The secret of surviving the cuts is easy – just don’t be poor…

It is fair to say that things are going to get worse. A friend in the civil service says they have been told to implement 4% cuts this year, 8% next year and 4% the year after. Education has a 105 million black hole. Health is getting 70 million chopped off its budget. And all this is before Brexit even happens which depending on your view shall either be calamitous or the making of us.

My background is working class but now I have joined the ranks of the middle class it is interesting to observe how most of these cuts will not make a blind bit of difference to those who rule Northern Ireland. Now that I move in the circles of the people who make the decisions I can see how during good times or bad they are completely insulated from it all.

Take health. A lot of civil servants are part of Benenden private health insurance. Need to see a consultant or have an operation? No problem you can be zoomed to the top of the list. For everything else, there is no shortage of private health clinics up and down the Malone and Lisburn Roads that are happy to treat you today as long as they can swipe your credit card on the way out.

When it comes to education while we do have some private schools there is no real need when we have our Grammar schools. The middle classes do love their Grammars. They may be unfair but as an ex-grammar school boy myself, it is hard to argue with the fact that they do give you a great education and unless you are a complete chump you are guaranteed entrance into University. If there are cuts to school budgets well-heeled parents don’t mind firing in a few hundred quid to keep up standards.

As for lifestyle and cost of living, this is where Northern Ireland really comes into its own. If you have any kind of decent job Northern Ireland is a great place to live. Housing is cheap, relative to the rest of the UK or the Republic of Ireland. For £150k to -£200k you can get a lovely semi in Belfast. This would barely buy you a bedsit in London or Dublin. Eating out and entertainment is great value – £15 will get you two courses and a drink in many a fine establishment in Belfast.

And in your free time, you have a massive range of beaches, mountains and more practically on your doorstep. If you are a senior civil servant living the high life in North Down the lives of people in council estates are as remote to you as Amazon tribespeople.  Administering a cut is nothing more than a few taps on the keyboard.

This post is not intended to be smug. I have a social conscience and it troubles me there are people out there who will literally die due to cuts. There are old people out there who live on their own and they are lucky if they get a home help for 10 mins a day. There are people living in pain and misery as they languish on waiting lists. Kids are going to school hungry. I can only imagine the utterly miserable monotony of being poor.

Nor do I think the people who make decisions are completely uncaring. They are good people who mean well, but human nature being what it is it is hard to relate to people and situations that are alien to you.

Lastly, I don’t think it’s all about the money. The big issue is our culture of comfort and conformity. People hate change so we just tend to bumble along. Our health and education systems are largely unchanged in 70 years. It is the 21st century and we are still using the models of the last century. To paraphrase Seamus Heaney, the motto of Northern Ireland seems to be “Whatever you do, do nothing”. If you are living a good life why rock the boat?

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  • Thank you so much for share.

  • the rich get richer

    Why should anything change . Sure the Rich are doing great and that’s the most important thing .

    Things can only get better for ; The Rich .

    Don’t change anything : The Rich are doing Great .

  • The ongoing saga of the Stormont charade makes not one iota of difference to the daily stuggle of the majority of people just to get by. And as referred to above – to the basics of life – health, education, housing and food.
    Neither the DUP nor SF have any intention whatsoever of changing anything. They cloak their pro-capitalism in the sectarian diversion. They perpetuate sectarianism as a deliberate cynical strategy.

  • john millar

    Shock horror some people pay for private healthcare and parents do the best they can for their children

    Then there is the biased education system that is only available to those passing an examination system available to anyone.

    Look elswhere

  • Brian O’Neill

    The transfer tests the education board told schools not to practice for? The test that costs money to take? The test middle class parents get their kids tutored for?

    Yup, it’s really open to all.

  • Tutoring isn’t any use for an IQ test though. Practice 3 times and its enough. Of course, you can practice more to salve your conscious, but your pocket isn’t being emptied for anything more than that.

  • john millar

    1 There is no charge to parents for their child to take the test

    2 What part of ” parents do the best they can for their children” is unfair

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “If you are a senior civil servant living the high life in North Down the lives of people in council estates are as remote to you as Amazon tribes people” So Sadly True ! Picture shows North Belfast Foodbank where them sorry Amazon Tribespeople have to go to get food for them and their children to survive ! The country needs to hang its head in shame as to what society is down to !

