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NIHRC and the Simon Community raise concerns about the levels of poverty in Northern Ireland

14 Oct 2022

In a joint statement on World Poverty Day the Simon Community and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have together raised significant concerns around the current levels of poverty in Northern Ireland and the widespread impact it is having on human dignity and human rights.

Statement from Jim Dennison, Chief Executive of Simon Community NI and Alyson Kilpatrick, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission:

The 17th of October marks the International Day for Eradication of Poverty. According to recent figures, 330,000 people in Northern Ireland live in poverty - almost one-in-five (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) which severely impacts the enjoyment of basic human rights and dignity.

Poverty is a significant factor in causing homelessness. Here in NI, we have proportionately the highest rates of homelessness in the UK, as well as the highest mortality rate of those experiencing homelessness, particularly amongst homeless women.

Last year, over 44,000 individuals and families were on the social housing waiting list and year on year approximately 20,000 individuals and families present as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Official statistics predict that this figure will increase by over 20% in the next 3 years, largely down to poverty.

The cost of living crisis will exacerbate that and will have a huge impact on people’s ability to enjoy their right to an adequate standard of living, which includes the rights to housing, work, health, social security, and education. The failure of the NI Executive to address the high levels of homelessness and poverty has meant that we are ill prepared to address the harsh consequences of the cost of living crisis.

We have been in a homelessness crisis now for over 3 years. Homes are becoming unattainable and / or unaffordable for more and more people. The cost of living crisis will push more people into destitution and the absence of an anti-poverty strategy for NI has exacerbated the impact of the crisis on those in need. Public Policy and Strategy have not evolved to meet surges in housing need and homelessness support. If ever we needed an agreed set of actions for the NI Executive to deal with homelessness and associated poverty and destitution, it is now.

We call on our politicians and decision makers for a joined up and co-ordinated response for people who are experiencing poverty both now and those who will face it in the future. We urgently need to build more homes quickly and make them secure and affordable. We call on the NI Executive to fulfil its human rights obligations by implementing an anti-poverty strategy in NI. In 2019, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Professor Philip Alston, warned that the absence of an Executive “forecloses the possibility of any major efforts to tackle poverty and results in an accountability vacuum.”

In the meantime, we need to adequately resource services for those who are in dire financial positions. We need support measures to ensure everyone in NI can enjoy their human rights and live in safety and dignity in a decent home. The homelessness and poverty crises need a crisis response from the Executive without further delay.

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