Church leaders in Northern Ireland have united to call on politicians to 'alleviate the hardship' of families on the poverty line, in a new year message.
The message was issued jointly by the heads of the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church.
They said that they are concerned about the impact of changes to welfare payments and cuts to services and charities, adding that they pray that 2018 will 'bring hope, joy and peace' to struggling families.
The message was 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.
'Families are the essential building blocks of strong, resilient communities,' they said.
'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 added that the 'purpose' of political leadership is to 'protect the common good' and urged politicians to step up 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 said.
'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.'