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Policy Watch

An eye on policy changes in Ireland, the UK and beyond

Poverty, Inequality and Covid-19: Food Security | Accountability

General  |  Thu Mar 18 2021

Food security

The Food Foundation issued a new report, with research showing that inequality in food insecurity has widened between those from BAME backgrounds and those from white ethnic groups, and between those with disabilities and those without. Its recommendations include reviewing Free School Meals policy to ensure no one in need is left out; making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to people on legacy benefits; removing the 5-week wait for Universal Credit, the two-child limit and the benefit cap; and targeted policies against food insecurity.

Accountability

The new bill before MPs at Westminster on police, crime and sentencing contains provisions that constitute an attack on civil liberties and people's fundamental freedoms to assemble and express their views. Faith groups, unions and civil society groups have all expressed alarm at the government's move to quietly include such proposals into draft legislation which it is then trying to push through parliament -- particularly at a time public focus is elsewhere, on Covid-19.

NI MLAs expressed concern that £115m provided by the European Social Fund (ESF) over the four years to March 2022, intended to combat poverty and economic inactivity, was not replaced by a Shared Prosperity Fund as earlier promised by Westminster. Instead the UK Chancellor's recent budget replaces the funding with a competitive Community Renewal Fund to be administered from London rather than locally.

The Minister for Communities, in response to a MLA's question, said that her department is working on the NI Executive’s Anti-Poverty Strategy to address the key causes of income inequality. She said consultation is planned for later this year with the aim that the new strategy will be published in December 2021.

An investigation by The Detail revealed that in 2020 black, Asian or minority ethnic people were fined for breaking Covid-19 restrictions at a disproportionate rate compared to white people. Over 4.2% of all Covid-19 fines in Northern Ireland went to people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, though they make up only 1.8% of the population. Black people received 1.84% of the total fines where ethnicity was recorded, despite making up just 0.2% of the population. A South Belfast MLA called on the PSNI to give an explanation.

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