Select Committee on Work and Pensions Second Report

Annex 4

Note of Committee Visit to Belfast - 21-22 January 2004

Queen's University

A research team primarily based at Queen's University and including Prof McLaughlin, Dr Mike Tomlinson and Prof Paddy Hillyard from the University of Ulster have recently published the first study into poverty and social exclusion (PSE) in Northern Ireland (NI). As there has been little systematic evidence of poverty in Northern Ireland the research has stimulated a great deal of interest from a variety of corners, including Government departments.

Prof Eithne McLaughlin

After the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey of Great Britain was conducted by researchers at the universities of York, Bristol and Loughborough, researchers at Queen's approached the Office of the First Minister for funding to conduct a similar piece of research in Northern Ireland. Until then, there had been a seven-year vacuum with no poverty measurement carried out in Northern Ireland at all. Northern Ireland data is included in the Households Below Average Income report (which uses data from the Family Resources Survey), although the Northern Ireland data is very limited as it is drawn from a small sample of the Family Expenditure Survey and no regional data is available.

The objectives of the PSE in NI study were to provide a baseline measure; to provide data on the impact of PSE across the nine equality dimensions of Section 75 of the NI Act 1998; and to enable comparisons of PSE data with Great Britain (GB) and the Republic of Ireland.

The study combines a consensual measure of poverty with income measures, the advantage of this being that local and regional differences can be captured. There are five steps in the consensual poverty measure used in the research (see below). The NI consensual poverty threshold was set at people being deprived of 3 or more necessities and having an equivalised household income of less than £156.73 per week, before housing costs. In comparison, the threshold for GB was households deprived of 2 or more necessities. The surveys to establish what the public think as a necessary item produced similar results in NI to GB.

Steps in the consensual poverty measure

1.  Survey 1: which items are 'necessities'?

2.  Survey 2: necessities which people can't afford

3.  Select necessities which are robust indicators of deprivation

4.  Maximise difference between 'poor' and 'non-poor' groups and minimise the difference within those groups

5.  Produce poverty threshold
Necessities - examples (1)
Omnibus 'necessary'
Can't afford
Fresh fruit and veg every day92 845
Pay heating/electricity/phone bills on time 99918
Replace worn out furniture79 6728
Warm, waterproof coat93 915
Good clothes for job interviews86 856
Telephone8195 3

When comparing prices in NI with average UK prices, fuel, travel and food are much more expensive in NI. (see below). This is significant as the median income measure of poverty does not take into account the differences in prices. As the consensual measure of poverty indicates the achieved standard of living of individuals, it might be a more accurate measure of poverty than an income measure.

Northern Ireland prices compared with UK averages 2003
% difference
  • Housing
  • Household services
  • Household goods
  • Leisure services
  • Personal goods
  • Clothing
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Food
  • Motoring
  • Fares and travel
  • Fuel and light

Source: ONS: Effective Purchasing Power by region

There is a 4% difference in poverty rates between NI and GB. Gender differences in poverty rates stretch across the age range, including working age adults and pensioners. Two-thirds of children living in poverty (defined on the below 60% median income measure) are living in 'atypical' families, for example, in a lone parent family, in a large family and in a family with disabled adults or children. NI does have a higher proportion of large families compared with GB although the fertility rate is reducing. 8% of children in NI live in a household with a disabled adult and as a result are in poverty. It was felt that innovation on employment for disabled people is low in NI. Those who identify themselves as 'British' or as 'Protestant' are not as poor as those who identify themselves as 'Irish' or 'Catholic'.

Using the consensual poverty measure, 37% of children in NI were growing up in poor households, with similar patterns occurring when using an income measure of poverty. For some groups, particularly lone parents, the consensual measure of poverty gives a higher level of household poverty illustrating the deprivation experienced.

% of households with children poor on the GB HBAI measure

Overall                    29.6%

Elevated levels

Family size, type health/disability 4-6 children        47.4%

Lone Parent                  49.3%

L.A tenant                  59.8%

1 worker                  19.0%

2 workers                  8.1%

No workers (sick/disabled)              68.8%

No workers (unemployed/other)            70.5%

Discussion with the research team

The level of inequality in NI was said to be shocking and it was felt that nothing had changed over the last 20 years. There are serious concentrations of poverty in some areas.

