Disadvantaged children brought up in poverty in Northern Ireland risk being drawn into continuing political violence, according to University of Ulster social policy researcher Goretti Horgan.
Addressing an social policy research seminar in Belfast today, Ms Horgan, who is a lecturer in Social Policy and ARK Associate said that as a society emerging from conflict, the views and experiences of young people living in the most disadvantaged parts of Northern Ireland should be cause for alarm.
“The most disadvantaged areas of the region are also areas where the conflict was at its most intense and young people living there are less likely than other young people to gain educational qualifications or to have much hope of a better future.
“While all young people living in poverty are excluded from commercial social activities like cinema, bowling etc, those living in long-term or ‘persistent’ poverty are often excluded even from birthday parties and day trips.”
Ms Horgan continued: “Young people being socially excluded even within communities where most young people face some social exclusion is dangerous for all societies. Such young people come to see themselves as outsiders even within their own community and this can make them prey to criminal elements that offer them a role in life.
“A range of research has now shown that young people who live in areas where conflict had been intense are more likely to have emotional and mental health problems, even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; they are more likely to be victims of continuing violence; to be drawn into riot situations and at risk of being drawn into paramilitary activity.”
Ms Horgan said she was aware that people may question if any family in Northern Ireland is really living in poverty since figures are for relative poverty but responded to this scepticism by citing benefit and wage levels.
“In January 2010, a couple family with two children receive in total £230.47 in benefits – this includes child tax credit and child benefit, but not Housing Benefit. Even managing to find a job does not always help. Half of all children living in poverty in Northern Ireland live in a family where one adult is in paid employment. But when one in six of full-time workers here earn less than £7 an hour, it means that even a 40-hour week brings in less than £280 a week. Thus, those living on benefits are surviving on approximately £130, those on low pay £80 less that the Minimum Income Standard for a couple with two children.”
The Minimum Income Standard constructed for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation based on what members of the public think people need for a minimum, socially-acceptable standard of living, is £360.18 a week for a couple with two children (exclusive of housing costs and child care).
ARK (Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive) is a wide-ranging collection of information and research resources run in collaboration by staff at the University of Ulster and QUB. Its mission is to make social science information on Northern Ireland easily available to the widest possible spread of people located in Northern Ireland and further afield.