A single person in Northern Ireland needs to earn at least £14,000 per year to be able to afford a minimum socially acceptable standard of living. This figure is based on what ordinary people in Northern Ireland think needs to go into a weekly budget. These findings are published in one of two reports out today (29 September) on poverty and social exclusion in Northern Ireland by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
The first report, A minimum income standard for Northern Ireland, part of the JRF's Minimum income standards programme, involved asking people on a range of incomes about what the minimum needs are for single people, pensioners and for families of different sizes. This was initially calculated for Great Britain in 2008.
Conducted by a team at the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP), the report also looks at whether the minimum income needed in Northern Ireland is different from the minimum income needed in Great Britain. Researchers found that costs were generally the same, as most necessities can be bought at similar prices to the rest of the UK. However, notable exceptions include household fuel, which is more expensive in Northern Ireland, and local taxes, which are cheaper.
One of the researchers, Noel Smith, Assistant Director at the CRSP, said: "As in Great Britain, the Northern Ireland results give a benchmark that can inform social policy. They show that safety net benefits cover less than half the minimum income needed for working-age people without children, and about two thirds for those with children. They also show that the national minimum wage is too low for most people to reach a minimum standard of living with a single full-time earner in the family."
The researchers also looked at whether different items need to go in the Northern Ireland budget because of different views among the public about what is essential to achieve a minimum standard of living. They found that people in Northern Ireland specified higher needs in terms of transport (including a second-hand car for households with children) and in terms of personal services (including substantially higher spending on hairdressing). However, often the minimum specified for leisure activities was lower than in Great Britain.
A second report released by the JRF today, Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Northern Ireland 2009, by the New Policy Institute, shows that during the recession, the proportion of people who are not in paid work in Northern Ireland has risen further (up 4%) and to a higher level (to 34% at the end of the second quarter of 2009) than in Britain (up 2% to 27%).
Commenting on this, report co-author Tom MacInnes said: "The rise in worklessness since 2007 has undone all the progress that had been made since the start of the decade. While the unemployment picture can change quickly, the impact of the recession on employment appears for now to have been more severe in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain."
The report also points to housing in Northern Ireland as an area of growing concern. While the number of occupied homes defined as unfit came down in the years after 2001, from around 17,000 to 10,000 (2006), the number of households presenting as homeless has risen by nearly a half. (up from 13,000 to 19,000 in 2007/08).The number of households most in need of social housing (defined by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as being in ‘housing stress’) has almost doubled from 12,500 in 2001 to 21,500 today.
New Policy Institute Director, Dr. Peter Kenway, added: "Since our first Northern Ireland report in 2006, there has been little change to the child poverty picture in the province. But while the child poverty rate is not actually high in a UK context, the fact that the population is so young (one quarter being children), means that the overall extent of need and the resources to meet it, is that much higher."