There were positive views on the new poverty measure outlined in DWP's recent consultation response. But it was felt that it is essential to have one single headline figure. There was also the view that it might have been better to have two tiers rather than three. On the deprivation indicators, there was surprise at the absence of nutritional indicators. It was also pointed out that, in addition to measurement definition, it was also necessary to agree a definition of poverty - a concept of what we are trying to achieve as a society.

Unemployment has reduced in recent years and NI now has a lower level than the North-east of England, although there is the issue of increasing numbers of people moving onto incapacity benefits. 63% of poverty in NI is due to worklessness, and it therefore follows that the problem of poverty falls to the UK government to address. Only 500 lone parents in NI have been through the New Deal for Lone Parents.

NI does not have Council Tax as in GB and it still has a version of local rates. This is the most regressive form of local taxation which impacts heavily on families.

Working Lunch with NGOs and individuals working in the field of child poverty

A wide range of issues were expressed by those participating in the discussion including:

  • Benefit levels across the UK need to be raised.
  • Moving people into work is beneficial but it has to be recognised that not everyone can work and that the necessary jobs are not always available.
  • Childcare over the summer period is problematic in Northern Ireland, especially in deprived areas, due to the marching season.
  • The Government's aim to end child poverty needs to be properly resourced.
  • Not enough is known about child poverty and how people experience poverty. Particular problems arise as the survey data (such as the Family Resources Survey) has not covered Northern Ireland.
  • Children's experiences of poverty are important and need further attention. Many of the organisations present had done work directly with children on their experience of living in poverty.
  • Budgets which provide resources for children frequently get used for other things so there is a need for ring-fencing
  • Finances do come in from the EU but this will eventually cease.
  • Northern Ireland has historic under-funding of childcare and other family services.
  • Accountability for child poverty in Northern Ireland is very unclear.
  • Advances have been made under the devolved administration eg the creation of the Children's Commissioner.
  • The community sector is very important in providing services in Northern Ireland but is in crisis - more time is spent on getting funding than on their main work.
  • An increase in Child Benefit is needed and the unequal rates for more than one child is wrong.
  • For those who can move into work, tax credits are a help.
  • The National Minimum Wage is too low and is not always adhered to by employers.
  • Employers reduce wages when they know that employees are claiming tax credits.
  • People don't always have Income Support levels of benefits as Social Fund reductions reduce their income.
  • It was questioned when obligations on human rights will be fulfilled. The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child recognises standards of living.
  • Department's budgets should be child poverty-proofed.
  • Northern Ireland is promoted as a low-wage economy to draw in businesses - this should stop.

Sure Start

Sure Start in NI had some different targets, reflecting differences between GB and Northern Ireland. Targets, if too tightly drawn, could stifle delivery of effective services. For example, within the Shankill Road area 35% of families had lone parents and there was a significant problem of teenage pregnancies.

The regeneration of the Shankill Road area had started in 1995 and urban funding of some £6m had been allocated over 5 years and had been used to assist pre-school age children and Intermediate Labour Markets (ILMs). The end of the funding had resulted in ILMs not being supported: the scheme was now focussed on children and Daycare.

The current funding stream was reasonably secure but it was difficult to evaluate the success of the scheme in NI.

Falls Road Jobs and Benefits Office

The Social Security Agency (SSA) is an Executive Agency of the Department for Social Development and is very similar to DWP in Britain. It has 6,500 staff and delivers services to 650,000 customers. Jobs and Benefits Offices (JBOs) are part of the Working Age Service, delivered in partnership with the Dept for Employment and Learning. JBOs are currently being rolled out across Northern Ireland and are very similar to Jobcentre Plus offices in Britain. Employability and tackling long-term unemployment is a current focus. The challenges of co-ordinated working between the two Departments is great but where services have been joined up there is a 17% reduction in the unemployment rate.

The delivery mechanisms of benefits differs in Northern Ireland from GB but the benefits are the same. In terms of developing a different anti-poverty strategy in Northern Ireland, there is some flexibility but the Department are restricted by legislation. More flexibility is available through labour market intervention. When the New Deals were first introduced there was some criticism as they did not take into account the differing needs and differing services in Northern Ireland. A key problem with helping people into work is that people are not very mobile and are unwilling to travel far to get to work.

