Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Poverty statistics are a wake-up call

'No government in the UK has yet found an answer to the puzzle of how to provide a level of income to all families which would eradicate poverty' (stock photo)
'No government in the UK has yet found an answer to the puzzle of how to provide a level of income to all families which would eradicate poverty' (stock photo)

Editor's Viewpoint

The UK is the fifth richest country in the world, but to thousands of people in Northern Ireland that is a meaningless statistic.

According to a report from the Department for Communities, nearly 300,000 people here are living below the poverty line. Most shamefully, the total includes 85,000 children.

Many people will wonder how this level of deprivation is possible in a province where, according to official statistics, the number of people in work rose by 16,000 in the past three months to 860,000.

Unemployment also fell to a record low of 3%, almost a full 1% lower than the UK average.

However, those figures disguise a worrying trend. More than half of people (56%) who are out of work here have been without a job for more than a year.

The comparable figure in the UK is 26%.

There are other factors which have played into the poverty levels. The cull of civil servants aimed at rebalancing the local economy put many people out of work.

Those jobs were traditionally better paid than many in the private sector.

The government's austerity policies helped to erode the differential as public service pay was capped.

While employment rates are high they contain many people in relatively low-paid service jobs, with most of them working part-time, leading to what is often call the working poor.

No government in the UK has yet found an answer to the puzzle of how to provide a level of income to all families which would eradicate poverty.

The old biblical saying of the poor always being with us rings true still today.

The situation in Northern Ireland has been exacerbated by the lack of a devolved government.

Everday issues like health, education, infrastructure and poverty are in virtual cold storage with no politicians in place to devise new policies which could add impetus to the economy.

While benefits are a national issue, Westminster has been obsessed with the civil war within the government over Brexit. The result is that all political energies have been devoted to finding a way to leave the EU with an acceptable deal, and like Northern Ireland, everday issues have been put on the backburner.

While there may be many reasons why adults are living below the poverty line, there is no excuse why children should be forced to do so. Politicians have a duty to find a way of alleviating that hardship.

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