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A new research report published today by Ulster University reveals that even before the current cost of living crisis many households in NI were struggling to make ends meet.

Researchers found that in the last quarter of 2021 just over 24% of households turned their heating down or off even though their house was cold and over a quarter of households couldn’t afford to pay an unexpected but necessary £500 bill.

As part of the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, the research was collated at a time when people in Northern Ireland had experienced two years of the Covid 19 pandemic, energy and food costs were beginning to rise but while Universal Credit recipients were still receiving the £20 uplift introduced during the pandemic.

The research also found that 62% of people do not think that the Northern Ireland Executive is doing enough to address poverty.

Professor Ann Marie Gray, co-director of ARK, the joint Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast centre which runs the survey, commented:

These findings come at a pivotal time when families across Northern Ireland are facing unprecedented increases in the cost of the basics. With inflation expected to surpass ten per cent in the coming weeks these findings raise significant concerns about financial precarity of low-income families.

As food, energy and fuel prices continue to soar, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research estimates that over 90,000 people in Northern Ireland face food and energy bills greater than their disposable income.

One of the findings that any incoming Executive will have to consider is that few believe that the government is doing all it can to reduce poverty. An Anti-Poverty Strategy is long overdue as are other social inclusion strategies.

A new Assembly and Executive face important and challenging decisions on how Northern Ireland addresses poverty in the future.

Pat Austin, Director of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) NI said:

These findings come as no surprise. Already, household budgets are stretched to their limit. We expect to see this manifesting itself in increased admissions to hospitals and an increase in excess winter deaths.  Government needs to get an urgent intervention out to homes now, ahead of the further energy increases afoot; a fuel poverty strategy needs to be established at pace."

Respondents showed strong support for a social security system that enables people to meet their basic living needs and that benefits should enable a life lived in dignity.

Dr Mark Simpson, Senior Law Lecturer at Ulster University commented:

Over the last decade we have often seen that some portray social security as a luxury that society can ill afford. These findings show that people in Northern Ireland recognise the importance of a safety net that ensures everyone can meet their basic needs and have a life lived in dignity.”

The full report can be accessed on our ARK's website.