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JRF to establish new team in Northern Ireland

Too many people in Northern Ireland experience poverty and economic insecurity. With the Executive and Assembly restored, JRF is building our involvement in Northern Ireland.

Written by:
Chris Birt
Date published:
Reading time:
4 minutes

A new team at a crucial time

In June 2023, JRF commissioned the independent think tank Pivotal, in partnership with Save the Children Northern Ireland (NI) and the Trussell Trust NI, to advise us on how JRF could contribute to driving down poverty, destitution and economic insecurity in Northern Ireland.

Their report recommends the establishment of a small team within JRF based in Northern Ireland, with a clear focus on collaborating with those already working on issues around poverty and economic security locally.

A team built on collaboration

The welcome restoration of the Assembly and Executive in February this year was quickly followed by the publication of Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency's (NISRA) Poverty and Inequality Report that showed a statistically significant increase in child poverty in Northern Ireland. Coupled with the ongoing cost of living crisis and long-standing issues such as the disability employment gap, it is crucial that decision makers have a laser focus on easing hardship.

And for JRF this is an opportune time to be upping our own involvement in Northern Ireland. For last year’s report, Pivotal, Save the Children NI and Trussell Trust NI spoke with over 50 organisations through 23 interviews and 7 themed groups to hear people’s views and to provide their recommendation to us. They heard about the breadth of work that is already ongoing, and where we might be most impactful working in concert with those already striving for change locally.

Their core recommendation was that JRF should establish a team, not dissimilar to our team in Scotland, who will be tasked with working with partners across Northern Ireland. This locally based team will build on existing JRF relationships and work in Northern Ireland, bringing our reputation and knowledge, and helping to deliver impactful change.

While they concluded it was important for JRF to bring our own knowledge and resources, their key recommendation was a strong expectation that such a new team would work hand in glove with the broader sector. JRF should look to complement and add value to existing work on poverty, particularly working with others to address the gaps that exist in poverty analysis at present.

They also suggested the team could either be fully independent, although grounded in collaboration, or to have a formal hosting relationship with a local organisation.  We are open minded to either approach and the new postholder will be empowered to make the decision on which approach will be most effective.

We also expect the new team to have funding available to secure partnerships with other organisations and contract work. Again, the final amount of this will be subject to the Head of Team designing the work programme.

A key finding was that we could bring our analytical resources to bear in Northern Ireland to help get a better understanding of the unique challenges that households face to secure a good standard of living. This would hopefully serve as useful data for the broader sector as well as for key decision makers.

Pivotal also identified a number of subject areas where the new team may wish to focus. Those included child poverty, housing, in-work poverty, disability and ill-health, and education and skills. We will, however, leave the programme of work to be designed by the leader of the team in partnership with organisations who we wish to collaborate with.

The full Pivotal report is available here (some financial and HR information, regarding the context of the team within JRF, has been removed).

What next?

The first step will be for us to appoint someone to lead the team, build relationships with key partners, hire the other team members, and design the programme of work for the team. The recommendation was for the team to be made up of a leader, a policy expert and an analyst, but we will leave the exact design of those roles to the person appointed. We’d expect the team to be complete by the end of 2024.

The team leader will be absolutely crucial in the success of the new team. We will expect them to be well connected, a confident and clear communicator, with a strong understanding of the policy and political landscape.

Our aim is to advertise the job in the coming weeks and there will be opportunities for potential candidates to discuss our thinking in advance of the deadline for applications.

This marks an exciting opportunity for JRF to significantly up our part in the drive to deliver a Northern Ireland free from poverty, and we look forward to collaborating with many to help that happen.

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