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Rural Poverty

Volume 229: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he will take in order to combat the levels of rural poverty in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is tackling the problem of rural housing unfitness highlighted in the recently published 1991 house condition survey primarily through the housing grants scheme which is geared to direct most assistance to those in greatest need. The scheme includes provision for replacement grant and more generous financial assistance towards the installation of first-time services to meet the specific needs of rural dwellers.The Department of Health and Social Services has provided a grant towards the administrative costs of the Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network since its establishment in 1991.Social security in Northern Ireland maintains parity with the rest of the United Kingdom. There are no specific provisions for rural areas, but income-related benefits provide assistance to those in greatest need regardless of their location.In addition, the rural development programme in Northern Ireland is encouraging the economic and social regeneration of the most disadvantaged rural areas. It aims to assist those who, as part of a broadly based community group, are seeking to develop plans for the regeneration of their areas. I am confident that the long-term benefits that will accrue from the programme will help to alleviate rural poverty through increased employment opportunities—direct jobs, both full time and part time, and the indirect spin-offs to the general locality that will follow—for example, increased visitors to an area through local tourism development; helping to stem the migration from rural to urban areas; building of self-confidence to remote communities through the community development process; improved access to training and development for both individuals and groups; improvement in local infrastructure and services.The Rural Development Council is a key element of the programme and is playing an important role in promoting and supporting local community development and advising Government on issues affecting rural communities.While the programme is at an early stage of implementation, I have been greatly encouraged by the progress made to date by the Department of Agriculture, RDC, and community groups across Northern Ireland. Five multi-sectoral projects have been launched, representing substantial national, European Community, International Fund for Ireland and private funding commitment to rural areas of greatest need. A number of other projects are at the development stage.