Two thirds of children are living in poverty in parts of Londonderry, shocking figures have revealed.
While Derry City Council has the highest level of child poverty in all 26 council areas of Northern Ireland at 35%, within this, the figures for the wards of Brandywell, Creggan South and Creggan Central soar to 61%, 63% and 59%.
In the neighbouring council area of Strabane District there is a similar sorry tale where the child poverty rate is 32% second only to Derry, while in Limavady the figure is 25% which is the fifth worst.
The staggering statistics were revealed by children’s charity Barnardos which has just appointed a full-time director for the North West area.
Less than a month into her new job, Liz Kavanagh said there is compelling evidence supporting the need to target jobs at areas of clear deprivation and disadvantage.
She explained: “There is no single solution when it comes to the problem of child poverty but it is caused generally by long-term unemployment which may stretch back generations.
“It does actually affect those who are in low-paid employment too because of the soaring costs of food and heating.
“There is a heavy reliance on oil heating here and unfortunately that is the single most expensive form of home heating so it is not uncommon for people to have to make the choice of ‘heat or eat'.
“The key is a joined-up strategy which begins with early intervention. Barnardos ‘Sure Start' programme has been extremely successful already in Derry and Strabane and we want to extend that.
“This is where we can support parents with universal and free services and target areas where there are high levels of social deprivation.
“The Northern Ireland Assembly is taking steps towards tackling child poverty and there are compelling figures that support the case for targeting services at those areas of clear deprivation and disadvantage.”
Positive discrimination aimed at areas with high levels of child poverty was endorsed by Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin, who highlighted the stark figures for the area she represents.
She said: “Rather than provide a blanket approach there must be targeting of areas of specific need and Foyle has been shown to have the highest level of child poverty at 35%, but even more shocking within this are the wards of Creggan and Brandywell where there are levels of over 60%.
“All services and initiatives should be targeting education, regeneration and investment and it is a very positive move that Barnardos have appointed Liz Kavanagh into the wider north west.”
The issue was raised on the floor of the Assembly yesterday, when an SDLP Assembly motion called on the First Ministers’ office (OFMDFM) to set individual child poverty targets for the North West.
Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood (below) said: “Despite a mountain of evidence, which continues to grow, OFMDFM has repeatedly refused calls to take devolved responsibility for this issue. They have instead abdicated responsibility for the governance of this issue and deferred to Westminster and the 2010 Child Poverty Act.
“The SDLP's call for independent targets is about taking control and responsibility for an area which has the potential to leave fundamental social and economic legacies and leave a generation of children abandoned.
“People will, very rightly, view this as a defining test for Stormont's current leadership. If they remain unwilling to take full responsibility for an issue so important and relevant to the people of the North, the most serious of questions will need to be asked as to whether they are carrying out the expected role of government at all.”
The child poverty level is worked out by looking at the income of two adults in a household with two children. Where that income is £349, or 60% less than the national average, the household is deemed to be living in poverty. The Derry City Council area has the highest level of poverty as defined by this system in Northern Ireland, with wards within the council area showing two-thirds of people living below this poverty line. Children’s charity Barnardos has now appointed a full-time chief to try and tackle the problem, which is largely blamed on generations of long-term |unemployment.