Church leaders call for easing of family hardship in 2018
Church leaders in Northern Ireland have used their new year message to call on politicians to "alleviate the hardship" of families on the poverty line.
The heads of the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church united to issue their annual message.
They say they are concerned about the impact of changes to welfare payments and cuts to services and charities.
They pray that 2018 will "bring hope, joy and peace" to struggling families.
The message has been issued by the Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke, the Catholic Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin, Rev Dr Laurence Graham, the Methodist Church president, the Presbyterian Church moderator Rev Noble McNeely, and Bishop John McDowell, the president of the Irish Council of Churches.
'Protect common good'
"Families are the essential building blocks of strong, resilient communities," they say.
"Families are the hope for the world.
"Our experience in pastoral and social care underlines the centrality of family well-being to effective, long-term solutions to the major social challenges we face today."
The church leaders say that the "purpose" of political leadership is to "protect the common good" and they urge politicians to increase their efforts to protect vulnerable families.
"It is deeply unfair that so many parents in our society today feel that they are failing because they cannot provide security for their children, and that many are reluctant to ask for help because of stigma and shame," they add.
"We appeal to [politicians] to focus their efforts in this coming year on measures that will alleviate the hardship experienced by families near and far, restoring hope and preventing people being pushed to the margins of society."