A decade on from the first statutory child poverty strategy in Northern Ireland, a leading children’s charity report finds there’s been no reduction in the rate of child poverty in the country, which remains stubbornly high.
Save the Children’s findings reveal that twice as many children in poverty are growing up in working families – 35% compared with 17% than ten years ago – proving that employment hasn’t been a route out of hardship for many.
The charity’s report Ten Years Too Long highlights the impact that the pandemic will additionally have on already high rates of child poverty. Around 100,000 children – about 1 in 4 (23%) are currently classed as living in a household below the average income. The latest data shows that children of single parents, children with two or more siblings and children in a family where someone has a disability, face a far higher risk of poverty, increasing to 1 in 3 overall.
One parent who has been supported by Save the Children’s emergency grants scheme in Northern Ireland, said:
“I’ve always worked full time I’ve never been on benefits. I’m on universal credit now at the minute, so even that’s a big difference to me. The income has been a big change to me I’m not used to worrying about money or where its coming from.”
Families saw the cost-of-living skyrocket during the pandemic, putting increased pressure on finances. Additionally, many families lost jobs overnight, those on zero hours contracts saw their work dry up and others were furloughed, leading to a drop in an already stretched income. Whilst many relied on food banks or charity to get by, many made difficult choices and a year on, this pandemic has taken its toll hardest on those who were already struggling to make ends meet.
The report finds that families with the youngest children are disproportionally affected. The risk of poverty is higher for those with children under five, followed by those whose youngest child is aged between 5 and 10, and then between 11 and 15. The charity also highlights that poorest households have lost 10% of their incomes as a result of changes to taxes and benefits in the last decade, costing them on average about £1,200 per year, with an even higher figure for single parents at £2,250 per year.
The report does acknowledge the positive steps that the Executive has taken, such as the extension to the welfare package and committing to a cash first approach to free school meals during the pandemic.
Save the Children is calling on the Executive to go further by:
- Strengthening the existing welfare mitigations package, including introducing mitigations for the two-child limit in Northern Ireland
- Adopting the recommendations of the Anti-Poverty Expert Advisory Panel and increasing the financial support available to children
- Supporting an extension of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits beyond September 2021.
Save the Children’s Head of Northern Ireland, Peter Bryson said: “It is deeply disheartening to see these stagnant figures. And because these statistics give a measure of child poverty pre-pandemic, they don’t even give us the full picture of the impact of Covid and potentially how much worse the situation will be for children in a year’s time.
The first child poverty strategy launched ten years ago, was full of ambition and promise but little progress has been made for those who need it most. Behind the statistics, there are too many families who struggle financially, day in and day out, with far reaching consequences for their children.
History will judge how we handled this pandemic for our children. It has been an overwhelming and stressful time for families already struggling on a low income, and we cannot risk plunging even more families into poverty. These latest figures should be the catalyst that the Executive needs to make supporting struggling families and giving every child in Northern Ireland the best possible start a priority right now.”