A MAJOR conference looking at ways of combating rising poverty levels across the North is due to be held in Omagh next year.
The Strule Arts Centre will host the local council-led event, whose theme will be ‘Poverty – The Struggle is Real’, in February.
Omagh town councillor Barry McElduff, who originally proposed the idea of holding the conference, said the initiative was “urgent and necessary”.
Mr McElduff said his proposal had come at a time when a variety of local organisations, including the Credit Union, Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP), the Salvation Army, local churches, food banks and others, are providing “crisis interventions”, but were increasingly stretched.
The councillor said, “They do tremendous work but they cannot be expected to hold back the tide forever or in isolation.”
Mr McElduff claimed that austerity measures introduced by the British government, including cuts to social services and public sector budgets as well as reform of the benefits system, had caused “immense hardship”.
The Sinn Féin representative also said that ‘in-work’ poverty had now become a very real factor in people’s lives.
He said, “The working poor are struggling and under pressure, too. Many have barely any, or no, disposable income after household bills and direct debits are paid. It is common not to have literally any money for up to two weeks before payday every month such is the rising cost of living in our relatively low wage economy.”
Mr McElduff also claimed that zero-hour contracts and payday loans were adding to the problem.
He said, “Older people, single parents, farmers, working families, people with disabilities and our ethnic minority communities are all affected.”
The former West Tyrone MP said that the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC) conference had attracted strong cross-party support.
He said, “It will be essential to secure the active participation of all relevant community, voluntary and public bodies, both urban and rural, within our council district. This includes government departments and the Social Security Agency itself.”
But Mr McElduff warned that a plan of agreed actions needed to follow the conference, to ensure that it would not be dismissed as a mere “talking shop”.
“We want to nurture the combined community and social capital of our council area to share best practice and come up with meaningful, added-value projects,” he added.