Thousands 'pushed into poverty'

Government austerity policies are pushing thousands of women and children into poverty and bringing society in the north to "Great Depression-levels" of inequality, MLAs were told yesterday.

A major study on poverty - carried out by oxfam and launched in Stormont - showed austerity measures have already had a "disproportionate and devastating impact" on people in northern Ireland. Oxfam Ireland chief executive Jim Clarken insisted the measures were not having the desired effect of triggering inclusive economic growth, but instead were pushing vulnerable families to their very limits. The report, entitled 'A Cautionary tale' said: "Austerity programmes implemented across europe - based on short-sighted, regressive taxes and deep spending cuts, particularly to public services, such as education, health and social security - have dismantled the mechanisms that reduce inequality and enable equitable growth." mr Clarken said a quarter of those working in northern Ireland don't even make a living wage, while the lowest earners overall have lost 38 per cent of their disposable net income as a direct result of austerity policies. "We are now facing hardships our grandparents faced, and over the course of five years, £4 billion in cuts will have been delivered in northern Ireland - the biggest since World War two," he said. The report revealed that women had been especially badly hit because of the cuts to public sector jobs. "The UK government's 'one-size-fits-all' approach to cutbacks does not work in northern Ireland, which is being disproportionately affected because of its special context as one of the UK's most disadvantaged regions and the high dependence on public spending," mr Clarken said.

He urged the executive and the UK governments to row back on deep-cutting economic policies and offer up alternative policy measures to stimulate the economy while tackling poverty and inequality. "There are alternatives to austerity, like a model that invests in people and pursues fair taxation. Governments could raise billions for public services like health and education by increasing tax on the wealthiest and cracking down on tax loopholes and avoidance schemes," the oxfam chief said. Northern Ireland-specific statistics presented at yesterday's report launch included: * Unemployment has soared from 4.3 per cent in 2007 to 7.5 per cent today, and 47.2 per cent have been jobless for a year or more * the number of people living in poverty has risen from 18 per cent in 2002 to 22 per cent in 2013 * northern Ireland depends on public spending for 62.2 per cent of its output, compared to 39.8 per cent in Britain * one in four people in the north are earning a salary that fails to support a basic standard of living.

Gary McDonald


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