The report states that, "improving health and wellbeing is also likely to be compounded by financial pressures experienced by other government departments whose policies will impact on health.”
Workers’ Party spokesperson, Justin O’Hagan, praised many of the initiatives outlined in the Report, which have improved the health and well-being in poor communities. “For example”, Mr. O’Hagan explained, “Recognising that people who are poorer or disadvantaged are more likely than those better off to die younger and have problems with illness and disability, the Public Health Agency is working in 10% of Northern Ireland’s most deprived regions which are identified as ‘neighbourhood renewal areas’ in order to improve the health of people in those areas. 900 people participated in these schemes and the outcomes have been very positive, with 70% of participants saying they had developed new skills. As well as this, just under a half of participating households reported they had changed lifestyle habits, and a third reported increased levels of exercise.”
“As workers and as socialists we in the Workers’ Party have nothing but praise for such initiatives”, Mr. O’Hagan continued, “but we recognise that they can only go so far, given the extent of poverty in
Northern Ireland. The Parties in the Stormont Coalition claim that their hands are tied but there is much that they could do if they had the political will.”
Drawing on research by Goretti Horgan and Marina Monteith published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Workers’ Party calls on the Stormont Parties to make a real commitment to the following areas of change:
Increase the supply of well-paid, good quality jobs:
Cutting in-work poverty is essential to move more working families out of poverty and to make employment more attractive to those on benefits. The Assembly should insist that Invest Northern Ireland cease promoting the region as a low-pay economy.
Support those already in work to increase their qualification levels:
At present, those who are in low-paid jobs are least likely to get training. The region needs jobs which offer training and progression. Employers need to facilitate employee training opportunities, working with employers and parents to develop skills and qualifications to help low-paid workers out of the no pay-low pay cycle. Stormont needs to work with employers and their organisations to ensure that all work provides training pathways to improvement.
Address the lack of quality affordable childcare:
The scarcity and high cost of childcare in Northern Ireland clearly makes it more difficult for parents to engage in paid employment. As researchers Horgan and Monteith note, there are a number of ways in which the Stormont Assembly could address this:
* increase the provision of subsidised childcare to make it affordable to all;
* extend the hours provided under the offer to all three- and four-year-olds of a nursery place;
* expand SureStart childcare provision to 20 hours a week; and
* commit to providing a children’s centre in every community
Investment in childcare will bring a range of benefits, including the creation of much-needed jobs in childcare.
Provide access to leisure and social activities for poorer young people:
The Executive needs to develop a Youth Action Plan, which should include greatly increased investment in youth services, particularly in the most disadvantaged areas, to provide young people with positive role models within their communities. It must also address ways of giving poorer young people access to positive social and leisure activities.
Issued: 24th July 2012
Director of Public Health annual report 2011, by the Directorate of Public Health, Thursday, 14 June 2012.
Online at http://www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/director-public-health-annual-report-2011
What can we do to tackle child poverty in Northern Ireland? By Goretti Horgan and Marina Monteith, 12 November 2009.
Online at http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/child-poverty-in-northern-ireland