Page last updated at 18:01 GMT, Monday, 23 January 2012

Pupils living in poverty

Education Minister John O'Dowd said that money for school uniforms and school meals had been increased and ring-fenced, on 23 January 2012.

He was responding his party's motion which called on the minister to target extra resources and ensure schools are accountable for using funding to help pupils living in poverty.

Sinn Fein colleague Phil Flanagan moved the motion, citing the statistic that one child in four in Northern Ireland lived below the poverty line.

He said that existing measures such as the education maintenance allowance should be extended, and criticised the cost of school dinners.

"You can get more for your money in the Stormont canteen than in most schools" he said.

Moving an amendment for the UUP, David McNarry said the issue of child poverty was one that society was too "perplexed and embarrassed" to address properly and called on the justice and health ministers to join with the education department in efforts to tackle the problem.

He drew attention to the links between truancy and crime, and called for better opportunities for children.

The DUP's Meryvn Storey said that the education department was responsible for the underachievement that affects so many children in poverty, and said he believed the motion would be a precursor to an announcement on related measures by the education minister in the near future.

Conall McDevitt, for the SDLP, said that he hoped that would be the case but that he had been made aware of increasingly desperate circumstances in schools he had visited recently, where speech and language therapy, counselling and child to teacher ratios had all been adversely affected by cuts already implemented.

The Alliance Party's Trevor Lunn said that "throwing money at the problem" would not make a difference unless pathways to poverty were identified. He praised non-governmental early intervention schemes such as Sure Start, which, he said proved that the best solutions often came from allowing experts to "get on with it".

Watch the second part of the debate here.

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