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Ireland apart from her people means nothing to me
and any person that professes love for the combination of chemical elements he chooses to call Ireland
and at the same time can walk the streets and witness the poverty and suffering without burning with a real desire to change it
is a fraud and charlatan in his heart
-James Connolly



New Snouts in an old Trough

Tommy Gorman


Two reports hit the streets recently telling us what we already knew, that things aren't getting any better and that the only way is not always up.

"Investing for Health" was launched by the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety Bairbre De Brun. It is a cross-departmental strategy to address health inequalities within the six counties. The report highlights the fact that around 24% of households live in poverty, a rise of 3% since 1990. Children and young people have now overtaken the elderly as the largest age group living in poverty, with more than 25% of our future generations living in households dependant upon Jobseekers Allowance or Income support.

It appears that within the "New Dispensation", even at this early stage, there is little if any hope for those crushed by poverty and bad health. As indicated by the Minister in the Health Strategy Document, the gap between the rich and poor has grown noticeably. The most upwardly mobile appear to be those elected to address, amongst other things, problems of deprivation. In its annual report the Audit Office gave a breakdown of the costs of the Assembly at Stormont. On top of the standard wage of £36,000 +, each MLA is allotted the same amount for office and administration. Not content with this, a good number of MLAs submitted travel and other expenses that in some cases amounted to over £14,000. Given that members of the Assembly enjoy lengthy holidays and recesses it is "a nice wee earner" for work done.

The average income per household in West Belfast is below £150.00 per week or £7,800.00 per year. In some sectors of our population this figure drops still further with some single parents and old people existing on less than £50.00 per week. That is £2,600 per year, less than one fifth of what some of our elected representatives claim for travel and other expenses.

The situation in West Belfast is by no means unique. The same levels of deprivation are reflected in many parts of the Six Counties and are not confined to one side of the community. People forced to live in such conditions and under constant pressure are more prone to psychological and physiological problems. There is a high dependence upon alcohol and prescription drugs in many households.

Stand in any post office/supermarket on benefit day and witness these poor people trying to work miracles with the few pound allotted to them to care for their families. For many the first stop is the Lottery/scratch card counter where they will spend some of their scarce resources in the vain hope that it will provide a ticket out of their suffering. Statisticians reckon that the odds against winning the jackpot in the hundreds of millions to one. That doesn't stop them in their attempts to escape their plight.

When it comes down to it, the chances of those in Stormont making any measurable difference to the worsening status quo are as remote as winning the Lottery. Not one of the parties in this shoddy little right wing coalition shows any sign of rocking this gravy-boat by introducing policies that would seriously address the abject poverty under which many of our people now exist. In fact there are indications that if anything the situation will worsen for those trapped in this vicious cycle. Vital parts of the Health and Education services have been given over to the Private Sector. The consequences of this will soon become apparent as Health and Education provision will depend on a person's ability to pay.



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