One very obvious issue that was largely ignored in both the summary conclusions of Paul Nolan’s 3rd Annual Peace Monitoring Report and the subsequent media headlines relating to its publication was the confirmation yet again that catholic communities predominate the lists of the most socio -economic deprived communities in the north. On all measures-from unemployment to income, health and life expectancy- catholic communities are hit hardest. That’s an important and disturbing headline conclusion, not least for once again exposing the myth of the loyalist grievance narrative.
Nolan’s report contained a section on ‘Child Poverty’ which included this:
The End Child Poverty campaign maps poverty in the UK each
year, based on an analysis by researchers from Loughborough
University. This draws upon tax data and the most recent report,
issued in February 2013, placed West Belfast as the parliamentary
constituency with the second highest child poverty, at 46 per cent
(Manchester Central had the highest). At local-authority level,
Derry was ranked fourth (35 per cent), Belfast fifth (34 per cent)
and Strabane 14th (32 per cent), giving Northern Ireland three
entries in a dubious top 20.
On every single one of the deprivation indicators outlined in the Family Resources Survey (2011/12) relating to how incomes impact on key aspects of family expenditure, and included in Nolan’s document, the percentage of catholics without financial resources to deal with day to day issues arising was significantly greater than that of protestants.
Nolan’s Report also included a NICVA-commissioned analysis of the impact of the British Government’s welfare reform package on NI, and the results decisively show that the areas worst impacted will be those predominantly catholic communities which are already the most deprived socio-economic areas:
The effects of the changes are geographically uneven, with three
local-government districts hit hardest: Derry, Strabane and Belfast.
In these three areas the loss averaged across the working-age
population is over £800 a year, with Derry reaching the £900 mark.
Indeed, the report shows that the eight local government councils that will be most adversely impacted by the proposals are all majority catholic (barring Belfast, which is more catholic than protestant), whilst all seven of the councils least impacted are majority protestant.
Whilst these may reflect the existing pattern of higher socio-economic deprivation amongst catholics, it also indicates that the proposed impact of the welfare reform agenda will be clearly to exacerbate the income divisions and make catholics even more deprived vis a vis the rest of society in Northern Ireland.
In both the research pertaining to child poverty and the impact of welfare reform, the evidence is clear that Derry and Strabane remain the hardest hit outside of the majority catholic inner-city urban communities of Belfast that predominate those most socio-economically deprived.
Yet there remains little by way of evidence to suggest that there is anything resembling a plan to use the objective criteria widely available to devise government strategies to impact upon the patterns of deprivation in a positive manner for the poorest communities.
Which brings me back to the question posed in the title of this thread. Why are there no warnings- nor successive days of media stories and editorials- focusing on the need to tackle greater levels of deprivation to improve the prospect of developing and building a better, more stable society?
The only possible conclusion that can be made is that there is no direct link between levels of deprivation and the levels of communal unrest and political instability being played out over the past couple of years as, were that so, then the unrest would be occurring predominantly in catholic, nationalist areas.
Political leadership within nationalism has ensured that continuing levels of greater catholic socio-economic deprivation has not translated itself into the lethal cocktail of communal alienation, distrust for authority and a reversion to fundamentalist outlooks which has defined the descent into the rudderless state of many loyalist communities today.
Nolan’s focus on the Derry City of Culture campaign was instructive in this regard as it highlighted political nationalism’s capacity and willingness to lead from the front, tackling difficult issues in pursuit of an objective which had positive repercussions politically, economically and socially.
But he was wrong to attribute this merely to the fact that the comfortably nationalist majority are not demographically threatened in Derry.
The demographics of Carrickfergus, Ballyclare, Portadown, Larne & Lisburn remain comfortably majority unionist yet the level of communal ‘generosity’ in Derry towards expressions of the minority community in these unionist heartlands would be unheard of.
Yet the very same nationalist political leadership (and others) has also failed to deliver the type of comprehensive policy programme aimed at tackling the long term deprivation borne out through these statistics that would be required to address the causes and consequences of socio-economic deprivation that leave the majority of the poorest communities (ie catholics) perpetually poorer, whilst also improving the lot of those smaller in number (but equally affected) working class protestant communities who feature in the deprivation stats alongside their catholic neighbours.
Addressing inequalities may not actually be pivotal to securing the peace nor stabilising political institutions now, but demanding and developing a political culture in which objective criteria, as opposed to sectarian bartering, forms the basis of government policy and decision making at the highest political level most certainly will be in the years to come.
N.B. The story that did dominate the headlines in the aftermath of the Nolan Report related to an issue close to my heart, educational underachievement, and that will be addressed in a forthcoming piece.