Children's basic needs must be met
All children should receive the services they need to reach their full potential. Their basic needs must be met and their rights protected.
Northern Ireland has some of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, with 21% of children living in persistent child poverty, double the rate for Britain.
Poor outcomes for local children, despite a higher level of Government spending per person compared to Britain, suggest we need to do more to alleviate child poverty.
I believe there should be no attempt to "balance the budget" at the expense of the least well-off children in the country. That is a red line.
Policies aimed at reducing the deficit should, as a minimum, have to pass a rigorous equality and poverty impact assessment.
To take children out of poverty we need to take the family out of poverty. We need to shift the emphasis of our economy away from growth in GDP, which can occur even when child poverty is rising.
We should look, instead, at a more holistic measure of societal wellbeing, something on which the Carnegie Trust is doing extensive work.
We need to be aware of what is happening, what is working and get involved. There is a danger that we are losing a sense of neighbourliness. The more we overcome inequality, the more we all win.
There is an opportunity to improve how children's services are currently delivered, to the benefit of our children.
When I was elected, there was criticism from the children's sector around the failure of Government to deliver on outcomes outlined in the 10-Year Strategy for Children and Young People, produced by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
That is why I am seeking to introduce the Children's Bill, which will create a statutory duty to co-operate across all Government departments. I am delighted that OFMDFM is now working with me on this.
Through this Bill, outcomes for children will be improved by supporting, enhancing and encouraging co-operation to ensure that children's services are most integrated from the point of view of the most important person - the child.
- Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland