Anti-poverty Strategy: Update

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 18th January 2016.

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Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:00 pm, 18th January 2016

2. Ms Hanna asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the production and delivery of an anti-poverty strategy. (AQO 9379/11-16)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Following the recent judicial ruling, we are working to address the concerns of the court by developing a strategy to tackle poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation based on objective need. Significant actions have been taken forward to address poverty, social exclusion and deprivation. Through the Executive's Delivering Social Change programme, we have committed over £100 million. We have added £2 million from OFMDFM to projects jointly funded with Atlantic Philanthropies — in total worth almost £60 million over four years. This work has focused strategically on improving outcomes across a range of measures, including health, education and developing the economy.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I add my congratulations to the First Minister. It is an exciting appointment for Northern Ireland, and I wish you well.

Having a strategy is not a silver bullet. We have a child poverty strategy, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that child poverty is on the increase here. Can you confirm whether a specific and coherent anti-poverty strategy will be produced as part of the next Programme for Government?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I can indeed. We decided not to appeal the judgement of the court. Therefore, we intend to bring together a strategy. It was a technical judgement insofar as the court accepted that many actions had been undertaken to deal with poverty and exclusion across Northern Ireland but, as she said, there just was not "a strategy", as such, that brought everything together. Work is going on to make sure that the strategy will be in place, and we hope to have it in place in the near future.

Photo of Adrian McQuillan Adrian McQuillan DUP

I congratulate the First Minister on what I feel will be the first of many Question Times. Will she give us some detail on what actions have been taken to tackle poverty overall?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As I indicated in my first answer, a lot of good work has been taking place, and that was acknowledged by the judge in what he said about the strategy. The social investment fund is committed to projects with associated costs of around £58 million profiled over a number of years, so that is really beginning to ramp up now in making a difference. We have a £26 million package in six new Delivering Social Change signature projects, including an additional teachers programme, which was identified in relation to literacy and numeracy. That made a huge difference in society. It was running for only two years but perhaps it is something that we need to look at again. We rolled out nurture units to help to support the social, emotional and behavioural development of our young children. We had an extended schools programme.

So a lot has been happening over the past four to five years in trying to deal with real difficulties in society. Sometimes we look for strategies and to make sure that we have a strategy in place, but, on this occasion, a lot of actions have been there to show that work has been ongoing.

Photo of Rosaleen McCorley Rosaleen McCorley Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagraí go dtí seo. I thank the Minister for her answers thus far. I also wish the Minister well for the future in her new role. An dtig liom iarraidh ar an Aire cén obair atá ar siúl faoi láthair le dul i ngleic le bochtanas agus díothacht leanaí? The Minister mentioned child poverty, so can she specifically outline what work is planned to tackle child poverty and child deprivation?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I thank the Member for her comments in relation to my appointment. We have commissioned research and, indeed, engaged with a wide range of stakeholders in relation to the new child poverty strategy 2014-17 based on an outcomes-based approach. That is something that we are trying to embed across government, and it is something that we are looking at for the new Programme for Government so that we are looking at the outcomes that we can achieve as opposed to how we get there. Once we work out what we want to see happening, we will all work together to deliver on those outcomes. I think that there is no better place to start than with child poverty because we want to try to eradicate child poverty in a way that, up until now, we have not been able to do.