Income and Poverty

Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2012

  • Published 5th May 2012
  • Authors: Tom MacInnes, , Hannah Aldridge, , Anushree Parekh, , Peter Kenway,
  • Category: Income and Poverty

A follow up to our 2009 publication, this report looks at what has changed in Northern Ireland in the short and medium term. Using the most up-to-date statistics on low income, education, worklessness and benefit claims, it paints a picture of Northern Ireland stuck between the huge job losses  of the recession and the forthcoming effects of welfare reform and public sector cuts.

The key findings were:

  • In the three years to 2009/10, 22% of people in Northern Ireland were living in poverty.
  • Poverty for children, working-age adults and pensioners has risen since the middle of the last decade. The rise in pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland coincided with a fall in Great Britain.
  • All the increase in poverty came in working or retired households. Half of the 120,000 children in poverty live in working households.
  • On average, between 2009 and 2011, 34% of working-age adults in Northern Ireland were not in paid work. This is higher than the Great Britain average but similar to Wales and regions in the north of England.
  • In 2011, 38% of working-age women were workless compared with 28% of working-age men but this gap has been closing. Likewise, the gap in full-time hourly pay rates between women and men has closed.
  • Children on free school meals are much more likely not to attain expected levels of educational qualifications. In 2010, 69% of pupils on free school meals did not achieve five GCSEs at A*–C (including maths and English) compared with 36% of other pupils and this gap has not closed over time.
  • School leavers receiving free school meals are twice as likely as other pupils to be unemployed or not in touch with education services. They are also more likely to go into employment or training, so if such options are limited, poorer children would be most affected.

There are some bigger patterns which emerge from the findings above. First, Northern Ireland is converging with Great Britain on some indicators. More specifically, it is converging with Wales and the north of England in terms of worklessness rates and the proportion of people claiming Disability Living Allowance. On other indicators, notably pensioner poverty, the gap is growing.

Second, there have been significant changes in women’s employment and pay. The gap between male and female employment rates has fallen steadily for around 15 years, and the hourly pay gap for full-time work is now zero.

In terms of income poverty, there has been little change in the overall rate in recent years, but a noticeable change in the composition of people in poverty. In-work poverty has risen, as it has in the UK as a whole. No poverty reduction strategy will be a success without addressing this.

Finally, while Northern Ireland has high levels of educational attainment at the top end compared with England or Wales, the inequalities among school leavers are stark. In the last five years, the number of school leavers going into work or training has fallen by around 3,000. But children on free school meals are much more likely to go into work or training than other school leavers. If training and employment opportunities for school leavers are declining, it is poorer children who will lose out most.

The previous report in this series came out in the depths of the recession in 2009, when Northern Ireland had seen a significant rise in worklessness. The outlook was bleak. This report shows that while things have not got much better, they have not got much worse. Northern Ireland is, like much of Great Britain, in a pause after the very worst of the recession but before the public sector cuts have really begun.

These cuts could affect Northern Ireland more severely than elsewhere, as the public sector makes up more of the job market than in Great Britain (30% compared with 20% on some estimates). Women make up the majority of public sector workers, so the progress on female employment could be threatened.

In addition, there are the huge changes to the benefit system that will result from the Welfare Reform Act. The changes from Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment and the increased requirements on people with disabilities to look for work will impact far more on Northern Ireland than other parts of the UK. This will be due to the much higher proportion of people with disabilities.

The Northern Ireland Executive’s ‘Programme for Government’ mentions establishing an advisory group to ‘assist ministers in alleviating hardship including any implications of the UK Government’s Welfare Reform Programme’. This advisory group will have to do more than advise: it needs to produce plans and evidence-based policies if it is to deal with the impact of these reforms and support those most affected.

About this report
This report is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and written by Tom MacInnes, Hannah Aldridge, Anushree Parekh, and Peter Kenway.The facts presented and views expressed in this report are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Foundation.