A leading charity has warned that over 11,000 children in Northern Ireland are being put at risk as the government ploughs ahead with a £20 a week cut to Universal Credit payments.
Save the Children said that over 83,000 children will be affected by the cut which takes effect from today (Wednesday), with many of them pushed into poverty as a result.
Between now and early November over 44,000 households in Northern Ireland who are in receipt of Universal Credit will see their payments reduced– by £87 a month or £1,040 a year.
Government statistics show that in Northern Ireland, more than 22,000 families, or half of families affected (51%), have children aged under five, while three in four (75%) are single parent families.
With one in four children (23%) already experiencing poverty in Northern Ireland, the charity’s Head of Northern Ireland, Peter Bryson, is warning that the cut will lead to a surge in poverty.
“The UK government’s decision to go ahead with this cut will devastate families in Northern Ireland. Over the next month, 44,000 families – that’s 83,000 children - will be affected with 11,000 children pushed into poverty,” he said.
“People we work with tell us they’ve been relying on this £20 lifeline to buy essentials like food and clothing for themselves and their children. Without it, tens of thousands more children are facing a cold and hungry winter. And we know the impacts of childhood poverty can last a lifetime.
“It’s astonishing that UK Government ministers have chosen to inflict the most significant social security cut in memory at the same time that families are grappling with a cost-of-living crisis; Inflation, increases in energy prices, fuel shortages and tax hikes are all taking their toll on family finances.”
Mr Bryson said that for many, this will be a significant catastrophe of falling income and rising costs.
“The UK Government has a duty to protect families from hardship and not add to it,” he added.
“There must be change in course. In his budget announcement later this month, the chancellor should reinstate the £20 lifeline. Children will be affected immediately by this change as well as throughout the course of their entire childhoods and beyond.”
Rebecca (surname withheld) is a single working parent and campaigner on Universal Credit, who is concerned the cut will mean she will struggle to feed her seven year-old daughter.
“I’m already feeling the pinch and the cut hasn’t even happened yet,” she said.
“The winter is already a really difficult time. We’ve got winter clothes to consider. Energy bills are going up and I can’t have a child freezing cold. So we’re going to have to cut back on food. We will have to resort to food banks and have the heater on less.”
She said the cut will have a devastating impact.
“It puts a strain on my daughter as she knows that we’re poor,” she said. “That’s horrible, a child shouldn’t be worrying about money. It’s down to pennies. What can I afford with a couple of pounds this week? That’s what we’re talking about.
“What £20 means to families like mine is being able to afford proper healthy food – not just cheap processed food. It means having the heater on for two hours a day so we’re not freezing. This cut is going to be devastating for families such as ours.”