Workers’ Party South Belfast spokesman, Justin O’Hagan has hit out at the parties of the Stormont Coalition for failing to do enough to fight poverty in Northern Ireland. “In its recent election Manifesto,” Mr O’Hagan said, “Sinn Féin says that it had managed to ring-fence ‘a meaningful proportion of the annual budget for programmes aimed at tackling economic inequality and poverty’ but the facts suggest that not enough is being done. According to recent research by Save The Children, 40,000 children - nearly one in ten of all children in Northern Ireland - are living in severe poverty. Can anyone doubt that this figure is rising as a result of recent VAT increases and will worsen under the Stormont Cuts and changes in Social Welfare? Moreover, because average earnings in Northern Ireland are 12% lower than those in the UK, 36% of children in severe poverty here are living in households were at least one person is working. In other words, having a badly-paid job does not help people escape poverty”
“There has been a determined effort,” Mr O’Hagan continued, “on TV and in the papers to view poor people as a ‘shameless’ underclass, people not like ‘us’ who live by different rules. This demonisation allows some to forget about the poverty in this society. In reality, poverty is widespread in this society. According research by the Northern Ireland Consumer Council only four in ten of us are managing to keep up with bills and credit without difficulties, half (52 per cent) of the adult population here is worried about making ends meet and over two thirds (64 per cent) are worried about how they will cope in the future. Almost of one third of 25-34 year olds are having problems keeping up with their finances.
The Consumer Council proposes that people need to “build resilience, financial capability” in the face of recession, reduced public expenditure and a rising cost of living. ‘Financial capability’ is defined as ‘helping people understand the importance of money and having the skills and confidence to manage and use it wisely ... being prepared for a rainy day, saving in a safe place, having the appropriate insurance cover and being prepared for retirement.’ Whatever the good intentions of the Consumer Council, this is condescending nonsense. Working people understand only too well the importance of money. They just don’t have enough of it. What people need are secure, well-paid, meaningful jobs and a government prepared to develop a jobs strategy when the market fails to do so. Two thirds of us are worried about how we will cope in the future. The politicians of the newly-elected Stormont Coalition will only offer us more of the same,” Mr O’Hagan concluded.