  • murdockp

    This is an interesting post and as ever raises many more questions that ministers and political parties have ducked for years.

    Firstly, in NI it is fact that we spend £2,000 per man, women and child more than the rest of the UK and ROI. We also have the highest business rates in the UK.

    This was never going to continue as we normalise our society and our politicians are treating us like fools when they use the words Austerity or are seen standing outside protesting outside a public building which is no longer needed or fit for purpose.

    Take Sin Fein, if they really wanted a United Ireland they would be driving down public spending to align our public expenditure to the same levels as the country they wish us to join. This is common sense if one has an Irish Unification strategy, but no, they bleat the loudest about keeping spending where it is ensuring Irish Unification will never happen.

    Take the DUP who want us to maintain links and become even closer to the UK, but have just literally ‘shafted’ their ‘brothers’ to the tune of £1bn, hardly loyalty as they two want to keep things as they are and have never mooted us spending the same money per head as the rest of the UK with the classic lines ‘were special, 40 years of conflict banded out to defend our inefficiency.

    The fact is Northern Ireland has enough money sloshing arround, we just happen to waste so much of it. From paying out DLA to a fifth of the population, many of who are fit for work and five times the number of recipients relative to our population size as the rest of the UK through to a lack or outsourcing, competitive tendering, investment in technology, overstaffing and funding projects that should be the responsibility of the private sector and sporting bodies to deliver e.g. Ravenhill, Windsor Park, Casement Park, Waterfront Hall, etc the list goes on and on. How about NI water, Translink? Invest NI, RHI, there are money pits everywhere one looks.

    Other examples include failure to use government buildings to share different departments and even councils staff, In NI each has its own building, each full of back office staff and security guards etc. The duplication of roles never ends.

    We were told the super councils would be more efficient, but every single one of them employs more people than before their mergers.

    Other examples such as retiring Policemen and Fire Men at 55 is ridiculous when one considers the important role each member could play in performing important back office roles through to training and undertaking fire and crime prevention talks in the community.

    Standing down teachers for such long periods and paying them but not using them for other work of some kind is ridiculous, 10 weeks off in the summer on full pay? come on.

    Earlier this year, I watched the DOE erect a crash barrier on the road from Newry to Warrenpoint at a location when in my lifetime there has never been accident, the works were done in Feb / March so the budgets were spent, I shook my head as I watched another £250k spunked on a socially useless project.

    The public sector has brought this one on itself with its refusal to become more efficient and as ever it is the general public which suffers.

    Direct rule might be just the ticket to solve these problems as our politicians have not tackled any of these problems in any meaningful way so far.

  • Skibo

    John the cost comes form the tutoring and regardless of what Neon says, it does happen.
    The sitting of external exams will always lean towards those families that can afford the extra support.

  • Skibo

    How many exams are there? When I looked up the internet, it suggested a verbal reasoning paper, a nonverbal reasoning paper, an English paper and a Maths paper. That would not be a standard IQ test.

  • Aah times have changed. My comment was totally out of date! Still, I feel that the only fair and indeed the only normal test would be one which tested the children’s knowledge of the common curriculum of the P7 year. I hope that the 11+ actually does that!? (Does it?)

  • Skibo

    I think the problem that existed previously in primary schools was that the final year was geared to the passing of the 11+. The curriculum was set aside and children were trained how to pass tests rather than be given a good grounding for their introduction into the secondary school system.
    In the end, I think the education system itself is too geared towards producing robots who know how to pass tests at all levels, rather than how to resolve problems and create young adults with common sense to be able to handle work and life as a young adult.
    In this country we have a habit of treating pupils to technical colleges as university failures or we did in my time. Not sure if it has changed.
    Germany treat technical colleges and apprenticeships with respect. We would learn more from how other countries deal with the whole education system rather than tinkering with the edges.

  • murdockp

    To clichéd I am afraid, the elite rich are a distraction.

    I would be focusing on the higher earners in the civil service, councils, NHS, and middle classes in general. Technically not rich with Ferrari’s in the drive or homes in the south of france, but they have pay and pensions far greater than the job they are doing deserves. Do you think they give a damn about the general public?

