Child poverty levels in Northern Ireland are among the worst in the UK – with three council areas here having more than a third of children living in extreme need.
New research has revealed a shocking number of children across Northern Ireland are living in deprivation with Londonderry, Belfast and Strabane featuring fourth, fifth and 14th respectively in the most impoverished places to grow up.
Only Tower Hamlets in London, Manchester and Middlesborough have higher numbers of children living in poverty than the two major cities here, according to End Child Poverty – an organisation made up of more than 150 different groups.
Barnardo's – a member of the End Poverty Coalition – said the study has revealed an urgent need for politicians here to focus their work on measures to reduce child poverty. It has been widely documented that children living in deprived areas have a lower life expectancy than those in more affluent areas. In Northern Ireland, people who live in some of the poorest areas can expect to die up to 10 years earlier than those who are better off.
The Director of Barnardo's in Northern Ireland, Lynda Wilson, said: "Behind today's statistics sit the most vulnerable children in society whose life chances risk being compromised by our failure to tackle child poverty effectively.
"The grim reality is that many families face vicious cycles of debt and impossible choices between heating homes or cooking hot meals for their children.
"We know that children growing up in low-income households are more likely to suffer from chronic illness, do less well in education and struggle to find work on leaving school."
She said the Northern Ireland Executive has already undertaken steps to address child poverty with the introduction of a Child Poverty Strategy but stressed the need for further action.
She added there needs to be further emphasis on literacy, numeracy and early intervention to address educational underachievement as well as the introduction of a Child Care Strategy to help families facing financial hardship.
Enver Solomon, chair of the End Child Poverty Campaign, said the child poverty map has revealed the depth and breadth of child poverty and the gross levels of inequality that children face.
The two council areas with the lowest rates of child poverty are North Down and Castlereagh, each with 13%.