RCPCH responds to disturbing poverty statistics in Northern Ireland

On 27 March, the Northern Ireland Executive published two reports which paint a stark picture for children in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health's Annual Health Inequality Report 2024 showed a significant disparity across indicators between the most and least deprived relating to infant mortality, low birth rate, obesity and overweight and breastfeeding. Data showed:

  • The regional infant mortality rate showed that per 1,000 live births, within the most deprived areas the rate sat at 5.3% infant mortality and 4.2% rate in the least deprived. 
  • In terms of low birth rate, regional statistics showed that low birth rate sat at 8% of live births within the most deprived areas and 5.2% in the least deprived areas.
  • Even where welcome improvements were apparent, a stark disparity exists between the least and most deprived. An increase in breastfeeding on discharge was observed – 2% more regionally between 2021 and 2022 within deprived areas (36% to 38%), yet this is still significantly lower than the least deprived which sat at 66% in 2022 and 68% 2021. 
  • In terms of year one obesity and overweight rates, the most deprived areas showed a decrease between 21/22 and 22/23 from 26% to 24%, yet again, this is still significantly higher than the least deprived areas which sat at 18% in 21/22 and 17% in 22/23.

The Department of Communities Northern Ireland Poverty and Income Inequality Report (2022/23) also showed:

  • The number of children in relative poverty is estimated to be 24% (approximately 109,000) in 2022/23, which is higher than the estimate of 18% in 2021/22. 
  • In 2022/23 the proportion of children in absolute poverty increased to 19% (approximately 86,000), from 15% in 2021/22.
  • Over the last ten years, the proportion of children in relative poverty has fluctuated between a high of 25% in 2014/15 and a low of 18% in 2021/22. 
  • The proportion of children in absolute poverty generally showed a decreasing trend between 2012/13 and 2017/18 before beginning to fluctuate in more recent years. The long-term trend shows that children are at a higher risk of living in poverty than the overall Northern Ireland population in both relative and absolute measures. 

RCPCH Officer for Ireland, Dr Ray Nethercott, said:

It is now paramount for the Northern Ireland Executive to prioritise taking action on worsening child health inequalities and the child poverty from which it stems. We welcome the Executive’s approach to reducing childhood obesity in the planned Regional Framework. However, a wider raft of measures must be undertaken through an overarching Anti-Poverty Strategy for Northern Ireland, with full funding and clear and robust measures applicable to children if we are ever to make meaningful change. 

These reports lay bare the profound impact of poverty, most shockingly in the higher infant death statistics. However, lower birth weights and higher rates of unhealthy weight in early childhood will plague children throughout their life-course. The fact that children are the population at most risk of living in both relative and absolute poverty is shameful and veers far from the original programme for government commitment to ‘give every child the best start in life’.