Giving With One Hand and Taking More Away with the Other

In response to yesterday’s budget speech, the Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner, Koulla Yiasouma writes about its impact on child poverty

YESTERDAY we saw a budget delivered that was trumpeted as a triumph for boosting earnings, but here in Northern Ireland tens of thousands of families are set to lose out.

There was scant reference to Northern Ireland and no consideration to the differences in circumstances. With approximately 140,000 families in Northern Ireland receiving child tax credits the changes set out in the Chancellor’s Budget Speech will have a disproportionate effect here.

While the National Living Wage is a welcome move in the right direction, it has the potential to hit the 89,000 families receiving child tax credit where someone is working. Today’s Daily Mail pointed out that a low income family with someone working could lose over £2,000 a year.

It is neither right nor fair that some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children will have their way out of poverty blocked by these changes.

The most significant change for many is the reduction of the income threshold for tax credits by almost £3,000 and freezing levels for 4 years. This will mean that many of the hard working families Mr Osborne talked about, are being hit the hardest.

Here in Northern Ireland we also have a larger average size of family than other parts of the UK, something which could force many families to look carefully at the proposed cut-off in child tax credits and other benefits for their third child, and the next one. We also know that without information and awareness people may not be well informed about such impacts. Or, on another level is this something close to state interference in family life?

Tax credits are not devolved; but our government still has a responsibility to children living in poverty. Whilst the reasons for the impasse on the Stormont House Agreement are being played out, they can, and must act. In spite of the requirements of the Child Poverty Act, Northern Ireland is nearly 15 months late in implementing a Child Poverty Action Plan. The plan needs to have real measures that target those families who need the necessary support, to help lift them out of the poverty. We, as a society must have clear actions that will ensure that every child has better outcomes.

There has also been much talk about the benefit cap of £20,000. This is something that will hit families who already have more than two children, and families where a parent has had to give up work to care for their disabled children.

I’m not saying that I, or anyone else, have a magic bullet to solve the issue of child poverty. What I am saying is that I want everyone to take a long hard look at what they can do as politicians, stakeholders and policy makers.

There are steps we can take, and as I look closely at the detail in the Budget and the Welfare Reform Bill coming through Parliament, I will examine the implications in detail and I will be looking to our MLAs to work for the families, in their constituencies, to make sure that we see no increase in the current appalling levels of child poverty.

The last couple of weeks have seen a lot of discussion about child poverty firstly following the launch of the UNCRC report by the 4 UK Commissioners and then yesterday’s budget announcement. But let’s be clear the fact that today in NI 112,000 children live in absolute poverty is one of the biggest indictments on our Society and I plan to make it the top of my and everyone’s agenda.

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