Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Letter to the Clerk by Mr Gregory Campbell MP (CP 08)

  I am writing to the Committee to impress upon them the realities of child poverty in Northern Ireland. (NI)

  Statistics reveal that one in every three children in Northern Ireland live in poverty. These children are more likely to underachieve educationally and have poorer health. Figures from the Department of Social Development (NI) show that 32% of children live in households whose only income derives from benefits and that a further 18% of children live in households that claim Working Family Tax Credit (now Working Tax Credit).[128] Of the children living in poverty in NI 50% have at least one parent employed this compares with a UK average of 33% of all children living in poverty in similar working families.[129] If one looks at the average household income, 21% is derived from social security benefits, compared to 12% in the UK as a whole. As a region of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has the highest number of children living in poverty. While research has indicated that, while Working Family Tax Credit (now Working Tax Credit) does lift some families out of poverty, however, insecure low paid jobs mean that many families on Working Tax Credit remain at risk of poverty and are likely to be back on benefit within a year or less.

  Energy costs are higher in Northern Ireland. Providing necessities such as fuel, light and food costs accounts for 26% of average household income compared to a UK average of 20%.[130]

  Regarding food costs, inability to afford a healthy diet means that young people from poorer families have lower intakes of energy, fat, vitamins and minerals. Thus there is a higher rate of Dental decay and sickness in children from poorer families. It is important to ensure that disadvantaged communities have GP and dental practices within the area.

  Levels of debt are particularly alarming in Northern Ireland. The most common kind of debt for families living in poverty is loans from the Social Fund (Department of Social Development).[131] For the year 2000-01 in NI 133,187 people claiming benefits received a loan from the Fund. Families who are in work but living on or below the poverty line do not have access to loans from the Social Fund. Many poor families, both low paid and on benefits, are forced to seek "informal credit" through catalogues and money lenders. In 2001, the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureau recorded almost £5 million debt across the Province. 49% of the debt clients were employed, aged between 25-30, with two children.[132]

  There has been considerable controversy in Northern Ireland over recent years regarding the criteria used to determine deprivation. Given the disadvantages suffered by children in Protestant areas, highlighted by the recent report into the European Special Programme Monies, where over a three-year period £152 million was spent in Nationalist areas with only £110 million spent in Unionist areas,[133] it is imperative that all of those of us interested in child poverty, whatever the religion of the child, continue to support efforts to eradicate that poverty equally across the community.

  I trust the Committee will give due consideration to the extent of poverty in Northern Ireland and the effectiveness of the Government's strategy to eradicate it.

Mr Gregory Campbell MP

9 September 2003

128   DSD (2002) Northern Ireland Client Group Analysis: Persons of working age and their children and persons of pensionable age receiving key benefits in May 2001. Back

129   CPAG (2002), Poverty: the facts, London. Back

130   NIRSA (2000), NI Family Expenditure Survey Report for 1998-99. Back

131   In 1998, Social Fund loans replaced the old system of "single payments" whereby those on benefits could receive a grant to cover "exceptional items of expenditure" such as buying a bed for a child grown too big for a cot, school uniforms etc. Instead of grants, the Social Fund has three types of discretionary awards: community care grants, budgeting loans and crisis loans. Back

132   NIACAB (2001) Would You Credit It?, Belfast. Back

133   NIRSA (June 2003) European Union Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. An Estimate of Community Uptake. Research Paper No 1. Back

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