  • sam mccomb

    I would dispute that the middle class is insulated from it all. I’ll start with health inequalities. This is usually taken to mean comparisons of life expectancy between and within countries and the period of life free from disability. It has been shown there is a “social gradient” marking life expectancy. The richer you are the longer you will live. Since you are in the middle, inevitably you will live a shorter life than the richest. Life expectancy of the poorest in some areas of the UK matches that of the Gaza Strip.

    Poverty and inequality are inextricably linked to health inequalities. At the molecular level the causes of premature death may be linked to the effects of chronic stress. Research points to the obvious answer: the redistribution of wealth, income and power. NI politics, being more occupied with identity and sectarianism, does not have much of a priority for tackling poverty. The middle class seem not to see the social disadvantages of poverty. There is a financial cost. Marmot’s review of inequalities attempted a calculation of the costs of health inequalities in E&W. Assuming that inequalities disappeared overnight (an impossibility – the calculation is to give an idea of the scale) productivity losses through premature death and disability were around £31-33 billion each year. Lost taxes and higher welfare payments were in range of £20 -32 billion per year.

    The more inequality exists in a society the greater are the levels of violence.

    NI has more economic power devolved to it than Scotland, for example. It could use those powers to redistribute power, wealth and income if there was a desire for it in the population. It is up to you if you want to do some campaigning or volunteering for that cause or whether expressing your discomfort/guilt ? is enough. Brexit will make matters worse.

  • Korhomme

    There’s no doubt that inequality of wealth and income is corrosive for those who aren’t in the top centiles; in particular, health outcomes are much worse.

    I’m very slowly reading through Walter Scheidel’s recent book ‘The Great Leveler’. It’s an historical description of inequality through the ages. He describes the ‘Four Horsemen’ as the only ways in which inequality has been reduced in the past; plagues, revolution, the collapse of the state, and major war. It seems that in ‘normal times’ inequality is inevitable, and necessary as a force for growth.

    So, chaps, what’s it to be? Man the barricades?

  • Abucs

    So we can agree that big government is a self serving parasite?

  • Surveyor

    You just have to look at the discrepancy of the dole. 75 quid a week here, 166 quid a week in the South. And to get that meagre amount you have to jump through hoops and endure weeks of waiting.

  • Skibo

    See for all this craic about working class and middle class, I have always considered myself as working class but as my wife and I both work we are not entitled to any benefits or tax credits and pay for everything. Maybe I am wrong but sometimes I think there is a zone in between being too well off for benefits and being comfortable and the strains of living in that zone are leading to such a stressful life that sometimes I wonder what is the point in trying to better yourself.
    The wages I would receive for my job in the South would be a third higher than what I get here and I believe I would not pay any more tax percentage wise as I do now.

  • Brian O’Neill

    But would you cost of living be higher in the south? House prices are through the roof in Dublin.

  • epg_ie

    We want government spending, but not for anyone who can afford a £150k house or aspires to a better than average life for themselves. We just want spending for average people and if you want to be above average you are a shameful disgrace. Then we wonder where all the excellence went?

  • Skibo

    In the event of reunification, I could just live in my own house! Within a couple of years competition for jobs would drive the labour rates in the right direction.
    I was wondering since the increased wealth in the South this past few years and the drop in the pound, have the investors from the South returned to the North for some keen pickings? Is there anything here that the have not already bought into?

  • Old Mortality

    Why wait for reunification if you could be so much better off now just by relocating? Why are people in NI so immune to the signals of the market?

  • Old Mortality

    Some not very healthy food on offer there! Should these places not be encouraging their clientele to improve their diets?

  • Skibo

    I see no reason to relocate any more than I think Unionists should go to GB if they really want to be British.
    There can be a place in Ireland for us all. My roots are here. Our family have lived here for hundreds of years. They originate from Niall of the nine hostages a fourth century High King of Ireland.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I assume it’s just whatever people donate to them.

  • aquifer

    Having poor people wait two weeks for payment in arrears when switching to Universal Credit is just cruel, risking pushing them over the edge financially and mentally. Taking tax credits off people with more than two children is another perversity when we will need young people to work to pay our pensions.
    You don’t wan’t to know about the operation of the rape clause.

