Ulster Unionist Assembly Member for South Belfast, Michael McGimpsey, has called for cross government support for the proposal to introduce Sure Start Services to the Belvoir and Milltown areas of South Belfast.
His comments follow a meeting with the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland to discuss support to tackle social deprivation in Belvoir and Milltown including proposals by Sure Start to extend early years provision into the area.
In a statement Mr McGimpsey said, “Belvoir and Milltown is now ranked the most deprived ward in the whole of Castlereagh and 82nd in the whole of Northern Ireland. Most concerning is the high levels of educational underachievement and health inequalities in the area. Running a weekly surgery in the area I am all too aware of the problems faced by many of the residents, particularly as a result of the recent economic downturn.”
“At the meeting with DSD Minister Nelson McCausland it became clear that there needs to be cross government support for the proposals by Sure Start to provide early years facilities in the area as well as provide space for a community hub and associated staff. Sure Start have secured the funding to run the services and simply need a premises; which has already been identified and plans drawn up.”
“The Northern Ireland Executive must therefore step up and meet its obligations by supporting early years provision in the area as a means of tackling the wider issues of educational underachievement, health inequalities and low employment, issues prevalent across many working class protestant communities. I intend to write to the First and Deputy First Ministers as well as the Ministers for Education and Health calling on them to ensure their departments do all within their power to support the Sure Start proposal and investment in the wider Belvoir and Milltown Community.”
In conclusion Mr McGimpsey said, “For too long statutory agencies have ignored the needs of Belvoir and Milltown allowing the problems of multiple deprivation to escalate and grow to where it is now; the most deprived in the whole of Castlereagh. I am therefore calling on the Executive, Castlereagh Council and funders such as the Social Investment Fund to step in and prevent the situation being allowed to deteriorate even further. By supporting Sure Start in the area we are providing the young people with a much better start in life that will undoubtedly be reflected in their quality of life and future life chances.”