measured. I suppose here it’s about access to services and facilities, like leisure services and education, as well as the ability to have material goods such as clothes, food and other objects.

“It’s often a vicious circle, where the parents have been born into a situation with very few prospects. Their children are born into a similar situation, where money is very tight for example, and it’s very hard to break out of that. We have to bear in mind how things have been here in the past, it’s not a new phenomenon but comes from years of neglect which impacts negatively on children.

“At the Family Centre we deal with a range of families from all sorts of backgrounds, and you can see that there has been a lack of investment in the area, with more family-friendly jobs needed. By that, I mean more sustainable employment which has in mind the needs of families. Places like call centres are not geared towards family life, with shift work and no provision for childcare, so they’re not necessarily the sort of jobs that encourage good family life,” he said.

In the recent study, Save the Children researchers Alex Tennant and Marina Monteith found that poverty affected all aspects of children’s lives and has a devastating impact on their health and education as well as limiting their life chances.

Save the Children has called on First Minister Ian Paisley, and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, to make the eradication of child poverty one of the key priorities of the new Executive. ‘Lifetime Opportunities’ – the Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Strategy which was introduced in November 2006 by Peter Hain, the then Secretary of State – commits to halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020.

At a Save the Children briefing of MLAs this week at Stormont, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said, “Working alongside and listening to organisations such as Save the Children is very important in understanding issues like child poverty and this report, together with our own research, will help ministers to focus on both the extent of the problem and what needs to be done.”