A recently published study has found that poverty in the north of Ireland is worse than in the south of Ireland or Britain.

The main findings include the fact that well over a quarter of Northern Ireland’s households, 29.6 percent, are poor. A further 12 percent could be described as vulnerable to poverty.

Over a third of all children, i.e. 37.1 percent, are growing up in poor households. About 185,000 of Northern Ireland’s households are in poverty, representing about 502,000 people. Over 148,000 of these are children.

Nearly 14 percent of all households, excluding pensioner households, have no adult in the household who is employed and earning wages. Single parents are particularly hard hit: 67 percent are in poverty. Approximately 29 percent of women, in contrast to 25 percent of men, are in poor households.

The report also found that the richest 40 percent of households together possess 67 percent of the total household income in Northern Ireland, while the poorest 40 percent of households have 17 percent of total household income.

The authors conclude, “Northern Ireland is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.” Critics have called the findings a damning indictment of the policies of Tony Blair’s “New Labor” government.

According to British government statistics, unemployment is currently at 6.6 percent in the north, while the UK average stands at 4.9 percent. The rate is 4.6 percent in the south of Ireland.

Both youth unemployment, i.e. 18-24 years, currently at 19.3 percent, and those mired in long-term unemployment, estimated at 42 percent of the total unemployed (twice the rate for the UK as a whole), are a major concern. Out of a total of 667,050 unemployed in the north, 226,000 hold part-time jobs.

The overall average gross weekly earnings figures for Northern Ireland are equivalent to about US$755, compared to $888 in Britain. Seven out of the 10 lowest paid areas of the UK are in Northern Ireland. County Down comes in at the bottom with average gross weekly earnings of $584.

The proportion of household income accounted for by wages and salaries or from self-employment income has decreased from 70 percent to 67 percent inside of three years.

Social security benefits, which accounted for 21 percent of total household income, have risen to 23 percent over the same period. At the same time the cost of living has increased, making the north one of the most expensive places to live in the UK.

House prices alone rose by 81 percent in the last 12 years, the largest increase in the UK region except London.

The northern economy is essentially a public sector economy, with 235,490 people employed in health, social work, public administration and defense.

Many economists say a strong export-oriented manufacturing sector is crucial to relieving Northern Ireland’s poverty. However, manufacturing, like other parts of the economy in the north, has been neglected by the British government.

— Reprinted from Unity, newspaper of the Communist Party of Ireland.

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