As Minister for Communities in a new Executive, I intend to deliver on the commitments in the New Decade, New Approach agreement to achieve a fair and compassionate society that supports working families and protects the most vulnerable.
Poverty is experienced right across our community, in towns and cities and in rural and border communities. In 2017/18 approximately 292,000 people - 85,000 of them children - were living in poverty.
That is unacceptable. It demonstrates the scale of the challenge and the unacceptable experience of those suffering poverty.
One of my immediate priorities as minister is to challenge the cruel Tory austerity cuts and their consequences for those in poverty.
Every government department in the Executive has an important role to play in tackling poverty, inequality and disadvantage.
I am committed to develop a cross-cutting anti-poverty strategy that will make a real difference. I will act to deliver for families, for workers and for our most vulnerable.
Recently, the Executive approved my recommendation for the urgent extension of the mitigation to the unfair and unjust bedroom tax.
In the coming weeks I will introduce new legislation to extend this essential mitigation, which will continue to protect and safeguard more than 38,000 households and families. I am also bringing forward regulations to extend the other existing mitigations including the Benefit Cap through to the provision of Welfare Supplementary Payments.
The Department for Communities is already working to reduce poverty and help those in need through initiatives such as the Make the Call Service, designed to ensure people receive the benefits they are entitled to and last year helped 9,340 people claim £43.2m in additional benefits and supports. My next steps are to progress additional welfare protections to safeguard those in most in need. I am also committed to maintaining and improving services provided through my department which are addressing poverty.
Housing is a basic need and right for all. Public housing will be a priority in this strategy. In the coming period I will set out my vision for the future of public housing provision using a rights-based approach. Objective need will be at the core of all decision-making. This year £146m is being invested to start 1,850 social homes to reduce housing waiting lists. I am aware this is not enough, and I'm committed to building more homes.
My department will continue to deliver benefits to those most in need through the Child Maintenance Service and social security benefits to individuals and families in our society that require financial support.
We are also investing in neighbourhoods most in need through our Neighbourhood Renewal and Areas at Risk programmes. Work is ongoing with a number of employment programmes designed to help support people into work.
I will have a particular focus on child poverty; this will be a priority. I want to see equitable outcomes for children and young people and embed a rights-based approach to provision.
I am committed to the development and implementation of a cross-departmental anti-poverty strategy
We will be working together with those who experience poverty, to ensure the actions of government are relevant to their circumstances.
We will examine how current measures to tackle poverty can be improved for those most in need.
These efforts alone will not address poverty. Therefore I am committed to the development and implementation of a cross-departmental anti-poverty strategy.
Key areas will include how to address economic inactivity with a focus on access to education, skills development and training for all to tackle poverty which is a consequence of low income. I am also committed to exploring how health inequalities can be addressed, how the needs of vulnerable groups such as people with a disability can be met, social and childcare provided, without placing additional burdens on low-income families.
The future well-being and life opportunities and outcomes of those in need are dependent on our actions
I see my absolute priority as Communities Minister to challenge Tory austerity, to stand up for the poorest and most disadvantaged and target resources on the basis of objective need.
As a minister who is part of an Executive that is also committed to this task, the future well-being and life opportunities and outcomes of those in need are dependent on our actions.
Poverty should not always be with us; our vision and objectives for a poverty-free future must be at the centre of all our efforts.
Deirdre Hargey is Minister for Communities
There has been widespread shock and not a little disappointment at the Prime Minister's decision to replace Julian Smith as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Fresh from playing a key role in securing the return of devolution to Stormont and compensation to victims of historical abuse, he leaves the province after only 204 days in office - the second shortest tenure on record.
The political scene is transforming around us at huge pace, with Scottish, English and Irish fist-pumping nationalism on the rise, leaving Northern Irish Protestants feeling buffeted by external forces. It's true that Brexit put the border literally on the line, leading Leo Varadkar to duly respectabilise the notion of a united Ireland, but the Decade of the Centenaries has also given a renewed shot in the arm to overzealous peddlers of the past.
In November 1986, Sinn Fein voted to abandon the long-standing policy of abstaining from the Dail. The decision was taken with the prior approval of the IRA army council, because that is how Sinn Fein works, and Gerry Adams carried the day. Three decades later, that decision has been vindicated, with Sinn Fein out-polling both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and looking to be part of the government of the Irish Republic.