    The Assembly could fix all that with some redistribution of resources, providing schools attended by all religions for example.

    Final salary pensions for senior people cost everybody else millions now that people live longer, and watch out for those late promotions of deadbeats into dead mens shoes. Millions we may no longer have, after much of the London financial sector moves to Paris or Dublin. Civil service promotions should perhaps be for fixed terms, to make sure that the person is really performing at a high level. There are smart people in the civil service, but we need more of them in the private sector to provide things we can export, so we should also reduce higher civil service salaries here. Sorry, there I said it, something really revolutionary you are unlikely to hear from a Labour Party union lackey. And upward pay increments? What is that about, when the person may be doing the same job as yesterday. Civil service systems should be fit to support anyone doing or learning a new job, less reason to pay extra to retain people when learning new things is now business as usual.

    There is even a different inflation rate for the working poor. Food and private rents keep going up.

    Revolutions are overrated though, tends to put gangsters and psychopaths in charge, lets just have more elections until the real issues break through.

    Job insecurity should be for politicians too, until they really get it.

  • sam mccomb

    “The study found that children from all types of schools agreed that education is important. Younger children were more likely to think that school is fun, while older children were more likely to see school as a way of getting an education in order to get a good job. Older children in disadvantaged schools were less likely to describe learning as fun than older children in advantaged schools. Children demonstrated a desire to be more involved in directing their own learning and to have more ‘learning by doing’. In the advantaged schools, children saw education as a way of ensuring a good life as an adult. Children in disadvantaged schools were more likely to view education as a way of avoiding problems in the future. All the children, whatever the school they attended, had relatively high aspirations for their futures, although children from advantaged schools were considerably more likely to aspire to a high paying professional job.
    There is clear evidence of boys as young as nine or ten becoming very disenchanted with school and starting to disengage. The evidence from this study points towards the interaction of educational disadvantage faced by children growing up in poverty, the difficulties faced by teachers in disadvantaged schools, and differences in the way boys and girls are socialised, leading to boys being particularly failed by the education system.”;jsessionid=04FF5BD080FB087DABF7DA26EF1EFB45?doi=

    If you are not concerned that a child of ten already knows the trajectory his life will take, I suggest you should be. Anger would be an appropriate response. Scotland has the will to try to close the educational attainment gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged. I think it will fail. It lacks the powers -control of economic and welfare policy – to effectively redistribute wealth, income and power. If NI has those powers the government should use it

  • Surveyor

    Frequent corporal punishment when I was at primary school led to my disillusionment with education. Looking back on it now it seems it was boys from working class backgrounds who were given special attention in that regard.

    Of course my teacher informing myself and the others who failed the 11+ that he would only be concentrating his time on the pupils who passed, was also a factor.

  • lizmcneill

    Where did the article say that?

    If you have a 150K house, a few hundred at the end of the month to stick in an ISA, and private health insurance, then the erosion of the social safety net will affect you less than it will someone who has nothing because those thing insulate you from disaster, while they last.

  • lizmcneill

    Teachers use part of their summer for course preparation and training/Baker days, as well as marking and extracurricular on evenings and weekends during the terms.

    Is it possible to have a public transportation system that serves more than just a few busy routes and *isn’t* a money pit?

  • lizmcneill

    Note that almost everything shown is non-perishable. Obtaining and distributing fresh or frozen food is probably far more difficult.

  • gurglingmilk

    NICS is full of wastage. Flushing budgets in March on all kinds of crap. Lots of people taking unnecessary sick leave. Spending a fortune on a private cloud is when the rest of the planet is getting out of that game. Crappy NIDirect Services where you can’t really do anythIng online unless you want a fishing license. BlowIng tons of money on management consultants to validate weak decisions. Etc. Our civil servants are living in the 70s in terms of culture and mindset.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Our Civil Service is what saves our Politician’s faces.

  • gurglingmilk

    That isn’t a justification for how out dated and risk averse and mismanaged the civil service is.

  • Thanks very much for this comment. It reveals some profound truth concerning inequality.
    However, your last point, calling on the state to take action to resolve this inequality, in my view expresses a naive faith or hope on your part. Whether Scotland, Northern Ireland, or anywhere, the relentless drive to increasing inequality is proceeding apace.

