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Tackling child poverty in Northern Ireland

Last week, in Northern Ireland, Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey announced measures to help fix the issue of upfront childcare costs in Universal Credit.  

This is a welcome step forward for children. Save the Children has been campaigning with the fantastic #mumsonamission to secure fixes just like this across the UK. Upfront childcare costs push families into debt, are a needless barrier to support, and disproportionately affect mums. These fixes will go a long way towards helping families cover childcare costs and balance work and care. 

Money matters for a child’s learning and development 

It will also help boost the amount of money families have. That’s important because we know that money matters for a child’s life.  

Children who grow up without much money are far more likely to struggle with their early learning, with their physical and mental health, and even struggle at school. It’s not right, and it’s not fair, that any child is held back because of money.   

The fixes to childcare costs will make a difference, but they are only funded until March 2022. We’ll work with families to urge the Executive to commit to long term funding. But we will need to go further to give every child the best start.  

The two-child limit is holding children back 

The biggest issue holding children back right now is the two-child limit. The rule, which came into force in 2017, limits support to the first two children in a family.  

It overwhelmingly affects working families, families with young children and couples. Because it reduces the support families can access, we’re now seeing a surge in poverty among families with three or more children. 

More and more children with two or more brothers or sisters are being swept up by poverty, especially children in working families, families with young children, and couples. At the same time, poverty has actually fallen among families with just two or one child. In fact, if the rule hadn’t been introduced, we estimate that child poverty would have fallen to the lowest level in over a decade.   

This is a rule in the system which we can fix if we want to. The Executive has powers to drop the two-child limit. Taking this step would be a big boost to families and help ensure thousands of children aren’t held back because of a rule in the system.    

Giving all children the best start in life 

In the long term we need to go further if we want to ensure no child is held back because of money. The new child payment in Scotland is helping to do this, and we’d urge the Executive to consider similar measures in Northern Ireland.  

This will take time to get right. But the Executive can act now, and we’d urge it in the coming months to build on the positive steps on upfront childcare costs by dropping the two-child limit in Northern Ireland.  

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