Levels of unemployment are very low and it is therefore not seen as a high priority. People have moved off the JSA register - some into work and some onto disability benefits. Each JBO has Personal Advisers - similar to in Britain. JBO offices are not screened and this has promoted a better environment for staff. One difference is that there is no move towards telephony, as in Britain.

Falls Road Community Centre

The following is taken from a presentation given at the Falls Road Community Centre by a delegation of community representatives and Members of the Legislative Assembly

  • 90,000 people are estimated to be living in West Belfast, one quarter of the total population of Belfast and 5% of the North's total population.
  • 29% of its population was estimated to be aged less than 16 compared with 21% in the rest of Belfast and 24% in the North as a whole. 13% of the population is estimated to be pensioners, compared with 20% in the rest of Belfast and 15% in the North of Ireland.
  • West Belfast has 43% of almost 10,000 lone parents in Belfast and 13% of the total in the North of Ireland.


  • 11 out of the 17 wards (almost two-thirds) in West Belfast are among the top 10% worst off wards in the North (566 in total).
  • Almost two-thirds of wards in West Belfast are in the top 10% most income deprived wards.
  • In 8 out of 17 wards, 50% or more of the population are income deprived.
  • 9 out of the 17 wards in West Belfast are among the top 10% most deprived in the North
  • Of all the measures of deprivation, West Belfast comes out worst with regard to health and disability.
  • According to the Noble measures, poor health is by far the biggest socio-economic problem facing people in West Belfast.
  • Eight out of 17 wards are included in the top 10% worst wards in the whole of the North.
  • 7 wards have 80% or more of 0-15 year olds living in poverty according to the Noble measures??
  • All 17 wards in West Belfast have more than half of their under 16 year old populations living in poverty.
  • Wards in West Belfast come out worst in terms of the health status of their populations, followed by deprivation with regard to income, child poverty, social environment, employment, education and housing


  • In 1999, there were 22,811 people in employment in the parliamentary constituency of West Belfast, accounting for 12% of employment in Belfast city, and 4% in the North as a whole.
  • Over the six year period 1993 to 1999, employment in West Belfast fell by 57%, compared with substantial increases in the rest of the city and the North as a whole.
  • 9% of full-time male employment in Belfast is located in the west of the city.
  • Within West Belfast almost all people work in the service sector, 19,797 or 87% of the overall total of jobs.
  • A total of 2,382 people were employed in manufacturing in West Belfast in 1999, 10% of the total for the area.


  • 4,147 people were classified as unemployed claimants in West Belfast at May 2001, accounting for 39% of the overall total in Belfast and 11% of the total in the North.
  • The vast majority of unemployed claimants in West Belfast (85%) are men.
  • In terms of the percentage of those economically active in West Belfast - the unemployment rate - 13.2% were without work, compared with an average rate of 4.9% in the North.
  • The male unemployment rate in West Belfast is particularly high at 21.6%, almost five times greater than in the rest of the city and over three times higher than the North's overall average.
  • 44% of unemployed claimants are concentrated in just five wards - Collin Glen, GlenColin, Upper Springfield, Whiterock and Falls.
  • Only 44.2% of the working age population in West Belfast is economically active, well below the rates of 57.5% for Belfast City and 59.2% for the North as a whole.
  • The real rate of unemployment in West Belfast, counting all those who would genuinely take work if it were available for them, is likely to be over 25%, with an even higher rate for men.


