SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has urged the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland to deal with the scourge of social disadvantage and fulfill the pledges set out in the Programme for Government.
Mr. Durkan was speaking following a debate in the Assembly today on the need to address social disadvantage:
The SDLP had sought to amend the motion and widen it out so that we can also learn what other departments are doing to tackle social disadvantage rather than concentrate solely on DSD’s delivery. We need to look at OFMDFM’s responsibility to tackle child poverty in particular.
Poverty and social deprivation can only meaningfully be tackled through a collaborative and cohesive approach by Departments-DARD, DEL, Education, Health and last but by no means least OFMDFM.
It is vital that a proper, cross-departmental approach is taken to mitigate against the poverty, which despite what might be said in the Northern Ireland Poverty Bulletin, is increasing here in the North. At present those on the font-line, charities, churches and community organisations are trying to keep their heads above the rising tide of despair.
There is an onus on the Department to deliver on commitment no.2 of the PFG. We can also look to the Department’s Corporate Plan, which is entitled “Together, tackling disadvantage, and building sustainable communities”.
Commitment no.2 includes the delivery of 8000 social and affordable homes and I look forward to hearing the minister’s assessment of progress. The SDLP is concerned that this figure is simply not enough to meet what is an ever growing demand for social housing. Furthermore, the fact that money designated for social housing has been handed back by the Department in the face of high demand is disgraceful. While we support co-ownership schemes-they are well beyond the reach of those on the margins of society.
A recent report by Rowntree makes for disturbing reading too. It concludes that poverty for children, working age-adults and pensioners is rising and that these groups will be hit harder in Northern Ireland than elsewhere by welfare changes.
I welcome some of the schemes being brought forward by DSD to reduce fuel poverty and to strengthen communities. However I feel that even these, particularly the boiler replacement scheme, can be improved to have a greater impact on pensioners particularly.
DSD as well as the Executive have a responsibility to fulfil their pledges as set out in the PFG and reduce social disadvantage for families, pensioners and vulnerable people in this region who are at risk of serious hardship.
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