The holidays are not just a time for celebration but also a time for reflection and charity. In that spirit, Gary has contributed a foreword a report by Northern Ireland’s Child Poverty Alliance. The report, titled “Beneath the Surface: Child Poverty in Northern Ireland”, is available to read in full at the following link. You can read Gary’s foreword below, and you can learn more about the Child Poverty Alliance at its website or at the sites for Children in Northern Ireland and Save the Children NI.
Heat, food, water, a roof over your head… If you’re reading this as an adult then chances are as a child you had all those things as standard. In fact chances are you never thought twice about any of them. They just WERE. My childhood was blessed although I didn’t really know it at the time because I took it for granted. Three meals a day in a nice wee house with a garden and loved by attentive and affectionate parents. That was me. And not once as a child did I think it was any different for anyone else.The Northern Ireland I grew up in, to my childhood eyes, may have been sporadically scorched with violence but in the relatively sleepy seaside town of Bangor our life as kids was for the most part about kicking a football around in the street until it got too dark and a long string of benign mundanities that meant for fairly uneventful days and evenings. There were triumphs of course, tragedies too but for the most part there was a golden-hued yawning predictability to my childhood days that was maybe a little dull but certainly very cosy. Of course these days for some kids this is still the case. For many many children though, life is not like this at all. What should be a given for every child in Northern Ireland and beyond, heat, food, water, housing, these things many of us have taken for granted, are lacking and sometimes even entirely absent.
Child poverty is becoming a problem of working families, a problem of low wages and insecure work. This might be the most disturbing of all the data in this report. Too often does one hear the glib remark from more conservative commentators ‘get a job’ in response to struggling families hopeful of change. It’s clear that ‘getting a job’ is no guarantee of any security. A lot of the parents of these children are working very hard to provide for their families yet still coming up short in extremely difficult conditions. Poverty is of course not just about income it also means that people are excluded in some way from a standard of living and way of life that the majority regard as acceptable.
One surely doesn’t need to point out the benefits or indeed necessity of a healthy diet for growing kids or the disadvantage no access to computers is to a child competing for places at schools and universities. Or the major skin and respiratory problems a damp house can cause. Or indeed the effect the lack of a warm coat has in the frigid Northern Irish winter on the immune system of a small child. Having been through many Northern Irish winters myself I can’t imagine having to walk to school with no coat or not having enough dry clothes. Then in many cases to get home from school in wet clothes and no coat to a house with no heating. To add all these things up seems an unthinkable injustice to throw at a child.
Children in Northern Ireland with Save the Children Northern Ireland co-chair the Child Poverty Alliance, with child poverty in NI due to rise in the coming years an alliance such as this is more important than ever. Working alongside parents and families, teachers and schools is the only way to effect great change, for this is not just a matter of budget cuts and funding and keeping the government focused on the issue but is also very important to educate, elevate and support families that are struggling to give their children better and safer lives with the odds very unfairly stacked against them.
That children in Northern Ireland should be the worst hit by this seems doubly cruel. To have finally come out the other side of decades of conflict a new generation is trying to build a new Northern Ireland from the rubble of the old. For it now to be hit hardest by the welfare reform bill would be a bitter pill to swallow. One hopes that good sense prevails and at the very least some parity with the rest of the UK is reached. If not, the struggle in the next decade will be all the greater and the Child Poverty Alliance all the more important.