Child poverty in Northern Ireland could worsen warns watchdog

Child poverty in Northern Ireland could increase as a result of welfare reforms proposed by the UK Coalition government, warns Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People. Lewlsey-Mooney said: ‘The inequalities already experienced by many children living in poverty could worsen considerably as a result of this welfare reform legislation, if action is not taken.’

The Commissioner challenged the idea that the Northern Ireland Executive had no choice but to adopt all the reforms, and called on it to see what scope there was to implement them in a way that protects children.

The Commissioner’s comments coincided with the publication of a detailed report examining the impact of the welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.

Key points from the report

  • The incomes of families with children in Northern Ireland have already been badly affected by welfare reforms introduced since 2010. Those families face a further drop in living standards over the coming three years.
  • Housing benefit cuts threaten children’s rights. Many families with children will lose their owner-occupied homes; others will fall into growing arrears until evicted by private sector landlords; and others will ration food or buy less healthy food in order to pay rent shortfalls.
  • The proposed benefit ‘cap’ on each household will harm families with three or more children where there is a severely disabled child, and all families with five or more children. At least 6,500 children will lose out.
  • There are real dangers for children’s rights in the proposal that the universal credit should be a single monthly payment to one member of the household. The Assembly needs to examine how this can be circumvented and to put in place emergency systems in case the IT system fails.

The press release by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People can be read on her website. Two linked reports are also available:

  1. A Child Rights Impact Assessment of the Impact of Welfare Reform on Children in Northern Ireland by Goretti Horgan and Marina Monteith assesses in detail the impact of proposed welfare reforms on children.
  2. An Examination of Parity Principles in Welfare and Wider Social Policy by Barry Fitzpatrick and Noreen Burrows looks at what scope there is to adapt the reforms in Northern Ireland.