A quarter of children in Northern Ireland are living below the breadline, Government figures have revealed.
Despite Labour’s pledge to halve child poverty by 2010, figures showed 24% of Ulster’s youngsters were growing up in homes where the income was less than 60% of the average wage — the same as the previous year.
Across the UK there are 2.9m children and 5.6m working-age adults living in poor households, Department for Work and Pensions records show. Ministers insisted they had already taken action to put their efforts to tackle child poverty “back on track” and predicted the benefits of that would be seen over the next two years.
But the Child Poverty Action Group condemned the figures as “deplorable”, adding: “Families are suffering now and need help now.”
The statistics for households below average income also showed 17% of adults in Northern Ireland were in poverty along with 20% of pensioners.
Attacking the lack of help in last month’s Budget, head of policy Dr Paul Dornan added: “The disgraceful decision to give the poorest families less than the cost of a pint of milk for each child to help them survive the recession was a kick in the teeth.”
The criticism was echoed by Age Concern and Help the Aged which said pensioners were struggling with high food and fuel prices while watching their income from savings evaporate.
Spokeswoman Michelle Mitchell said: “The picture may well get gloomier as shrinking pension pots and high unemployment levels are condemning many older workers to a harsh retirement.”
The child poverty target was set by Tony Blair in 1999 when 3.4m children were defined as living in poverty.
Since then ministers say they have succeeded in lifting 600,000 children out of poverty, while a further 500,000 will be helped by measures that have been put in place since 2007.
Beverley Hughes, the Children’s Minister, admitted that meeting the goal was now “very difficult”, adding that it was hard to predict the impact of the recession.
However she said: “Our determination to end child poverty by 2020 is as strong as ever and we are legislating to enforce that commitment.”