Almost one in three adults jobless as war on poverty sits stalled for a decade

Northern Ireland is letting down many people despite its wealth and educational reputation says the Rowntree Trust
Northern Ireland is letting down many people despite its wealth and educational reputation says the Rowntree Trust

Almost one in three adults in Northern Ireland are out of work, and little progress has been made on reducing poverty as the province trails the rest of the UK, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Those out of work are much more likely to face financial difficulties says a new report analysing the province.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Foundation, said: “Northern Ireland has not seen the same benefits from rising employment as the rest of Great Britain, meaning more families are locked out of opportunities to build a decent, secure life.”

The organisation said employment rates for some groups within Northern Ireland were lower than in the rest of the UK.

“The reason for this difference is much higher levels of people who are out of work for health reasons, caring or studying, rather than a difference in unemployment, which is only slightly higher.”

The Foundation launched its monitoring report, Poverty in Northern Ireland 2018, setting out poverty rates in the province and the challenges facing low income families.

Overall, 370,000 people live in scarcity, around one in five of the population - made up of 110,000 children, 220,000 working-age adults and 40,000 pensioners.

Poverty among pensioners has fallen considerably over the last decade, the research showed.

Families with children have seen steady or falling poverty rates, but working-age adults without children are at higher risk of poverty than 10 years ago.

The Foundation said raising the employment rate could lead to significant falls in poverty.

The foundation said it was now calling on the devolved and Westminster governments and businesses to work together to deliver an industrial strategy that creates more and better jobs.

The report found that Northern Ireland has higher worklessness and lower employment than elsewhere and the proportion in poverty in workless households has increased slightly over time, in contrast to the rest of the UK.

Over the last 20 years, employment rates have been consistently below the rest of the UK, about 5-7 percentage points lower than in England.

It also added that one in six adults in Northern Ireland have no qualifications (16%), compared to less than one in ten working-age adults in England, Wales and Scotland.

The gap in educational attainment among richer and poorer children has narrowed slightly but remains very large. Only 47% of children eligible for free school meals achieved five good GCSEs in 2016, compared with 68% of all children.

“We know action can be taken to create a prosperous, poverty-free Northern Ireland, built on the foundation of more and better jobs with decent wages,” said Mr Robb.

“This means using the industrial strategy to create these opportunities and drive up skills, alongside an education system that ensures people enter the workforce with the skills they need.

Getting there will require the efforts of devolved and Westminster government and businesses. With one in three working-age adults out of work, it’s crucial we make progress now.”

Gillian McKee, deputy MD with Business in the Community, said business had a vested interest and responsibility to help reduce poverty.

“Given that businesses need a skilled and educated labour force and customers to buy their products and services, as well as a strong and healthy society in which to operate, we would urge them to work alongside government in tackling poverty and providing good work for all.”