Legislative Scrutiny: Child Poverty Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Law Centre (NI)


  1.1  Law Centre (NI) is a public interest law non-governmental organisation. We work to promote social justice and provide specialist legal services to advice organisations and disadvantaged individuals through our advice line and our casework services from our two regional offices in Northern Ireland. It provides a specialist legal service (advice, representation, training, information and policy comment) in five areas of law: social security, mental health, immigration, community care and employment. Law Centre services are provided to over 450 member agencies in Northern Ireland. In this paper we outline our concerns regarding the implementation of the draft Bill, drawing attention to the Northern Ireland specific issues.


  2.1  The development of the Child Poverty Bill is a welcome initiative but the Bill provides limited information on how the new legislation will be used to improve everyday life for children and families in poverty. The document sets out a number of specific targets with little detail on how these targets should be implemented and met. We welcome the opportunity to respond to this call for evidence on the Child Poverty Bill. We have made some general comments in response and address some of the questions which were posed for consultation.


  3.1  We comment in more detail on each of these concerns within the body of the paper and have highlighted the appropriate paragraphs for ease of reference. In summary, we recommend that:

    — The Bill should make more specific reference to Northern Ireland and the other devolved governments (4.1).

    — Northern Ireland's local strategy under the Bill should be based upon its anti-poverty strategy Lifetime Opportunities (5.1 & 5.2).

    — UK wide targets should be monitored in each jurisdiction (6.1).

    — The Bill include a mechanism for reporting to the devolved administrations as well as to Westminster (6.2).

    — Annual reports specify how much has been spent on tackling child poverty and how many children have been lifted out of poverty (6.2).

    — The Bill should include provisions to formalise duties on public bodies in Northern Ireland (7.2.1).

    — Full statistical information on the numbers of asylum seeking and trafficked children in Northern Ireland be made publicly available (7.3.1 & 7.3.2).

    — The Bill should define what constitutes persistent poverty (7.4.1).

    — The NI Executive 2012 target for the elimination of severe child poverty be included in the NI provisions of the Bill (7.4.2).


  4.1  There are approximately 100,000[48] children in Northern Ireland living in poverty with around 44,000[49] children living in severe poverty. Northern Ireland has an additional target for the elimination of severe child poverty by 2012. This is the first target of its kind in the United Kingdom. Given this commitment and the differing needs within Northern Ireland we believe the Bill should make more specific reference to Northern Ireland and the other devolved governments.

  4.2  We were disappointed that there was no separate Northern Ireland consultation on the proposals within the Bill. The Northern Ireland Government has stated that it is committed to "proactively change the existing patterns of social disadvantage by using increased prosperity and economic growth to tackle ongoing poverty."[50] Now we are facing a time of economic downturn this commitment should not be reneged upon rather it should be preserved in a Child Poverty Bill and a Child Poverty Strategy that will ensure the immediate protection for the most vulnerable and marginalised children who are living in poverty. Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that "States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development" and that "State Parties ... shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right." The implementation of a robust Child Poverty Bill would go some way to meeting this obligation.


  5.1  Once enacted, the legislation will place an obligation on the Northern Ireland Assembly to develop a local strategy, within 12 months from the day the Act is passed, to set out the measures it will take to meet the child poverty targets set out in the Bill.

  5.2  In November 2006 the Northern Ireland Executive developed an anti-poverty strategy Lifetime Opportunities, but it was not agreed by the Executive until November 2008. Given that the Lifetime Opportunities strategy is already in place, the development of a further discrete strategy on child poverty may not be necessary or appropriate. What is needed is the inclusion of specific and costed child poverty actions and targets to ensure that this strategy meets its existing targets for the elimination of severe child poverty and the anticipated new legislative requirement to counteract child poverty in Northern Ireland. This will require capitalising on the work undertaken in the development of Lifetime Opportunities.


  6.1  The Westminster Bill has UK-wide application. We support the UK wide targets set within the Bill. These targets however should be monitored in each jurisdiction so as to provide a comprehensive picture of overall progress. Given the difference in population in each jurisdiction it would be possible for the targets set in the Bill to be met by only one jurisdiction but not met in the other jurisdictions.

  6.2  We welcome the duty on the Northern Ireland Executive to place a Strategy before the Northern Ireland Assembly and the duty on the UK government to lay a UK strategy before Parliament every three years. We note, however, that the Bill only requires that annual reports on progress in each jurisdiction towards the targets in the Bill be submitted by the Westminster Government to Parliament. A mechanism for reporting to the devolved administrations as well as to Westminster on the targets in the Bill needs to be developed. This will ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly is also held accountable for the ongoing implementation of the Bill in a transparent manner. We also believe that the annual reports need to specify how much has been spent on tackling child poverty and how many children have been lifted out of poverty as a result of the actions within the strategy.


7.1  What is the intended effect of clause 15 of the Bill, concerning the relevance of economic and fiscal circumstances, and in particular its relationship with the duty in clause 1 to ensure the targets are met?