  • There is a higher proportion of people in West Belfast who are classified as long-term sick/disabled (20.7% of the total inactive in the area) than in Belfast City (18.6%) and Northern Ireland (19.3%).
  • Income Support and Job Seekers Allowance claimants account for approximately 26% and 6% respectively of the population aged over 16. This is twice the average for Belfast and the six counties is which stands at approximately 13% and 3% respectively.
  • The number of benefit claims from West Belfast total 62,543, this accounts for approximately 34.4% of all benefit claimants in the Belfast Area.
  • West Belfast accounts for 32.7% of all incapacity benefit claimants amongst the four Belfast parliamentary constituencies with local claimants representing 11% of the total population aged sixteen and over.
  • For people who remain on Severe Disability Allowance West Belfast accounts for the largest percentage of claimants, with approximately 32% of all benefit recipients in Belfast and 6.7% of claimants in the north overall. Approximately 1.5% of the local population aged sixteen and over are in receipt of SDA.
  • Job Seekers Allowance claimants are 2.3 times more likely to come from the West of the city as opposed to the East of the city.
  • For those classified as Long Term Unemployed West Belfast has the largest percentage of claimants within the four constituency areas with approximately 46% of the 3,973 LTU claimants coming from the local area.
  • Women from West Belfast account for approximately 63% of all Income Support claimants, 37% of all female claimants in the greater Belfast area and 11% of claimants throughout the north of Ireland.
  • The uptake of Disability Living Allowance within West Belfast is 38% or 14,350 claimants, of a city total of 37,597 coming from the area.


  • The IDB assisted only 5 companies in West Belfast during 1997-2000, just 2% out of a total of 219 companies it assisted throughout Northern Ireland during that period.
  • This consists of just 15 projects which employ just 3% of total jobs in IDB-assisted companies.
  • West Belfast has received the lowest proportionate number of jobs of any area within the wider Belfast conurbation. While areas like Antrim, Lisburn and Newtownabbey have more than four IDB-sponsored jobs for each unemployed resident, West Belfast has only 0.7.
  • Catholics make up just 54% of employment in IDB-assisted companies in West Belfast, although their share of the population is around 80%.
  • The constituency contains just 13% of small businesses in Belfast that receive LEDU assistance, accounting also for 13% of LEDU-assisted employment in Belfast. Whereas North and East Belfast have about twice as many LEDU-assisted employees as West Belfast, South Belfast has nearly three times as many.
  • In Northern Ireland as a whole, West Belfast has only 2.4% of LEDU-assisted businesses, accounting for 2.5% of employment.


  • In 2000, there were on almost 2,000 people on the NIHE's waiting list, with 587 designated homeless, over 1,250 housing stress applicants and 1,300 residents seeking transfer.
  • West Belfast has the highest proportion of NIHE housing in Belfast (44.4%) and the lowest proportion of owner occupation (39%). It also has the lowest proportion of private rented accommodation (4%).
  • In West Belfast 32% of its population is under the age of 15, there is overcrowding in many households and 1,385 people were classified as in urgent need of accommodation in September 2000.
  • 25% of households have average annual incomes of less than £4,000, with a further 50% or more on incomes less than £10,000.
  • West Belfast has the highest proportion of households with annual incomes less than £10,000 (77%). Conversely, only 23% of households have incomes of more than £10,000, compared with 43% in East and South Belfast.

Officials from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM)

The 'Growing as a Community' project was one of the first programmes post devolution as is still a priority.

Targetting Social Need was launched in 1991 as a public expenditure priority and was initially defined as an anti-poverty strategy. In 1998 a White Paper was launched committed to refocusing the programme and was relaunched as New Targetting Social Need (New TSN). The Belfast Agreement in 1998 agreed with the White Paper recommendations and New TSN was launched in 1998 by Mo Mowlam. The devolved administration adopted New TSN in March 2001 with the proviso that it be reviewed.

New TSN focuses on inequalities in income, the labour market, health and education; tackling employment and employability; and is skewed towards those most in objective need. Departments are required to state up front what their TSN policies are and report on them annually. New TSN also promotes social exclusion cross-Departmentally and works in partnership with NGOs, community and voluntary sector groups.

The Executive is committed to evaluating New TSN and has an independent group of poverty specialists commenting on an evaluation.

New TSN does not have its own budget. Existing Departments have to skew their spending towards those in greatest need - otherwise known as "bending the spend." Evidence suggests that £2 billion of the £8 billion block budget was redirected towards New TSN. Officials were asked whether rumours that some of the block budget had been sent back were true. They indicated that money is reallocated but not sent back and that at the end of the last financial year an under-spend did occur but end of year flexibility meant that the money was reallocated.

Labour market policy is a transfer area and the policy in Northern Ireland is to follow Britain (in terms of, for example, the New Deals). Sure Start is similar - Northern Ireland has the flexibility to adapt or change Sure Start as they see fit. This explains why in Northern Ireland, Sure Start budgets last for three years compared with seven years on the mainland.