  • I’ve found the link you provided above to be invalid. Thanks again for your post.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    As Brian says below the food offered is what people donate to the Food Banks. The Poor do not get a choice off healthy diets ! Its take anything that is on offer to allow you to eat and survive !

  • sam mccomb

    Try googling “the impact of poverty on young children’s experience of school Goretti Horgan” -Have not come across Goretti as a name – I like it

  • sam mccomb

    I agree. Time to put a stop to it.

  • aquifer

    “a few hundred at the end of the month to stick in an ISA”

    Yep ISAs are an astonishingly large tax break for the already flush.

    Who can afford to put in the maximum £20,000 a year?!!

    The lifetime input into these should be capped, (Jeremy C)

  • aquifer

    “Spending a fortune on a private cloud” Yep giving the data consultants your watch and then having them charge you each time you ask the time is top class non sense for managers too stupid to understand their own businesses, and too arrogant and risk averse to develop their own staff and systems. Too often civil service reform means giving the private sector cash cows to milk, when we used to own dairy farms.

  • sam mccomb

    What bad teaching that was. i was taught in a rural school. I moved from the infants’ room at the age of 7 to the room where my father taught all ages, and religions, up to school leaving – about 60 children. He told me that in his 20 years there were only two pupils who did not leave with full literacy. the times were different.

  • aquifer

    And by maintaining a civilising consensus, law and order, they also save the politicians’ other end.

  • Nevin

    Brian, Dennis Skinner has a message for YOU!

  • sam mccomb


    This link is to a transcript of a lecture given by the former Chief Medical Officer of Scotland. He has helped to shape government policy in Scotland. It is a lengthy read. I am no specialist in this subject. I am an old geezer whose life trajectory has raised an interest in health inequalities – a subject that was a part of the indyref debate in Scotland. This subject ought to appear more often than here. Here is the final paragraph.

    “Unless we look after children, properly, nurture them
    consistently. Support them and their parents, who often
    don’t know how to be parents, we will continue to fail and
    we will continue to reap the consequences in terms of
    criminality and poor health. It’s time to break the cycle.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It depends how you define “best”. “Best” in the sense of a real humanist education which offers them access the fruits of two millennia of human culture, or “best” in the sense of fitting them to find employment which will permit them to effectively service the educational and consumer loans they will have to repay and the mortgage commitment which will give them an asset which can be traded off against palliative care in their twilight years.

    You can try for ” best” but our consumption society will ensure that such “best” is going to be very thin gruel in practice.

  • hgreen

    If civil service pensions are so good why don’t you apply for a job. Just because private sector pensions have been destroyed doesn’t mean the public sector should follow the race to the bottom. As for upward pay increments. You are probably aware of the words inflation and cost of living.

  • Reader

    Brian O’Neill: The transfer tests the education board told schools not to practice for? The test that costs money to take? The test middle class parents get their kids tutored for?
    3 questions, so –
    1) not so much the education boards – mostly the Shinner ministers at the time.
    2) How much money – precisely?
    3) Some pupils get tuition – some just to be on the safe side, and some don’t succeed anyway. The way to pull the rug out from under this process is to let the schools prepare children for the tests.

  • Reader

    Brian O’Neill: No problem you can be zoomed to the top of the list.
    It’s a different list. You can tell the difference because when you leave a queue everyone behind you moves up a place.
    When you leave the queue in the chippy and go to a restaurant instead, do the people who were behind you in the queue get cross?

  • lizmcneill

    Do the chippy staff leave for two days a week to go and staff the restaurant? It’s the same consultants as the NHS, mostly.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    Combined with banning all non-State schools and 100% inheritance tax; then you’d see a few improvements.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    We do seem to have a lot of excess road signs and markings

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    That’s why Sure Start was such an essential Govt intervention even though evaluations haven’t shown much significant positive impact among the disadvantaged yet.
    In some instances it was observable that the more articulate, confident & educated parents tended to dominate programmes where the advantaged/disadvantaged demographic was mixed, thereby alienating those who are less confident.
    Where Sure Start has been effective has been in intervening in providing parenting skills which have knock on effect on child behaviour and outlook as well as teacher expectation.
    Cuts to such programmes and students having to pay university tuition fees undoes a lot of this.

