Who is following whose lead?

Reader WJ has sent an interesting piece that points to the massaging of unemployment figures from the folks on the hill, seems to show that Unions have been following after éirígí in recognising and raising the issue and also points to how the lack of a true opposition at Stormont means these negatives will rarely get raised by elected representatives. I have printed the full text of relevant links as comparison of the detail is revealing, WJ’s thoughts below the fold:

‘Who is following whose lead?’ – by WJ

Below is a series of statements/press releases (with dates or links added) which are very interesting in showing the way that issues have been raised by “dissenters” illustrating the non-impact of “devolution” upon ordinary, working class communities, families and individuals, and then how the trades unions are almost forced into playing catch-up. (Its interesting when one checks the dates)

If you take time to read all the stuff below, its clear that the Trade Union movement in the north recently had to play catch-up to éirígí. And I doubt if éirígí has anywhere near the amount of full-time/part-time staff that the unions have ( thats if it has any members in f/t or p/t paid positions at all). 

An interesting point may be – not why so-called “dissidents” ARE “dissenters” – but why are those who were among the “non-dissenting” cheerleaders for the GFA and St Andrews on behalf of the wider populace now recognising that both agreements have changed nothing for the ordinary five-eights.

SEPTEMBER 15th

éirígí – Stormont Isn’t Working for the 100,000 Out of Work

As Britain’s Stormont administration resumes this month, the impotency of its politicians in the face of the crisis in capitalism continues unabated.

Despite a recession affecting greater numbers of people than officially admitted, the Stormont parties collude to conceal both their own ineptitude and the full extent of that crisis from the population.

Numerous adjustments to the official definition of ‘unemployment’ were previously made by various British governments, which revised figures downwards by moving unemployed people on to other social welfare benefits – to class them as “economically inactive” rather than unemployed.

Today, Stormont’s politicians use the same methodology to mask the full extent of unemployment. They have learned well how to mimic Whitehall’s sleight-of-hand tricks.

The most recent employment figures for the North put the ‘official’ unemployment rate at 6.7 per cent or 51,000.

Buried among those official statistics was a shocking acceptance by the Six-County Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment that among those classed as “economically inactive” are another 50,000 people who are seeking work.

Just as Stormont’s increasing budgetary deficit is hidden from view by private finance initiatives, 50,000 people were hidden from public view in official unemployment figures.

Add these 50,000 ‘lost’ people to the official unemployed figure and one discovers at least 101,000 men, women and young people seeking work in the Six Counties.

In real terms, unemployment is actually over 13.0% – a rate not seen since the early 1990s – putting the North’s unemployment levels above that of the Twenty-Six Counties (12.4 per cent) and the European Union (9.5 per cent) for August 2009.

However, no party or elected representative at Stormont is prepared to break ranks to challenge this cover-up.

To admit that unemployment is at such high levels would run counter to the ‘good news’ stories and artificially manufactured political deadlocks which Stormont prefers.

Some recent examples demonstrate just how scarce jobs have become in the Six Counties. One supermarket chain revealed in August that a staggering 3,500 people applied for 172 jobs at two new stores it had opened. Another stated that, since August last year, it had received over 9,000 applications for just 81 new jobs.

And it’s not just those of working age that the Stormont political class are failing.

Two years ago, Barnardo’s, in the It Doesn’t Happen Here report, showed that over 100,000 children and young people in the Six Counties were living in officially defined levels of poverty, with a further 44,000 children and young people living in severe poverty. That already shamefully high figure can only have increased due to rising unemployment and high food and fuel prices, leading to even more families struggling to cover the cost of basic household bills.

An Audit Office report in 2008 found that 34 per cent of homes in the Six Counties were experiencing fuel poverty. In 225,000 homes, 10 per cent or more of household income was spent on energy bills to maintain an acceptable level of temperature in the home. Since that report’s publication, the effects of the economic situation have undoubtedly drawn more households into the fuel poverty trap.

In July this year, Age Concern/Help the Aged published research showing that the numbers of elderly people living in poverty in the Six Counties was also under-estimated by Stormont.

One of the researchers, Professor Eileen Evason said: “The figures that the Department (of Social Development) relies on count Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance as income but do not take account of the increased costs associated with living with a disability and as a result underestimates the number of people living in poverty, in particular single female pensioners.”

If official calculations included the costs associated with living with a disability, the number of pensioner households unable to make ends meet would increase from 24 per cent to 30 per cent. The number of single female pensioner households in poverty would rise from 33 per cent to 41 per cent.

In housing, 38,923 applicants are now on the waiting list for social housing, 20,481 of whom are in urgent housing need. Almost 9,000 families were also deemed to be homeless during the past year and required immediate assistance and support.

