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Bleakest of winters to bring no respite: Charity issues stark warning as parents struggle to feed and clothe their children

Charity issues stark warning as parents struggle to feed and clothe their children

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The stark warning comes as a new report claims parents who are already struggling to feed and clothe their children will plunge into a financial crisis in the coming months

The stark warning comes as a new report claims parents who are already struggling to feed and clothe their children will plunge into a financial crisis in the coming months

The stark warning comes as a new report claims parents who are already struggling to feed and clothe their children will plunge into a financial crisis in the coming months

Thousands of beleaguered Northern Ireland families have been told to brace themselves for the bleakest winter of their lives.

The stark warning comes as a new report claims parents who are already struggling to feed and clothe their children will plunge into a financial crisis in the coming months.

It also predicts that a so-called 'new wave' of families who've never needed help before will find themselves in dire straits, with furlough ending and unemployment set to rocket.

Action for Children has published the report as it launches its End Childhood Crisis campaign.

It has also called on the Chancellor to announce in November's Budget that he will extend the £20 weekly increase in Universal Credit beyond next spring.

Lorna Ballard, director of Northern Ireland at the children's charity, said child poverty levels are higher than they've ever been.

"Six months into this pandemic, families across Northern Ireland are hanging by a thread as they face one of the bleakest winters of their lives," she said.

"While parents on low incomes are starting to buckle, a new wave of families who've never needed help before are now also struggling to make ends meet.

"Our key workers say child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember and have had to deliver life-changing support to thousands of families desperate to keep their kids clothed and well-fed."

She added: "With furlough ending and unemployment set to rocket just as we hit the colder months, they'll be plunged into even deeper crisis."

Since lockdown began, Action for Children said it has supported over 10,000 vulnerable children across the UK via its emergency appeal, with 63% of the fund spent on helping families with food, clothes, bills and learning resources.

The charity also said that while thousands of vulnerable families struggled even before coronavirus hit, a new wave of families have found themselves in dire straits virtually overnight because of falling incomes and rising household costs.

Indeed, a huge 71% accessing the appeal didn't have financial issues before the pandemic.

Over a quarter (27%) of the families who needed emergency help to obtain learning resources to develop or keep up with schoolwork, particularly online, were based in Northern Ireland.

More than one in 10 (11%) families in Northern Ireland revealed they were having to choose between eating meals and paying bills, with some parents reporting skipping meals in order to feed their children.

Ms Ballard has called on the Executive to establish a child poverty strategy in order to "prevent a generation of children from being scarred by poverty and the pandemic".

For further information, visit actionforchildren.org.uk

Belfast Telegraph