In Northern Ireland there are more than 120,000 children currently living in poverty – nearly 1 in 4. As a society we cannot allow survival by food banks, increasing levels of poverty, homelessness, debt and despair to be normalised or denied.
Tackling poverty and empowering citizens will be a key priority for the SDLP. From on-the-ground activism, to fighting for social justice in the Executive, Assembly, House of Commons and councils – we are the forefront in the fight for fairness for all.
A healthy and prosperous society requires a safety net for those who fall on hard times and language has a powerful role to play. We should reject and refuse to use terms like ‘welfare and claimants’ and instead use ‘entitlements and people’. There has been a deliberate attempt to demonise those on social security and to dismiss them as ‘scroungers’ which we do not accept and will always fight against.
The reality however is that mitigations are a sticking plaster. The social security system should not be used to let employers subsidise low pay. The gig economy and zero hours contracts remove responsibility from employers, placing more pressure on workers to make ends meet. Increased regulation of the private rented sector is also vital to ensure that families can live in safe secure housing that meets 21st century standards. SDLP MPs will support efforts to deliver the living wage for workers and support businesses to deliver fairer work conditions.
Access to a good quality, secure and affordable home is a fundamental right. It is critical if individuals, families and communities are to flourish.
The SDLP believes that at least 3,000 new social homes are needed each year to meet demand. These new homes must be targeted at the areas with greatest need.
If we are to successfully tackle homelessness, an initial step must be to place a duty of co-operation on Government departments. The SDLP tabled proposals to introduce this duty and will progress this through legislation, as a first step in reducing homelessness.