Save The Children Young People's Ambassadors' Conference


Good Morning everyone and many thanks to Save the Children for inviting me here today to speak at your “Child Poverty….break the cycle!” conference.

We don’t underestimate the destructive influence of poverty on the lives of individuals, families and communities.  It destroys opportunities and limits potential - creating worse outcomes in terms of health, happiness and education.  Tackling poverty has been and continues to be a key priority for government. 

Growing the economy is at the centre of our programme for Government.  However, this also means that no section of our community should be left behind.  All must feel the benefits of devolution. Our role in government is to ensure that this agenda is placed at the heart of what we do. 

However, we recognise that nice words and the right sentiments are not enough.  Action is required.  Much has been done and yet poverty still exists.  We must look at where we have invested previously and take what has worked forward. Our aim is to make a real and tangible difference to the lives of those who live within our most deprived communities. 

Everyone, without exception, has a right to a decent standard of living.
The best way out of poverty is a job with a reasonable wage. The biggest factor in relation to child poverty is the income levels of the parent or parents.  We must provide new and increased opportunities to gain employment and remove the barriers to re-entering the work force. 

In seeking to tackle poverty we recognise that being in work not only contributes to independent financial stability, but on a much wider scale, can contribute to healthier living and the development of social networks.

We must also build on our employability and it is encouraging that more young people are leaving school now with better qualifications.

We still need to tackle a poverty of aspiration that is passed down through generations. Left unchecked, this can lead to reliance on benefits, with dependency becoming a way of life and individuals believing that entering, or re-entering, the workforce is beyond their capacity.

To break the cycle of deprivation and tackle inter-generational poverty, we have to focus significant effort on early years - with all our children and young people. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the plans and work to address early intervention on young peoples’ issues.

A Child Poverty Sub Group of all the relevant organisations dealing with young peoples issues was established in August 2008 and this contributes ideas and information to a Ministerial Sub Committee for Children and Young people. 

This cross-departmental group identified childcare as a priority issue and agreed that a policy and economic appraisal should be carried out on a range of strategic options.  The appraisal has now been completed and a paper has been prepared for the Executive that outlines its key findings.

Once Ministers have had an opportunity to consider this paper the next phase of the work, the development of a Childcare Strategy, will begin and will of course include a period of public consultation. This will identify the actions that need to be taken and the organisations responsible for making them happen.

With one quarter of our children in poverty, it is important to make sure that childcare policy is given sufficient priority. This has the double benefit of enabling parents to take up jobs and improving the life chances of children in the long term. 

The provision of good, quality, affordable childcare is a priority for the Executive.

We will open doors to employment that are currently closed and ultimately we will improve the economy of Northern Ireland and the prospects for children, young people and families.

Helping people most in need to access affordable, quality childcare can go some way to meeting our wider economic aims as well as helping to tackle child poverty.

The Child Poverty Act requires us to produce a three-year child poverty strategy by March 2011. This must demonstrate how we will contribute to meeting targets to eradicate poverty here.

In advance of the formal consultation period I attended a pre-consultation exercise in September to listen to stakeholders and government officials involved in working in this area.

This event allowed groups to identify what they viewed to be the barriers to ending child poverty and what key measures they would like to see implemented to reduce the levels of child poverty in Northern Ireland.

The Child Poverty Strategy Consultation document is being developed with these views in mind and we hope to shortly publish our draft proposals for public consultation. 

Within this consultation, it is very much our intention to engage with children, their families and their representatives because we want to hear the views of those who are directly affected by the very issues we are seeking to resolve.

We also, as a requirement of the Child Poverty Act, look forward to the creation of a Child Poverty Commission to oversee the development and implementation of the child poverty strategies.

The First Minister and deputy First Minister will appoint one of the Commissioners, who will be able to contribute knowledge, expertise and skills on issues that are of particular relevance here.

We want to make sure that no child should ever suffer deprivation or grow up with their life-chances limited or constrained because of poverty or social exclusion.

Thank you.