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07 Jul 2022

Predicted extreme poverty rise "alarming beyond description" says Derry Councillor

Cllr Shaun Harkin reacts to NIESR report that projects 67 per cent of the North will soon be living under the breadline

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A report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research projects extreme poverty to increase in the North by 67 per cent

A report that projects a rise of 67 per cent in extreme poverty in the North has been described as “alarming beyond description” by a Derry Councillor.

People Before Profit's Shaun Harkin said the predictions made in a report by the National Institure of Economic and Social Reasearch (NIESR), if they came to fruition by 2025, would have a severe impact upon Derry given that 30 per cent of the city currently live below the poverty line.

The NIESR warns that the combined effect of rocketing prices and higher taxes in the form of National Insurance contributions will push many households into destitution.

Its headline projection is a 30 per cent rise in destitution throughout the United Kingdom because of the differential impact of inflation upon the poor.

However, there are vast contrast amongst the regions and constituent nations of the UK with the North projected to have more than twice the average increase at 67 per cent.

Cllr Harkin laid the blame squarely at the door of the Stormont Executive for allowing the Conservative Government at Westminster to bring many families in Derry, the North and the UK to the brink of extreme poverty.

He said: “The 67 per cent rise in 'extreme poverty' predicted for the North in the National Institute of Economic and Social Research report is alarming beyond description.

“Derry already has 30 per cent of people living below the poverty line so the impact will be felt disproportionally here.

“The reckless opportunism of the DUP only exposes the criminally inadequate response from government, business and regulators to the cost of living crisis.

“The wealth of the super-rich and many corporations increased vastly during the pandemic and they continue to see their profits and riches multiply now.

“However, workers and the least well-off are being forced to carry the economic burden of the pandemic.

“When the Tories slashed Universal Credit, the Executive shrugged its shoulders. When workers asked for a pay rise, the Executive imposed pay cuts.

“The Executive parties have ignored calls to declare a Hardship Emergency and refuse to support the demand for a new Wealth Tax on the super-rich and big corporations. It's one law for elites and another for the rest.

“We need a systematic challenge to the inaction of the Stormont Executive parties. We can't allow the Stormont political establishment to corral us into the ghetto of sectarian division while they abandon all our communities to destitution.

Cllr Shaun Harkin of People Before Profit

“No one should put any stock in promises political establishment parties make for what they'll deliver after the May 5 election or in a New Ireland.

“We need to take collective action all across the island to demand hardship funding, real pay rises, energy price caps and redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom.

“We urge people to back the Cost of Living Crisis protest organised by Derry Against Fuel Poverty at 1pm this Saturday in Guildhall Square.”

Of the NIESR report, Professor Adrian Pabst, the think-tank's Deputy Director for Public Policy, said: “Stuttering growth as of next year will add to the cost-of-living pressures due to soaring prices and rising taxes.

“While we are projecting persistent disparities between and within regions as well as increasing inequalities among households across the income distribution, there is nothing inevitable about this.

“The Levelling Up White Paper is a welcome first step, but the (Westminster) Government needs to go much further. A lack of public investment and continuous central control do not bode well.

“We propose instead targeted policy interventions for energy and food purchases to help those who need it most, combined with a holistic strategy for sustained regional regeneration as well as more local design and delivery of policies to generate shared prosperity.”

In response to Cllr Harkin, the Department for Communities said they recognised the financial pressures felt by families in Derry and across the North and that they were implementing an 'Anti-Poverty Strategy' to try and tackle economic hardship.

However, the Department admitted that the scale of the crisis was beyond their remit and required “a larger Government response”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communities said: “The Department acknowledges the pressures that households and communities are facing in the light of a range of ongoing economic pressures.

“In line with New Decade New Approach, the development of the Executive’s Anti-Poverty Strategy is being led by the Department for Communities using a co-design approach.

“This Strategy will set out a range of actions and programmes that will aim to address poverty and destitution and their impact on individuals and our society.

“The global crisis which continues to see unprecedented energy price rises has meant that those who are already struggling financially are facing added pressures.

“Minister (Deirdre) Hargey has announced an Energy Payment Support Scheme which will see a one-off payment of £200 to around 280,000 people who, without additional support, may struggle to heat their homes or pay their energy bills.

“Whilst this Scheme will provide key financial support to those vulnerable individuals who are struggling to pay their energy bills, the scale of this crisis, which is beyond the remit of the Department for Communities, requires a larger Government response.

“In addition to the Energy Support Scheme introduced by Minister Hargey, the Department for Communities provides a Winter Fuel payment, a tax free and non means-tested benefit to help people pay their heating bills.

“The Payment is made yearly to eligible older people who are born on or before September 26, 1955.

“Virtually all Winter Fuel Payments for 2021 have now been issued and to date 290,915 people have received their payment, with a total value of £51.8 million.

“The Department also provides Cold Weather Payments which are payable to eligible persons if the temperature in their postcode area is, or forecast to be, zero degrees or below for seven consecutive days.

“Support is also available through Discretionary Support and an Affordable Warmth Scheme.

“On December 29, 2021, the Minister also announced the launch of the Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme set up in collaboration with private companies and the voluntary and community sector to provide immediate support to households who are struggling to meet their energy costs and who have a temporary inability to meet their fuel costs. The Department contributed £2m to support this Scheme.

“Finally, only this week the Minister’s legislation to close the loopholes in welfare mitigation schemes passed in the Assembly meaning mitigation payments will be available to more people who currently have their benefits reduced because of the ‘bedroom tax’ and benefit cap.”

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