101,000 children living in poverty as income of Northern Ireland families falls
More than 100,000 children in Northern Ireland are living in poverty, shocking new figures have shown.
The research also revealed 376,000 people were classed as being on relatively low incomes last year.
It emerged that, across the region, 213,000 working-age adults and 63,000 pensioners were living on the breadline.
The grim statistics were laid bare in the Households Below Average Income annual report 2013/14, which was published by the Department of Social Development yesterday.
It showed the average (median) household income here dropped by 1% to £404 a week, or £21,100 annually, before housing costs are taken into account - which represents a fall for a fifth consecutive year.
Economist John Simpson said the report showed that people here were worse off than in other regions.
"Northern Ireland is still an area with living standards well below those for the rest of the United Kingdom," he said.
"In particular, the trend is the number of working-age adults on lower incomes has tended to increase when it has been decreasing in the rest of Britain."
The widening wealth gap in Northern Ireland was also evident from the research, with the richest households having 3.6 times more income than the poorest.
The most affluent fifth of the population has benefited from a 6% increase in income in the past year, while households in the bottom fifth have seen their income fall by 6%.
For example, the income of the wealthiest households went up from £726 to £772, while the poorest saw it drop from £224 to £211.
That's because people working in professional occupations have done better in the recession than those in unskilled jobs and on low pay, according to Mr Simpson.
The report also found that the income of the remaining 60% in the middle was almost unchanged, having dropped slightly (by 1%) from £407 to £404.
An individual is considered to be in relative poverty if they are living in a household with an income below 60% of UK median income.
In 2013/14, a couple with no children who have a combined income below £272 per week would be considered to be in relative poverty.
Save the Children's Peter Bryson hit out at the level of child poverty in Northern Ireland.
"It's unacceptable that 23% of children in Northern Ireland are now living in poverty, with numbers expected to rise even further," he said.
"Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which has experienced an increase in child poverty.
"The legacy for these children will be life-long - damaging their early development, chances of doing well at school and career prospects.
"These figures should be a shot across the bow of the UK Government's plans to further cut benefits and tax credits, but it is also a challenge for the Northern Ireland Executive to focus on investing in the early years for the poorest children, giving them the strongest chance in life and breaking the poverty cycle."
Marie Marin, from the Employers For Childcare Charitable Group, voiced concerns that the level of child poverty could rise.
"The figures, which show that 20% more children are living below the poverty line compared to last year, present a very worrying and stark picture of local families," said.
"These figures should act as a clear message to government: families are struggling to make ends meet and factors such as the cost of childcare and the impact of Tax Credit changes will make the situation worse.
"Now is the time to support families."
- Northern Ireland's average household income was £404 a week, or £21,100 a year, before housing costs.
- There were more children (101,000 or 23%) living in poverty here last year compared to Britain (17%).
- There are proportionately more people (376,000; 21%) in Northern Ireland on low incomes than UK average (15%).
- There were also more pensioners (63,000 or 21%) in poverty locally, with the UK figure at 16%.
- The number of working-age adults who are struggling has crept up to 213,000 or 20%, which is an 18% hike and the highest level in over a decade. By comparison, that trend has been going down in the UK and it is now at 14%.
Kate and Sam, from Londonderry, have two young children under three years old — Evie is 30 months old and one-year-old Peter.
Sam (34), a painter, says: “I have been between jobs for a while and I’m frustrated that the only work available is insecure, with short, temporary contracts and/or very few hours. At one point, I was working just a few hours a week and my basic hours were continuously getting cut. With hours not being increased we nearly ended up in debt and homeless.
“I still haven’t been able to find secure work, so Kate and I now do the best we can on a very low income which we receive from benefits. Recently our washing machine started playing up. It was eight years old and starting to wear down. It wasn’t as fast a spin and therefore it was eating up more electricity because we had to put it on more.
“Having very young children meant that washing clothes was extremely important and the washing machine was a continuously required item on a daily basis.
“We have taken out small loans in the past to tide us over, but paying them back is difficult because we’re living on less than normal.
“Thankfully, we heard about the Save the Children Eat Sleep Learn Play! grant scheme through a friend. The money helped us to get a new washing machine, a voucher for some household items and a small toy package for the children.
“Before we got the new machine, you were talking a serious amount of washing, but we went from doing four loads of washing a day to just one. We can do more as a family with the money saved on electricity.”