The truth is that the social and economic fabric of the Six-County state is in complete disarray and the Stormont assembly is unable to provide any meaningful or effective solutions.

Instead, it opened business with yet another conveniently created political mini-storm in a teacup while people on low incomes are being financially squeezed and increasing numbers of children, adults and older people are falling into poverty.

Similarly, no party in Stormont is prepared to confront the key issue of how much people earn when they are in work.

In the Six Counties, the well-off still retain the largest slice of the financial cake. Meanwhile, the lower paid, when not faced with pay cuts, struggle to survive with paltry pay rises to meet huge increases in household bills.

In 1990, the highest earners in the Six Counties received, on average, at least £300 per week more than the lowest paid workers. In 2007, when Stormont was restored, that gap had risen to £600 per week. And that does not include the continuing unfair wage differential between men and women.

All the Stormont parties are keen to hide the stark reality of these actual unemployment figures, poverty levels and the wages gap – not only for economic reasons but because of the political signals these figures send out – a message that the Six-County state is an impractical and ineffectual economic entity based upon a misguided philosophy that partition can be made to work.

Stormont never worked for working class communities in the past. It’s not working for them now.

Over 225,000 homes not able to provide adequate heating are proof that Stormont isn’t working.

Almost 150,000 children living in poverty are proof that Stormont isn’t working.

Tens of thousands of pensioners living in poverty are proof that Stormont isn’t working.

Almost 40,000 people seeking public housing are proof that Stormont isn’t working.

Over 100,000 people who want work but who can’t get jobs are proof that Stormont literally isn’t working for them.

Stormont’s economic agenda is designed in Britain and implemented without question or dissent by local politicians. As the British Labour government (and increasingly more likely, a new British Tory government) prepares to introduce widespread cuts across all public sector services, Stormont will dutifully follow suit through ‘modernisation agendas’, ‘health service streamlining’ and ‘investment incentives’.

The reality for people in the Six Counties will be a massive, negative impact on housing, employment, health and social services, with continued community disintegration and housing shortages, reduced services for the ill and vulnerable, and further financial pay offs to companies through the privatisation of public services with rock-bottom wages. Stormont won’t be able to provide any alternative.

The clear and increasingly obvious signal is that a new political, economic and social order is required right across Ireland to bring radical, meaningful and effective improvement to the lives of working class people. Stormont cannot deliver on that and therein lies its most fundamental flaw.

————————————————————————————————————-

SEPTEMBER 29th

BBC –NI jobless figures ‘being spun’

The trade union movement has accused the government of spinning Northern Ireland’s unemployment figures.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions said the government should “come clean” on the real extent of the jobless problem.

In its monthly figures, the government tends to concentrate on one measure of unemployment that shows the NI rate as among the lowest regions in the UK.

The Department of Enterprise rejected the trade union claims and said its statistics are presented transparently.

In terms of rising unemployment, Northern Ireland is one of the worst regions in the UK, ahead of Scotland and Wales.

These figures are not fully explained in the government’s monthly press release on unemployment levels.

“ The Minister for Investment, Trade and Enterprise, Arlene Foster, ought to be more upfront with the details of the downturn ”
Peter Bunting Trade unionist

On top of the official headline jobless figure of 52,700, almost as many people again are not on the unemployment register but would like to work.

According to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, this brings the total number in Northern Ireland seeking jobs to just over 100,000 which is almost double the official figure.

Trade unionist Peter Bunting accused policy makers of “spinning the statistics.”

Mr Bunting said the rate of youth unemployment was one of the highest in the UK, a figure which he said was mitigated by having more than 15,000 people aged under 25 in training schemes.

At the same time, he said Department of Enterprise press releases constantly highlighted that unemployment in Northern Ireland was the “second lowest” of the UK’s regions.

‘Crisis levels’

He said these statistics taken from the monthly Labour Force Survey deserved equal billing with the headline unemployment figure.

“The message seems to be that the situation is bad, but not as bad as in the Republic of Ireland or in other regions of the UK,” he said.

“The Minister for Investment, Trade and Enterprise, Arlene Foster, ought to be more upfront with the details of the downturn.

“Spinning the statistics may make some policy-makers feel better, but the facts are that unemployment is at crisis levels, particularly in the manufacturing, construction and retail sectors.

“The trade union movement is not saying that there are quick fixes for the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland.

“We are saying, however, that unless and until we can face the real extent of unemployment, then we cannot be serious about finding workable solutions which will deliver jobs and prosperity.”

A Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment spokesperson said official unemployment figures are produced in line with the International Labour Office’s (ILO) recommendations and definitions.

“This ensures that the official NI Labour Force Survey (LFS) measure of unemployment is consistent with international standards and is produced in a transparent and objective manner,” the spokesperson added.

