Mid and East Antrim Council calls for child poverty taskforce
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has called on the Minister for Communities to immediately convene a child poverty taskforce.
The motion was brought to the council by Ballymena SDLP Councillor Eugene Reid and seconded by Ballymena Independent Councillor Rodney Quigley.
Speaking at a special meeting of the local authority last week, Cllr Reid said: “We are both involved quite extensively across the town (Ballymena) since the outbreak of the pandemic and before and we have seen and continue to see the abject poverty that exists in our town and across our borough and the detrimental effect it has on life and on children and families.
Cllr Reid noted a Department for Communities Family Resource Survey which shows that in 2018/19, 122,000 children in Northern Ireland, 24 per cent, are living in relative poverty in a household where one adult is employed and 109,000 are living in absolute poverty.
Cllr Reid said: “The experience itself is traumatic. The mental strain and stigma and stress associated with poverty and social exclusion can have a neurological impact on a child.
“We need a Child Poverty Strategy but in the absence of one, we need a child poverty taskforce.”
Cllr Quigley said that in December he received a call from a council staff member who was concerned about a lady in Ballymena who was asking for assistance for herself and her seven children.
“The lady had no money nor food to feed her children. I organised a food parcel and delivered it. The lady was crying her eyes out. She was more than grateful for the package of food and the quick response. To this day, she has received food packages through the food banks.
“This is only one case of thousands in Mid and East Antrim where we find child poverty.”
Braid Alliance Councillor David Reid, a debt advisor, told the meeting: “I speak to many families every week who are struggling on low incomes. They are living on £90 per week, relying on food banks, they have no electricity, with rent arrears growing each month.
“This will not go away when the pandemic ends. Poverty has always been there. Covid has split those cracks even more.”
He went on to say that single parent families have been the hardest hit adding that “vultures” like illegal lenders have “moved in to fill the void”.
Coast Road Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown commented: “One thing Covid has exposed to us is the level of poverty and deprivation there is in our communities.
“Perhaps one of the biggest culprits has been the introduction of Universal Credit. I think it has been a disaster for many many people. I know that in Stormont they have tried to mitigate as much as possible against it.
“There is a taskforce being set in the Assembly not just to look at child poverty but levels of poverty throughout the six counties.”
Knockagh DUP Councillor Marc Collins suggested that if the minister “stopped throwing millions into fancy projects like Casement Park and put it into schemes like this, we would not be sitting here having this discussion”.
Coast Road Ulster Unionist Councillor Maureen Morrow stated: “It is a very relevant motion for us in today’s world. Covid has wreaked havoc within homes and families.
“Within our community, there are people living right under our noses. I think we as councillors are privileged to have homes and our incoming coming in and we are able to look after our families and help them out.
“It is those people who maybe do not have families around them that need our support and children are the ones who are suffering as well.”
Councillor Eugene Reid concluded by saying: “We as councillors must do everything we can to support these children. These figures are stark – 109,000 children. We must do everything we can.”
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter
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