Ulster researchers Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, Dr Alexandra Chapman, Professor Ann-Marie Gray, Goretti Horgan, Professor Gráinne McKeever, and Dr Mark Simpson have drafted this submission on the cost of living crisis in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is a low-income economy with high levels of economic inactivity. The consequences of this impact particularly on women as carers, who are provided with little in the way of support for childcare or social care, creating additional structural barriers to paid work. Levels of financial resilience are low and individuals in Northern Ireland are at a higher risk of destitution than citizens in any other part of the UK. Higher energy costs are due to a heavy reliance on domestic oil heating, meaning that the UK-wide energy payments are problematic both in terms of being a poor fit with the energy use profile in Northern Ireland and the administration issues that have continued to delay the UK government’s energy payment to individuals in Northern Ireland. Prior to the current inaction of the devolved institutions, the Northern Ireland government had commissioned a series of reports to address the specific problems of poverty in Northern Ireland. These included devolved social security solutions that would enable poverty to be mitigated within a framework of social security parity with Britain.
These reports provide both costed and cost-neutral solutions but, without an Executive to approve their implementation, the proposed support packages for those most at risk of extreme poverty and destitution can offer no relief. Other support and infrastructure services, from the Community and Voluntary Sector to mental health provision, face continued financial uncertainty and underinvestment. The overall absence of governance, however, means that there is no political accountability for problems that could be mitigated now and, in the future, and the burden of this will fall most heavily on those who can least bear it.
The three, core take-aways from this submission are:
- There is an urgent need to implement the Northern Ireland social security reforms that can provide some financial relief for those in extreme poverty, and which can operate within the parameters of social security parity and as dedicated costed measures. This will improve income security and will support the prevention of destitution during the cost-of-living crisis.
- There needs to be critical investment in social infrastructure that is currently contributing to higher levels of economic inactivity and inhibiting economic growth, particularly around childcare and educational opportunities, both of which lag significantly behind provision in Britain.
- There should be financial stability for services and organisations that provide support to help people manage and mitigate the impacts of poverty which are being exacerbated by the Cost-of-Living Crisis.