Children in Northern Ireland could die from hypothermia this winter if more help is not provided for struggling families, a rally has heard.
Hundreds of people gathered outside City Hall in Belfast on Saturday to demand more government action amid the cost-of-living crisis.
The event, which was organised by campaign group the Cost of Living Coalition, was addressed by representatives from trade unions, community groups and political parties.
One of those who spoke to the crowd was Northern Ireland’s Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma.
She said verbal assurances from government ministers to protect young people meant nothing without action.
“Words won’t feed our children, they won’t keep our children warm, nor will they give them a safe place to live,” she said.
“What we need is action to do that and for too long successive governments, both here and across the water, have made the political choice – and make no mistake a choice is what they’ve done – to make sure we have a certain level of child poverty and that child poverty exists.”
Ms Yiasouma said that prior to the pandemic there were 110,000 children in Northern Ireland living in poverty.
“I can’t even imagine what that’s going to look like by Christmas,” she said.
The commissioner said there were concerns that some children could die from hypothermia over the winter months.
“This is Northern Ireland in 2022 and we’re worried about children dying of hypothermia,” she said.
“It’s time for our governments, wherever they are, to make different choices.
“We haven’t got a government across the water that will do that. We need a government here in Northern Ireland to do that.”
Ahead of the rally, the Cost of Living Coalition published a charter with a series of demands of government.
Among the demands, the charter calls for “inflation-busting pay rises” for all workers and a £15-an-hour minimum wage.
Coalition organiser Maria Morgan, a benefits adviser from north Belfast, told the rally: “We want the charter looked at, we want it taken seriously and we want action against it.”
Meanwhile, Siobhan Harding from Women's Support Network said she has seen people's hardship up close.
"I was in a house just last week where a woman had 8p left in her meter," she told UTV.
"No lights on, no facility to cook dinner for her kids. That is going on in houses right across Northern Ireland and it is only going to get worse as the winter gets colder."
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