  • john millar

    How dare you come out with all this commonsense Its a an outrage Clearly (amongst others) you are a raging Tory and an enemy of the “peace process”

  • john millar

    You reply baffles me.

    “Success ” is a movable feast-
    Academic success -Self improvement, Entry to Professions Independence.Personal Development etc etc

    (Some) Parents do their “best” to replicate systems and experiences that have previously contributed to success, in an effort to assist their children in society— society as they find it.

    This is human nature -some do more than others some have more to give than others. That`s life

  • Brian O’Neill
  • Brian O’Neill

    I fully support early intervention but would be interesting to see the research on how successful Surestart has been. I used to bring our toddler to some of the Surestart playgroups and they tended to be joyless affairs.

    The voluntary playgroups run by churches have a dramatically better vibe. But I know this is just a small part of Surestart, I am sure their other programmes are a lifeline for struggling parents.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I am suggesting that all too often ” best” is simply considered as what will bring in the shekels!

    I know of all too many people suffering depression in their fifties from having been directed in their school years to an empty career in which the have no real interest, and an empty, rather pointless life accordingly. For those without an imagination there is perhaps no problem, but the discovery that a whole life has gone by focused on meeting the payments monthly, with the holidays the only hint of what real freedom might perhaps be like, is a shattering awakening for many in middle age.

    That their efforts have been primarily harvested by the banks and others to feed the one percent’s piling up of real wealth is the product of a long recognised pattern where all educational structures are only valued to the degree that they contribute to what has been ll too accurately described as human “holsteinization”.

    The real problem is that since the end of the last world war each decade has ratcheted up a culture of materialist acquisition at the expense of virtually everything else, everything that earlier generations found made life worthwhile that is. I’m with William Morris and “News from Nowhere” in recognising just what a, in Pearse’s term, “Murder Machine” our commercially oriented educational values really are.

  • Reader

    lizmcneill: It’s the same consultants as the NHS, mostly.
    You could change their contracts of employment, or just use conscription. Maybe not offer part time contracts? Impose restrictions on people trained in the NHS from practising outside it.
    There’s all sorts of cunning or authoritarian options.
    But there’s no queue jumping.

  • Thanks, I searched and found the report
    Googling, as a generic term: if you did not know, Google have begun censoring sites that raise points counter to the mainstream propaganda stream (aka ‘news’).

  • AndyB

    Agreed re teachers, but the lesson from GB’s privatisation is that the answer to your public transport question is a resounding no.

  • AndyB

    I think the answer is “Do we think the politicians would do any better?” The answer appears to be that since they are paid rather better than most civil servants and probably have private healthcare rather more expensive than Benenden, they’re all right that way, and because of the way NI votes, they can get away with what I would generously describe as the perception that as long as their parties wave the right flag hard enough, they’ll get enough votes to maintain their position, no matter what else the party does.

    I have recently reflected that “low household taxes” only means low regional rate for Northern Ireland, especially compared to council tax in GB. GB taxpayers seem to be free game, but that goes back to my article on “party bread” (apparently originally “soiree bread”!) and the coincidence of political crises and financial shortfalls.

    Basically, low taxes and high spending for NI, which is not financially competent, even allowing for the unfairness of NI funding during the troubles where we required exceptional amounts of spending on security but because the Treasury didn’t give us extra money, budgets like health, education and infrastructure had to be cut to pay for it. You can’t hide behind putting past underfunding right for ever.

  • sam mccomb

    Thanks for the tip. Howver, I have found that you can still google “How corrupt is britain?” and get a result. i can’t read it though.
    The day following the indyref in Scotland a visibly angry Harry Burns, then Chief Medical Officer said only, “The poor have been put back in their box.”
    I hope you read his lecture. Poverty is such a waste. If nutrition is not optimal in a young woman it is possible that none of the organs of a child born to her will develop to their full potential. The trajectory of a life can be determined before conception.

  • lizmcneill

    Well, yes, if you banned private medical practice there would be no queue jumping. Do you also propose to ban doctors from resigning from the NHS and emigrating?