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‘More resources needed’ to tackle our child poverty

Spending on children in Northern Ireland still lags behind the rest of the UK, the Children's Commissioner said.

Expenditure in Scotland is 44% higher and Westminster has shown greater commitment to tackling child poverty, Patricia Lewsley's office claimed.

Some young people are surviving on £20 per week food vouchers and face the choice of heating their homes or eating, the commission added.

Members were giving evidence at the OFMDFM scrutiny committee at Stormont.

Head of policy Alex Tennant said: “For all the criticisms of the Westminster Government they have put their money where their mouth is. They have put considerable resources towards tackling child poverty and we have not seen it here.”

The Commission wants urgent action to improve the situation, including properly-structured childcare arrangements.

It said there was £287 spent per child in 2007 compared to £513 in Scotland to cover services like occupational or language therapy.

Ms Tennant said: “Across the board spending on children and young people is low. If we are really going to tackle child poverty we need an action plan that is going to be delivered.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said Northern Ireland was underfunded by almost £600m by comparison to England.

“There has been historical underfunding of children's services in Northern Ireland under direct rule ministers and we continue to lag behind the rest of the UK in this area by some 30%,” she said.

“However, as a result of budget negotiations for his Department, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey secured additional funding for children's services and has invested £20million to sustain existing and develop new services.”

A conference in Belfast was organised yesterday on children and the Bill of Rights.

Expert Dr Ursula Kilkelly highlighted the consequences of ignoring the rights of children.

“By failing to grasp the unique opportunity presented by the Bill of Rights to make the best interests of children a paramount consideration in the development of legislation, policy and service provision we will miss a critical opportunity to ensure the adequate and effective protection of our children's rights,” she said.

“This will mean that parents will be forced to take extreme measures, including legal action to secure their children's rights.”

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