“Unemployment statistics issued by DETI are also produced to National Statistics standards, which promote the integrity and independence of official statistics.”

—————————————————————————————————————-

OCTOBER 2nd

éirígí – ICTU Vindicates éirígí Position on Jobless Cover-Up

éirígí has welcomed the newly adopted position by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that the Stormont administration is refusing to come clean on the fact that the economic crisis in the Six Counties is twice as bad than has been officially acknowledged.

Earlier this month, éirígí published figures showing that over 100,000 people are presently seeking work in the Six Counties – almost double the level admitted in any official headline figures published by Britain’s Stormont administration.

éirígí general secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith explained, “The official Six-County unemployment rate for September was announced as 52,700.

?irígí published evidence at the time showing that those figures were simply untrue. Stormont, on a monthly basis, consistently fails to include over 50,000 other men, women and young people in the North acknowledged as seeking work but who are in receipt of welfare benefits other than those included in the unemployed claimant count.

“When those figures are combined, it shows that over 100,000 people are seeking work. That shocking total equates to an unemployment figure in real terms of over 13 per cent in the North – a figure higher than that in the Twenty Six Counties and well above the average in the European Union.

“Indeed, we showed that, across Europe, only Spain, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are experiencing higher levels of unemployment.”

Breandán continued: “It is clear that the Stormont administration has quietly decided to adopt Thatcherite-type policies of massaging employment figures to deliberately mislead the public about the full extent of the economic crisis and the soul-destroying impact which that is having on working class communities right across the North.

“Not one MLA or political party has been prepared to break ranks about this cover-up.

?irígí welcomes the fact that the Irish Congress of Trades Unions has now decided to challenge the false economic picture painted by the Stormont spin machine. ICTU’s stance vindicates the position adopted by éirígí and underscores the figures which we made public, showing the true extent of the economic crisis.”

The assistant general secretary of ICTU, Peter Bunting, accused Stormont’s policy makers of “spinning the statistics”. Earlier this week, he said: “Spinning the statistics may make some policy-makers feel better, but the facts are that unemployment is at crisis levels, particularly in the manufacturing, construction and retail sectors.”

Meanwhile, new research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show that so-called safety net benefits, such as Tax Credits, cover less than half the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) for working-age people in the Six Counties without children, and about two-thirds of the MIS for those with children.

That research also damningly shows that, for those in work, the minimum wage is too low for most people to reach the minimum income standard with a single earner in the family. The Rowntree Foundation’s figures also show that almost all those in the North who fall below 60 per cent of median income – the main poverty line – are unable to reach a minimum standard of living.

All of this is in stark contrast to the selfish lavishness of Stormont’s 108 MLAs who, as new figures show, pocketed almost £8 million or an average of £74,000 each in expenses during the last financial year. Given that, in the first three months of the current financial year, the figure has already reached £2.5 million, MLAs are on course to collectively claim in excess of £10 million in expenses by the end of March 2010.

It is obvious that all those involved in the Stormont project are extremely keen to minimise the stark realities behind the unemployment figures, poverty levels and the earnings gap, and it’s not only to hide their own incompetence.

They recognise that these figures, which they have tried hard to keep well hidden, also send out a very clear political signal – that the Six-County state is an impractical and ineffectual economic entity, incapable of delivering real change or improvement to the lives of working-class people.

As éirígí has consistently pointed out, Stormont and partition never worked in the interests of the working class in the past. Tens of thousands of people being forced to exist below the official poverty line is proof that Stormont is not working for them. Over 100,000 men, women and young people who want to work, but who can’t secure employment, are also proof that Stormont and the capitalist economic system aren’t capable of working for them either.

————————————————————————————————————


OCTOBER 5th

UNISON 

Following the Barnett Review and Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports with regards growing poverty and financial uncertainty, Patricia Mc Keown – UNISON regional Secretary issued the following letter on behalf of UNISON to Assembly First Minister Peter Robinson.

Dear Minister

CALL FOR CRUCIAL RETHINK BY THE EXECUTIVE

Yesterday two significant launches took place simultaneously at the Stormont Hotel. One launch was the Barnett Review of the Economic Strategy.  The other was a critical update on the State of Poverty in Northern Ireland by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Both were attended by Ministers. Both are inextricably interlinked.  However the link is not made in current NI Government policy or its implementation.  

Barnett demonstrates that we have thrown away public money through Invest NI’s unproductive support to certain sections of the private sector. Rowntree confirms the critical need to invest in health, education, housing, and childcare to lift the population out of poverty and inequality for the benefit of all.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation presented its research into a Minimum Income Standard for Northern Ireland.  This follows similar research for Britain.  It confirms that a minimum standard of £7 per hour is necessary throughout the UK to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living – a living wage.
 By this measurement 50% of the entire population of Northern Ireland (including those on benefits and the low paid) falls below the standard. This shocking figure coupled with previous research by Government and NGOs on the profile and location of those experiencing inequality presents the Executive with a stark challenge. 

