An important body of research into poverty in NI

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Many people's eyes glaze over when they read or hear about poverty.

It might be that the issue is too depressing.

It might also be because the word is bandied about so much that no-one is quite sure what it means or when it is genuinely fitting to use it. Relative poverty and absolute poverty are different and even then the measures as to what qualifies change from place to place.

And yet, we know poverty when we see it. In much of the third world it is screamingly apparent. With homelessness it is in this country too.

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It doesn’t matter much that most of the small number of people sleeping rough in Belfast would have had alternative options, as a recent assessment showed. The fact of the sleeping rough is a manifestation of profound problems in the lives of the people who have to endure it.

And there is much more hidden poverty than homelessness.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) findings in Northern Ireland launched yesterday was a major body of research that does not merely try to tell us that everything is terrible and needs an immediate injection of cash.

It tells us where problems lie, how the Province fares compared to the rest of the UK, and aspects of poverty where things are improving or worsening.

Britain is a very wealthy nation and it sends a vast amount of money to Northern Ireland every year. But this does not mean that the money is well spent. It is, for example, a disgrace to think of money spent heating barns at public expense when there are starkly different educational prospects between affluent and poor kids, which impact through their lives.

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There are no easy solutions to poverty, and some of the improvements have been due to government policy at national level such as increases in the minimum wage.

Campbell Robb says that the stalemate at Stormont should not halt action to help struggling families, but it is nonetheless the case that the crisis means that we do not even have a tier of assembly people able to immerse themselves in and tackle the issue, which is a scandal and a tragedy.