A CHILDREN’S charity manager in Northern Ireland has praised the Scottish Government's approach to tackling child policy, as he called for the country to introduce a policy emulating the Scottish Child Payment.

Paul Kellagher is a qualified social worker and manages several Action for Children services in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, supporting families and addressing youth homelessness.

The local charity has seen a 160% increase in the number of referrals to its Family Service Hubs in the Fermanagh and Omagh area.

READ MORE: Scottish Child Payment could rise as ministers consider increase

Writing in a special edition of Northern Ireland's Impartial Reporter newspaper focused on tackling poverty, Kellagher set out a list of key points from Action for Children’s recent “All Worked Out” report – and made clear that the Scottish scheme is something worth replicating.

The report intends to “challenge the rhetoric that work is a route out of poverty” and reveals half of children living in poverty are in a household where at least one parent is working.

One key point focusses on the impact the Scottish Child Payment extension has had in Scotland, with calls for it to be emulated in Northern Ireland “if we do get a restored assembly” as a way to assist in childcare costs which the country does not subsidise like the rest of the UK.

The payment of £25 per week, which is unique to Scotland, was reaching 316,190 people in August this year – an increase of more than 13,000 compared to March.

In his piece, Kellagher wrote: “The absence of a Childcare Strategy in Northern Ireland is perhaps one of the most glaring failures to address child poverty here. Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, families here don’t have access to 30 hours of subsidised childcare.

“Families report childcare costs exceeding mortgage or rent costs. That’s a huge economic barrier to parents working and one that disproportionately impacts women and families with young children. If we do get a restored assembly, this needs to be a key priority for all parties. Other governments have taken action to protect citizens. So why not here?

READ MORE: Scottish Child Payment now helping more than 316,000 families

“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation believes the Scottish Child Payment extension is a 'watershed' – and shows that poverty can be tackled with political will.

“At present, the void in political will is being addressed by charities and community groups, attempting to fill an ever-widening gulf of need. Politics here is often focused on single issues, visibly more so since 2016.

“The real trick, of course, is for political leadership to do more than one thing at once. What would our society look like if we decided to seriously address child poverty?”

He pointed out how the Scottish Government has moved around this by introducing a payment for all children under 16, and it is not capped.

“That’s a good example of how devolved government can actually do something to fight poverty,” said Kellagher, who added there has been a move away from the idea of social welfare and protecting the most vulnerable in society.

“We are seeing, in some cases, parents choosing not to eat and spending their food budget on feeding their children, to the point of [their own] ill health, to the point of medical ill health, because of literally hunger.

 “We are seeing parents making decisions about whether to spend money on food or heating.

“We almost lock families into poverty, by virtue of the fact that, well, if you can’t afford good food, and you can’t afford heat, your ability to learn and do well academically will impact your future ability to lift yourself out of poverty.”