Nearly one in three adults out of work as Northern Ireland makes no progress on poverty in a decade

Almost one in three working-age adults in Northern Ireland are out of work, as a new report shows how Northern Ireland’s employment rate is lagging behind the rest of Great Britain.

Little progress has been made on reducing poverty, according to our new report – with too many people locked out of the opportunity to secure a decent standard of living.

The warning comes as JRF launches its monitoring report, Poverty in Northern Ireland 2018, setting out poverty rates in Northern Ireland and the challenges facing low income families.

Overall, 370,000 people live in poverty, 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. Families with children have seen steady or falling poverty rates, but working-age adults without children are now at higher risk of poverty than 10 years ago.

Raising the employment rate could lead to significant falls in poverty. JRF is 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:

  • Northern Ireland has higher worklessness and lower employment than elsewhere and the proportion of people in poverty in workless households in Northern Ireland has increased slightly over time, in contrast to the UK as a whole.
  • Over the last 20 years, employment rates in Northern Ireland have been consistently below the rest of the UK, around 5-7 percentage points lower than in England. After reaching 70% in 2016, the figure for the first quarter of 2017 indicated a slight reverse, falling to 68%.
  • Scotland and Wales have closed the gap on England considerably, but Northern Ireland has fallen behind both countries - suggesting that the employment rate continues to be a major factor affecting poverty rates in Northern Ireland, and that raising the employment rate could lead to poverty falling to a lower level than in the rest of the UK.

Working-age employment rate in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK

  • Employment among disabled people is strikingly lower in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK. Only 35% of working-age disabled people in Northern Ireland are employed, compared to 42% in Scotland, 47% in Wales and 50% in England.
  • The skills of the existing and future workforce remain a concern:
    • 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.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), 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.

“But 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.

“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 Managing Director with Business in the Community, said: “Business has a vested interest and a responsibility to help reduce poverty in Northern Ireland. 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.”