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20 October 2005 Edition

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Action needed to end poverty - BY KATHY STANTON MLA

Poverty - As a major anti-poverty conference takes place in Belfast, Kathy Stanton outlines the full extent of this needless human disaster

Daily there is further evidence of the true extent of poverty in Ireland and across the world. Behind each statistic is the daily experience of families, older people, lone parents and children — the most vulnerable in our society, struggling against endemic poverty. Yet each and every response from government has been completely inadequate. Tackling poverty will only become a priority if people demand action. Poverty affects one in four adults and one in three children in Ireland. It destroys lives, reduces the human capacity to create and achieve and blights communities for generations. It is present in every corner of our society.

Many faces of poverty

Poverty has many faces. Fuel poverty for example affects 203,000 households or one third of homes across the North. The most vulnerable in our society — older people, families with young children and people with disabilities suffer most. Each year over 1,000 older people die because of cold weather.

Cold weather related ill-health costs over £30 million a year. A fraction of this figure earmarked for the implementation of a Fuel Poverty Strategy could begin to tackle fuel poverty and end the disgrace of preventable deaths related to cold weather.

Over 50% of households containing people with disabilities are living with poverty. This highlights the failure of government to address problems created by weak legislation and enforcement.

Structural discrimination

It is unacceptable that 150,000 children in the North live in poverty and half-a-million people live in poor households. Policy makers consistently undermine the rights of those seeking full equality in our society. Privilege has been the foundation stone of British rule in the Six Counties and inequality the price of privilege. More than 35 years after the Civil Rights Movement launched its campaign to highlight the nature of structural discrimination in housing, voting and jobs these same issues remain at the core of continued inequality. The challenge is to expose inequality and ensure people's rights and entitlements are secured, regardless of class, creed, nationality, ethnic origin, martial status, disability, religion, or sexuality.

We need a genuine anti-poverty strategy that tackles low pay, the provision of childcare, educational underachievement and the massive health inequalities suffered by deprived communities.

Tax reform

There must be a vision for the eradication of poverty. This should include reform of the tax system to increase overall tax take, social spending and infrastructural development. It is not right that every year hundreds of millionaires and thousands of high earners pay no income tax at all. In a world of increasing wealth it is wrong that each week thousands of children die from starvation or ill health. Yet, if the money being used by developing nations to pay back debt were channelled into health and education the lives of millions of children every year could be saved.

To effectively tackle poverty and hunger we have to understand the context in which they occur and the policies that create this human disaster. It is not acceptable that economic super powers impose a free trade agenda that hurts the developing world. Instead organisations such as the EU must use their considerable economic power responsibly by pursuing policies that eradicate exploitative trade relationships that prevent the developing world from establishing independent sustainable economies.

Major Anti-Poverty Conference in Belfast

A major, international anti-poverty conference organised by Sinn Féin, takes place this week in Belfast involving over 1,000 groups, agencies and individuals from throughout Ireland.

The conference on Thursday 20 October entitled End Poverty North and South — Local and Global will hear from speakers such as, Professor Paddy Hillyard, Gabriele Zimmer MEP, author Mark Curtis, Professor Denis O'Hearn, Journalist Michael McCaughan, Caitríona Ruane MLA, Prof Sam Porter, Shell-to-Sea Campaign representative Maire Ní Seighin and AT&GWU Regional Secretary Mick O'Reilly.

Speaking ahead of the event Sinn Féin MLA Kathy Stanton said: "Make no mistake poverty kills. Every day the gap between rich and the poor gets greater. Every week thousands die and have their lives blighted by poverty. It is not that we lack the resources to eradicate poverty. The truth is that there is no political will to make the eradication of poverty a priority. We need to make it a priority."

Stanton said the purpose of the conference is to develop an effective and integral anti-poverty campaigning policy. "Essentially we want to demonstrate how relevant the global campaign against poverty is to the local battles that we face."

An Phoblacht Magazine


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