Social Justice Network Pre-Election Statement
The Social Justice Network is an informal network of individuals and organisations concerned to ensure that poverty is challenged in our society and that the needs of the marginalised and disadvantaged are prioritised in public policy in Northern Ireland. This concern is evidenced in our day-to-day work of assisting those most in need in our society. We are deeply disturbed by the impact of the current economic climate on disadvantaged individuals and communities in this society, and united in our determination to find constructive solutions to promote the common good of all.
We remain convinced that ample evidence exists to demonstrate that much more needs to be done to realise our collective commitment to social justice. As we approach the upcoming Assembly elections we call on all our political parties to endorse a proactive approach to combating poverty and adopt a positive commitment to social justice as the overriding priorities of the government of Northern Ireland for the life of the next Assembly. In particular we call on our political parties to commit to:
- The principle that social justice should be the cornerstone of the new Programme for Government.
- Development of a Programme for Government that contains detailed costed proposals on how poverty and social exclusion are to be eradicated. These proposals must contain key milestones and targets.
- The principle that cross-departmental collaboration on all social justice issues should be an in-built requirement of any future strategies.
- Development of a robust and transparent system of ministerial and collective accountability to ensure the effective outcome of any social justice agenda can be realised.
The urgency of adopting such a collaborative and inclusive approach is evidenced by the growing problem of specific forms of poverty. For example, fuel poverty in Northern Ireland is amongst the highest in northern Europe and last year there were 1,000 deaths attributable to cold weather, in addition to over 5,000 individuals admitted to A&E suffering from cold-related illness. Shockingly, the situation this year is set to get worse as the recently announced 39.1% increase in domestic gas prices will force already vulnerable people into deeper poverty and potential ill-health. Such a scenario is neither acceptable nor inevitable and we therefore call on our political parties to engage in innovative thinking aimed at securing a more socially just future for all.
Prof. Colin Harvey (Chair, Social Justice Network) and Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie (Chair, Church Action on Poverty NI and member of the SJN)