Image: Social worker Alison O’Boyle at Riddel Hall in Belfast
By VIEW editor Brian Pelan
Many years ago author Walter Greenwood wrote a seminal work on the effects of poverty in his classic novel Love On The Dole.
The story documents the lives of working class people who are struggling to survive in a northern town in 1930s Britain.
i was reminded of the book as I listened to two frontline social workers talk about the effects of austerity on families in Belfast who they work with. The harrowing thing that struck me as I listened to them was the stark similarities between the 19030s and 2017.
Colum Benstead and Alison O’Boyle were two of the contributors at a recent conference in Riddel Hall (QUB), Belfast. The event, ‘Reinforcing or Reducing Inequalities Among Children? – The Role of Child Protection and Community Services’, was chaired by Sean Holland, Chief Social Work Officer at the Department of Health at Stormont.
Colum, who works in the Colin Glen Ward in west Belfast – an area which suffers from multi deprivation, said he had witnessed a marked increase in the number of referrals over the last year where the primary reason for referral is financial issues such as Being made unemployed; Benefits reduced; Taken off benefits entirely and Having no recourse to public funds.
Alison, from the Greater Lisburn Gateway Team, also said there had been a significant increase in referrals primarily in relation to poverty and the negative impact this had on individuals and their families.
She said there had been a huge rise in referrals regarding people who were not able to feed themselves and their children.
Alison added that she had noticed a trend for financial requests for help. “Whilst this used to be around the period leading up to Christmas and shortly after; these requests are now commonplace throughout the year.
“Due to recent reforms in the benefit system, I have seen a rise in referrals relating to benefit changes.
“A recent referral was related to a lady who rang a crisis mental health line. saying that she was suicidal due to the stress relating to her benefit changes. She was unable to deal with this stress and was assessed as high risk of suicide. She was the sole parent of three small children. As a consequence her children were all assessed as high risk and alternative accommodation was sought for them.”
The question for all of of is what are we going to do about it given that the introduction of the Universal Credit system into Northern Ireland is going to worsen economic hardship.