Northern Ireland’s poorest families have suffered a dramatic fall in income leaving them worse off than anywhere else in the UK because of the economic downturn, a new report claimed.
With almost 400,000 people living in poverty, some of the hardest hit are £39 a week less well-off compared to the time of the property market crash, according to a major study.
Rising unemployment and more people working part time are among the key factors blamed for declining incomes for families at the bottom end of the ladder who are desperately struggling to cope.
The report, which was prepared by the New Policy Institute (NPI) for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), claimed falling incomes for families across the social spectrum. But it is the poorest who suffered the largest drop between 2006 and 2012.
After inflation, incomes for the poorest fifth fell by 16% (£39 a week lower) - compared to 5% in the rest of the UK on average. Average households in Northern Ireland saw incomes fall by 9% over the same period. The deterioration was greater than anywhere in Britain.
The report found that over the last five years:
- Poverty among adults aged under 30 rose by 50%
- The proportion of unemployed working age people has almost doubled to reach 6%.
- The number working part-time but wanting full-time work has reached 51,000, or 4.4% of the working-age population, compared to 3.5% with Britain.
- There are 27,000 more part-time workers since 2007 and 3,000 fewer full-time.
- Households where the main breadwinner is working part-time rose 30%.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP are resisting the introduction of welfare reforms, especially the so-called bedroom tax, which according to the report’s authors will have a much greater impact in Northern Ireland - affecting 53% of claimants compared to 23% in Britain.
The move from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP) will be twice the proportion claiming.
Around a quarter of those reassessed for PIP are expected to lose their entitlement altogether with a further third receiving lower entitlement, according to the report.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of JRF, said the findings revealed a series of worrying trends
She said: “They are a wake-up call for governments in Stormont and Westminster. We need a comprehensive strategy to reduce poverty for people in Northern Ireland.
“This means tackling the underlying causes of poverty, such as the number and quality of jobs on offer.”
Tom MacInnes, Research Director at NPI and co-author of the report, said: “The recession and its aftermath hit Northern Ireland harder than the rest of the UK.
“In particular, the rise in unemployment and part time work has hurt family incomes across the board, but the poorest have fared worst. Possibly most worrying is the big rise in poverty among the under 30s.
“With welfare reform on the horizon, already diminished incomes may decline even further.
“Reforms that cut the incomes of those supported by benefits or that require more people to actively seek work - without improvements in the quality of jobs on offer - are likely to exacerbate problems further.”