As Northern Ireland prepares to go to the polls next week for the NI Assembly election, Ni4kids is calling on our main political parties to tell us how they plan to step up for the country’s children and families if elected.
It’s been an incredibly tough couple of years, with our children often bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. As well as illness and bereavement, families have coped with lockdowns, restrictions and disruption to work and education, and have missed out on precious time with friends and loved ones.
With the cost of living crisis making things even tougher, we wanted to see where our politicians stand on the issues that matter to our readers. We want to know what they plan to do to tackle these issues and why they deserve your vote.
We sent our questions to the Alliance Party; the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP); the Green Party NI; People Before Profit; Sinn Fein; the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP); the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV); and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
Here are the questions we put to them:
1. With the rise in the cost of living and prices for essential items continuing to soar, thus piling more pressure on struggling households, what are your plans for relieving financial pressure on families?
2. Unlike the rest of the UK, where parents can avail of 30 hours free childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds, Northern Ireland still does not have a scheme like this. Why is Northern Ireland the only devolved nation not to have this scheme in place and what are your plans for addressing this?
3. Are there any plans to increase the number of hours of free pre-school education, which currently stands at just 12.5 hours per week? There is little flexibility for parents, in particular mums, to go out to work when this equates to just 2.5 hours per day, five days a week.
4. Academic selection is still a major talking point for most parties and remains an unresolved issue. Following the recent creation of a Schools’ Entrance Assessment Group, which has been backed by approximately 60 grammar schools and will see some parents having to pay to enter their child for the test, will a definitive decision be made on a way forward for academic selection?
5. Following the passing of the Integrated Education Bill in March this year – what is your strategy for providing integrated education in Northern Ireland and committing to promoting the education of children together?
6. Our children and young people were hugely impacted by the lockdowns brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, with schools closing and homeschooling putting additional strain on working parents and families as a whole. According to NICCY, there has been a 24% increase in children attending A&E with mental health crisis. What are your plans or commitments to prioritising children’s mental health and support for parents and children in dealing with the effects of this?
We hope to publish their responses next week. If these issues matter to you, urge your local candidates to send their responses in, to help our readers make informed decisions at the polls.