Executive Programme Funds enable Departments to allocate expenditure locally to deal with social exclusion issues.

When New TSN was first introduced it focussed chiefly on unemployment whereas now the focus is on low-paid workers, lone parents and the sick and disabled.

Good points about New TSN include: anti-poverty strategies have been mainstreamed; there is now greater accountability and more of a partnership approach to tackling poverty.

Bad points include: it is not always strategic and doesn't include all areas; there is not budget, no clear political lead and there are unclear links with the EU National Action Plan and Opportunity For All.

The challenge is to provide a clarity of purpose and a coherent link between strategies. They need to understand what can be influenced by the devolved administration and what needs input from Westminster. Proposals on developing New TSN are being put to Ministers soon. They hope to retain New TSN as a core principle with a continued focus on employment, with a clear strategic aim, objectives and targets. It is also hoped that financial exclusion will also be included, as well as non-take-up of benefits (which NI has high levels of) and poor living conditions.

A Joint Ministerial Committee exists and is important as Northern Ireland Ministers can use the Committee to raise policy issues directly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however this does need to be rejuvenated. There is a recognition that Northern Ireland has benefited tremendously from tax and benefit policies but there is now a real need to generate many more jobs in the province. In addition, there is a need to make it easier for employers to improve the skills of the workforce and bring more lone parents and disabled people into the labour market. The Northern Irish economy is buffered by the large public sector - which constitutes 60% of the workforce. Average wages are around 85% of those on the mainland and therefore Working Tax Credit subsidises employees in Northern Ireland to a greater extent than in Britain.

Children and Young People's Unit (CYPU)

Child poverty has become a policy area of convergence between different Departments. CYPU was established in 2002 and is responsible for the Strategy for Children and Young People; the Commissioner for Children and Young People' and for co-ordinating input to UK reports on international human rights instruments relating to children, primarily UNCRC.

The Strategy for Children and Young People is a vision and a 10 year plan, informed by public consultation. The Strategy is rights-based rather than needs based; responsibility falls to Government Departments and all those delivering services to children; recognises that role of the family; is long-term; and addresses cross-cutting issues.

When developing the Strategy in informal discussion poverty emerged as a major issue to be addressed. 10 Taskgroups were established to look at different issues. The Taskgroup on Child and Family Poverty agreed a Strategic Outcome: that child poverty in Northern Ireland should be eradicated by 2020. They also agreed a Strategic Objective: that that the multi-dimensional and trans-generational aspects of child and family poverty will be defined, measured (qualitatively and quantitatively) and addressed strategically across Government in a way which reflects the experiences of those affected by it.

A draft Strategy will be published in Spring 2004 and finalised by the end of the year.

Equality and Social Need Division

Policies on poverty have further to go to counteract factors in Northern Ireland such as low wage levels; higher costs of food and fuel; large family size; benefit dependency; and a polarization of qualifications and skills.

The population in Northern Ireland is relatively young: 24% of the population is under 16, compared with 20% in England. There is a falling birth rate: 13 births per thousand of population in 2001 compared with 17 in 1990. Almost 2 in 5 households contain dependent children; and there is a rise in lone parent households. Around 9% of children live in workless households; 126,000 children live in families claiming a key benefit; 12% of children live in overcrowded accommodation. There are only 62 daycare places per 1,000 children aged 0-4 years, compared with 95 places in England and Wales.

Until recently, major gaps in available data and information resources had existed in Northern Ireland. New sources are emerging such as the Northern Ireland Household Panel Survey (NIHPS), the Family Resources Survey and the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey in Northern Ireland. The emerging data suggests key differences with the UK mainland, including a higher child poverty level in Northern Ireland.

Three-quarters of children in lone parent families are at risk of poverty. Evidence suggests that tax credit and benefit policies are not helping to lift children in lone parent families in Northern Ireland out of poverty, but are having a positive on children in couple families.


5% of the education budget is allocated to deprived areas. A pre-school education expansion programme means that there are now 21,000 pre-school places, compared with 9,000 previously. Other initiatives include: Sure Start (there are now 23 in Northern Ireland); Book Start - a project to increase access to books, but which has now been phased out; fresh fruit in primary schools; and a Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy which is focussed on children's initiatives.

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