  7.1.1  We are pleased that the Bill does not include the initial consultation proposals that meeting the 2020 target should be subject to overall affordability, so that in adverse economic circumstances the Government could be exempt from the legal commitment to meet the target. The inclusion of clause 15 and the requirement that Government and the devolved administrations must take into account the impact of measures to tackle child poverty on the economy and on taxation, spending and borrowing can be either a positive or negative requirement.

  7.1.2  Child poverty is estimated to cost the UK at least £25 billion each year, and yet the long-term improvement in the fiscal position which tackling child poverty would bring about is not mentioned here.[51] We are concerned that this clause could be interpreted in such a way as to weaken the legislation and strategy development process. Alternatively this clause could be used to an advantage. By requiring Government to consider the economic circumstances it will also have to consider the positive economic impact tackling child poverty now will have on future expenditure.

7.2  Why is there no duty to implement the child poverty strategy?

  7.2.1  We share the Committee's concerns about the distinct lack of a duty within the Bill to implement the child poverty strategy. While the Bill introduces proposals to formalise duties on local authorities in England, local authorities in Northern Ireland will not be covered by the Bill. This leaves children in Northern Ireland in a more vulnerable position, with lesser protection for their rights. The Bill should include provisions to formalise duties on public bodies in Northern Ireland or place an obligation on Northern Ireland elected representatives to consider how meeting child poverty targets can be effectively contributed to by regional agencies and local government structures.

7.3  What is the Government doing to make sure that data is available so that all children can be measured against the targets, and in particular those, such as Gypsy or Roma children, or asylum seeking children, who are excluded from the targets but are the poorest groups which the Government ought to be specifically targeting?

  7.3.1  There are significant concerns in Northern Ireland regarding the lack of statistical information on the number of asylum seeking children residing in Northern Ireland. Law Centre (NI) has been unable to obtain statistics on asylum seekers in Northern Ireland that are broken down to include the age of dependents.[52] It is vital for ongoing work in this area that full statistical information on the numbers of asylum seeking children in Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole are available.

  7.3.2  Consideration should also be given to the number of children who are the victims of trafficking. These children are a further vulnerable group at considerable risk of exploitation and exposure to child poverty. Again, Law Centre (NI) has been unable to obtain comprehensive statistics to ascertain the exact number of trafficked children in Northern Ireland. The Bill does not refer to how the Government or devolved administrations should act to protect these very vulnerable groups of children.

7.4  How does the Government propose to focus in particular on children living in severe and persistent poverty?

Persistent Poverty

  7.4.1  We welcome the inclusion of a measure of persistent poverty. The Bill does not define what constitutes persistent poverty and this measure should be defined as soon as is practicable. In Northern Ireland joint research by Save the Children and Queen's University Belfast shows that at 21%, persistent poverty is more than double the GB level—making it of particular importance for Northern Ireland that a target is set to eradicate persistent poverty by 2020.[53]

Severe Poverty

  7.4.2  As stated above the NI Executive has already adopted a 2012 target for the elimination of severe child poverty. This earlier target should be included in the NI provisions of the Bill. Further, consideration should be given to the inclusion of this target within the Bill for the UK as a whole. The number of children living in severe poverty has not reduced in recent years. In fact, recent research suggests that the recession will lead to an increase in severe child poverty.[54] In their most recent Concluding Observations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the legislation and strategy for tackling child poverty should focus attention on those living in the most severe poverty.[55] Further, the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended the creation of an "explicit indicator" to measure progress on severe and persistent poverty in its enquiry on child poverty.[56] It is vital to have a strong focus on severe and persistent poverty to ensure that the most disadvantaged are not left behind.


  8.1  Law Centre (NI) welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee. We trust you will find our comments helpful. If there is any further way in which we could contribute to this process we would welcome the opportunity to do so.

September 2009

48   Kenway et al, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2006. Back

49   Magadi P and Middleton P, Measuring Severe Child Poverty in the UK, Save the Children, London. Back

50   Programme for Government 2008-11 (2007), Northern Ireland Executive, Belfast, pg 7. Back

51   Save the Children, Briefing Paper-The Child Poverty Bill, June 2009. Back

52   Home Office, Control of Immigration; Quarterly Statistical Summary, UK, Jan to March 2009 at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs09/immiq109.pdf. Correct as of 26/08/09. This confirms that in Northern Ireland in the first quarter of 2009 there were 20 asylum seekers in receipt of subsistence only support including dependents. Back

53   Monteith M, Lloyd K and McKee P, Persistent Child Poverty in Northern Ireland, Save the Children & ARK, 2008. Back

54   JRF (2009) Ending child poverty in a changing economy. Back

55   See http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/ Correct as of 26/08/09. Back

56   Work and Pensions Committee, The best start in life? Alleviating deprivation, improving social mobility, and eradicating child poverty, 2008. At http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmworpen/42/4202.htm Correct as of 26/08/09. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 26 November 2009