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.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.

  • Dan

    Here’s a radical suggestion for the Children’s Commssioner to consider….if you want to have kids, make sure you can afford them.

  • chrisjones2

    “the changes set out in the Chancellor’s Budget Speech will have a disproportionate effect here.”

    As perhaps they should given the huge and disproportionate welfare bill here?

    “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.”

    I have to say I am confused. I want to see the disadvantaged protected but how do these changes block their way out of poverty? Do they not also help create a pathway to encourage their parents – who have primary responsibility for them – into finding a way out of welfare dependence and into work?

    .” we also have a larger average size of family”

    Yes but why should that be? Perhaps the system actively encourages it.

    “this something close to state interference in family life?”

    Only at the level of saying to parents that its not fair to expect others to pay the costs of all the children you choose to have. There is no open chequebook

    “The Stormont Government must act” How? Reform welfare perhaps to take the money off others and support children? Cut spending elsewhere? Where?

    I am afraid though that I can offer you almost no hope. I agree with what you suggest in terms of an innovative strategy to tackle the problem of child poverty but that would require intelligence, commitment and co-ordination. We dont do any of that at stormont

    Your best bet is to link every possible initiative to either Irish Language or Lambeg Drum training. That may work.

  • barnshee

    what?? responsibility?? wash your mouth out

  • Let’s be clear that George Osborne clearly rates the views of 4 UK Commissioners about the level he does Jeremy Corbyn.

  • chrisjones2

    You have breached their RIGHTS. They now need compensation for the shock

  • Kevin Breslin

    This government believes poor working people are takers from the economy and must be audited to provide for the most productive members of its country i.e. inheritors and old money. Increasing spending in defence is also important because when you bring back troops from the war theatre it’s then you need to raise defence spending. What else is there, oh yes in order to be “conservative” renewable energy subsidies will be scrapped and renewable energy companies will be taxed for damaging the environment just like the non-renewables.

    Heavens forbid the paper money runs out before coal, oil, gas and other raw minerals.

    So yeah, rewarding people who don’t have to work a day in their lives, making NATO spending targets even if it means building more golf courses and other recreational facilities for the top generals and declaring war on the environmental lobby. I could not imagine Sinn Féin coming up with a worse plan for running the UK even if they were trying to sabotage it.

  • OneNI

    Extraordinary that the Commissioner fails to mention that the Westminister Govt is introducing a big increase in child care provision in tandem with this measure and that the Executive has failed to adequately to address the poor provision in NI.

    Also find it odd that the Commissioner does not mention that the increase in tax allowances will offset the tax credit changes considerably