Babies born in deprived areas of the North are 23% more likely to die in childhood than in other places, it emerged today.
Infant mortality rates vary drastically according to where in the North children are raised, according to the Children’s Law Society.
Children living in poverty are 15 times more likely to die as the result of a house fire and five times more likely to die in accidents.
Suicide rates among young people are also three times higher in the lowest income group.
Natalie Whelehan of the society outlined the statistics to a committee of Assembly members who are carrying out an inquiry into child poverty in the North.
The scrutiny committee for the Office of First and Deputy First Ministers today heard evidence from a range of organisations and agencies working with children who live in deprived wards.
There are currently 44,000 children (10%) who are designated as living in severe poverty in the north.
Mrs Whelehan called on members to address inequalities in service provision so children could access equal support and care regardless of where they were brought up.
She said the socio-economic rights of children had to be enshrined in the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Further legal protections should also be incorporated in the Section 75 equality legislation and the Single Equality Bill, she added.
“The inequalities which exist are scandalous,” Mrs Whelehan told the Stormont committee.
“Protections need to be put in place to address health service provision and the mortality rights.”
She said many poorer families were trapped in a cycle of ill-health and advocated increased funding for school based services, such as breakfast and after-school clubs, in order to help children get the nutrition they require.
“Those type of initiatives need adequate investment so there are places for those children who need them, so they can get the chance to break that cycle of poverty.”
Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin, Foyle) said the statistics were very worrying and highlighted the need for a means of evaluating whether government services were delivering for people on the ground in these areas.
The committee also heard that deprived children were potentially losing out on millions of pounds worth of benefits because their parents weren’t applying for money they were entitled to.
Kevin Higgins from Advice NI revealed that a pilot scheme operated by the Social Security Agency last year enabled people to claim £6m (€8m) of benefits they had not originally applied for.
However, he said only 50% of those approached by the Agency to tell them they were entitled to money actually replied.
He told members that other means had to be explored to find a way of reaching those individuals who were in line for state-aid but for whatever reason hadn’t taken it up.
“The pilot scheme has been successful but there’s still a whole swathe of people who they aren’t getting to,” he said.
“The agency needs to keep exploring, keep innovating and keep looking at other methods so we’ll get to as many of those people most hard to reach by other means.”
Mr Higgins suggested engaging with influential community figures to help reach those people.
Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) said the need to fill in complicated and lengthy forms often put people off applying for benefits. Mr Shannon highlighted the cumbersome process parents had to go through to apply for free school meals.
“These forms are almost prohibitive in themselves,” he said.
“We need a system where you don’t have to fill in forms.”
Committee chair Danny Kennedy (UUP Newry and Armagh) said there was also a status issue, particularly in regard to free school meals, were parents and children didn’t want to be stigmatised as being in need.