Belfast Telegraph

Time to get a million of us in work

By Fearghal McKinney

On the other side of the Assembly election in May the two parties which tightly control our dysfunctional government will publish a new Programme for Government.

It will be full of pledges, promises and commitments. But what will they add up to?

Working on the health brief over the last two years, I have become convinced we need to get radical if we want to solve anything at all. The problems in the health service cannot be solved within any conceivable health budget.

We are already spending nearly £5bn annually on health, yet 400,000 people are on some kind of waiting list.

Any and every Health Minister is doomed to failure unless we go for joined-up government right now. Dealing with long-term deprivation and unemployment are what will make a real difference to our health spend.

The model of departmental government we have inherited is inadequate to the task. It simply doles out portions of the block grant under various headings in the vague hope that solutions will somehow result. They don't - and they won't.

Here is a radical proposition. The Programme for Government should be built around one, single political proposition: that we should aim to have one million of our people in work.

We have a population of 1.8 million people and slightly less than half of them are economically active. There is not a single social or community problem we face that would not be greatly eased if we had more jobs.

Communities are blighted by multi-generational unemployment and suffer the consequences of poor health. More people in work would allow us to solve more social problems permanently.

Everybody wants more jobs and promises more, but how are we to get them? The ambition of this incoming Executive must be geared towards getting a million people in work.

We have had 15 major analytical reports on the Northern Ireland economy since the 1960s. They're all gathering dust on a shelf.

Meaningful job creation will transform our society - let's act now.

  • Fearghal McKinney MLA is deputy leader of the SDLP

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