Peace Monitoring Report: Should there be a strategy to tackle long-term catholic unemployment and deprivation?

One of the inconvenient truths of the peace and political processes to date has been the fact that all available statistical evidence continues to confirm that catholics remain considerably more disadvantaged in socio-economic terms than their protestant neighbours in the north of Ireland.

The Community Relations Council’s Peace Monitoring Report reaffirms this fact, highlighting that the proportion of people living in low-income households is considerably greater amongst catholics (26%) than protestants (16%.) The report also confirms that “on every indicator the proportion of catholics affected is higher than the proportion of Protestants.”

Yet, as Alan correctly noted in his earlier blog addressing this publication, little is often made of this fact, something the eagle-eyed Jude Collins noted in a blog in recent weeks:

“Labour Force Survey Religion Report 2010” from the OFMDFM  says that 61% of long-term unemployed people are Catholic;  the 2008 Annual Average of Long-Term Unemployed, from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, showed that 29 of  the 38 electoral wards most affected by unemployment across Northern Ireland  have at least 85% Catholic population.”

But what is more remarkable is that this fact continues to be overlooked and often simply ignored so that an alternative narrative can be spun.

Take last Wednesday’s Belfast Telegraph. Without reference to the glaring differences with regard to the levels of deprivation facing both communities, the Leader column in that day’s edition boldly declared on the back of this report that:

 “Of course we have known for a long time that Protestant working-class males are particularly disadvantaged…..While the gains of one community or class should not be interpreted as being at the expense of their sectarian opposites, it is evident that the peace dividend has not been evenly spread.”

It has similarly- and incorrectly- been argued elsewhere for long that protestant working-class males are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to education in spite of the fact that the evidence clearly indicates that catholic males continue to make up a greater proportion of those failing to obtain the basic educational qualifications- something once again reaffirmed in the CRC document.

That is not to say there is not a problem facing a worryingly high number of working class protestant communities. Rather, it is to state that this problem is one shared by many working class catholic communities.

Yet as Jude Collins noted in his blog, the draft regeneration plan for Derry City includes a strategy to target protestant male underachievement in education, but no similar strategy appears to be in place for tackling long-term unemployment amongst catholics.

Which raises the question: should there be a specific strategy aimed at tackling long-term unemployment and deprivation in catholic communities?

And, if not, then why not? After all, if a regeneration plan in an overwhelmingly catholic city consisting of multiple wards with chronic levels of socio-economic deprivation have in place a strategy to target exclusively protestant male underachievement in education, then why shouldn’t we expect a credible strategy to be put in place to address long term catholic unemployment and deprivation?

Alan has noted how Sinn Fein and the SDLP have consistently failed to devise and implement strategies to specifically tackle these issues, whilst the issue of the over-representation of catholics amongst the most impoverished within our society is not something which has ever particularly vexed unionist politicians of any hue.

Thus it would appear to be the case that the matter has fallen between the twin stools of nationalist incompetence and unionist disinterest.

Indeed, the evidence from the last DUP Assembly election manifesto is that they prefer to ignore these facts and instead concentrate on focused improvement strategies which have the PUL community as its exclusive target.

Not surprising, I hear you say.

However, if political parties are ever to move beyond the symbolic outreach phase of attending each other’s sporting fixtures (an albeit positive development in its own right-revisited again this evening), then support for such initiatives is perhaps the best measure of a willingness to move out of a comfort zone.