 Half of the population is now most adversely impacted on by the historic under-funding of Health and Social Services, Education and Housing. Real investment to change outcomes has not been made in these areas.  The most chronic under-funding is in the health service.  The gaps between money available and actual need include:
7   17% deficit on acute care in hospitals (DHSSPS figures)
? 30% deficit on services to children including health and social care (Children’s Commissioner)
? 35% deficit on primary care including mental health (DHSSPS figures)

That under-funding, combined with the simplistic blanket application of 3% UK Treasury cuts is now compounding major adverse impact on this half of the population.  It prevents economic growth and serves to destabilise the Peace Process.

We have been told that funds are not available to meet this challenge.  However the Barnett Review clearly indicates that there is money in the system.  For example the £1bn Invest NI spend with its focus on low paid, low status jobs has served to increase the proportion of the population falling below minimum income standards.  Future spend should be effectively redirected into health & social care to the benefit of that large section of the population most in need. 
Barnett and Rowntree when taken together serve to demonstrate that the crucial links between government economic and social policy are not being made and that the policy and legislative tools available to Government have been ignored.

A proper equality impact assessment of social and economic strategy and the budget would have enabled those links to be made.  In economic terms it would have benefited innovator, entrepreneur and worker alike.  It would have challenged the spending on failed economic initiatives and prevented the reduction of critical health, social care, education and housing budgets. This requires a full response from the Executive and the Assembly.

It is internationally recognised that unequal societies are bad for everyone – rich as well as poor. Northern Ireland is now the most unequal society in the UK. Tackling inequality and discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity and socio economic rights for the most deprived in our society is the key to underpinning the Peace Process and growing the economy.  It is a core promise made in our peace agreements by all parties. The overwhelming evidence is now before the Executive that inequality, left unchallenged, is now growing at an alarming pace.

We understand that the Executive will shortly consider a ‘mini budget’ designed to make further cuts in public services to offer further ‘props’ to multinationals.  This is despite the fact that the public service is the only thing shielding us from the worst impact of the global recession and despite the fact that the NI economy will fail without a buoyant public sector.

We urge the Executive instead to take immediate action.  Public spending must be urgently redirected to focus directly on the health needs and care deficits of the people. 

An Executive directive should be issued to all Government Departments and public bodies on the requirement to resource and fully implement Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and the anti-poverty strategy  should be placed on a statutory basis.

The Executive must hold to account and restructure or abolish Invest NI and other economic agencies which have failed to produce quality economic outcomes.

Yours sincerely
PATRICIA McKEOWN
Regional Secretary
UNISON

  • cut the bull

    Interesting reading and a wealth of information.Not much use making people aware of this, if as is claimed no parties in Stormont are willing to challenge the status quo,while at the same time no one is willing to challenge those politicians at the polls.
    Is this not the time for a left wing socialist alternitive in Stormont as an effective opposition.
    You don’t have to become part of the problem,to be part of the solution.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Mark
    You forgot to mention the large number of economically inactive people ’employed’ in the indoor relief scheme that is the public sector. That should add another 50,000 at least.

  • Mark McGregor

    Glen,

    None of this is my work. The blog is courtesy of WJ (and if he ever gets back to me he’ll get a fuller credit). The hard content from éirígí, ICTU and Unison.

  • Greenflag

    Mark ,

    Interesting reading but not surprising . Governments everywhere in the western developed world have been massaging the unemployment figures to put a good spin on their period in Government . Do you really expect that any NI Government can do much about this ‘collapse’ of a public sector dependent state ?

    In the USA I read the official rate of unemployment is 9.7%. That figure does not include the tens of millions who are working less than 40 hours a week and does not include those who have stopped searching for non existent jobs. The real figure for USA unemployment is probably somewhere between 15% and 20%

    Yes capitalism is facing a major crisis but you’d never guess it with the Dow Jones now breaking the 10,000 mark . Governments do not create jobs other than those in the public sector who then have to be paid for by ‘surplus’ taxes taken from the private sector . When the private sector is to say the least anaemic as is the case in NI and the investment climate is poor there is not much any Stormont Government can do except try to minimise ‘hardship ‘

    They could of course create a new Ministry for Hardship and use that as a trade off for J & P 😉

    The ‘traditional ‘ socialist left wing solutions are unlikely to make a bad situation any better not in these days of instant capital flight and globalised economics .

    For NI’s Government they can at least claim that they have to wait for Westminster to lead the way ?