A recently-released report has revealed that one in three people in the Six Counties is living in poverty.
The report, Bare Necessities: Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland, is based on research carried out by a team of academics from Queens University and the University of Ulster. The study reveals that poverty is more severe in the North than anywhere in the 26 Counties, England, Scotland or Wales.
The work was funded by the Office of the First Minister/Deputy First Minister between October 2002 and January 2003 and was intended to measure poverty in terms of both low income and inability to afford things or activities most people regard as necessities of life.
These included not having enough money for new clothing, social functions, and even funds to attend weddings or funerals. But perhaps the most important thing people are having trouble with is paying for heat, electricity and telephone services. And with the prospect of water charges looming, things for those who are most deprived can only get worse.
According to the research, more than one quarter of all households in the North survive on ``bare necessities'' while living below the poverty line, existing on an average of less than #156.27 per week.
Half-a-million people experience severe poverty and social exclusion, and more than a third of those are children. Over two-thirds (67%) of lone parents live in poverty, with 29% of women suffering a slightly higher rate of social exclusion compared to 25% of men. Of adults in poor households, 57% were women.
More than half-a-million additional households (56%) which contain one or more disabled people are also living in need, and all of the homes which contained someone who was sick or disabled where no one was working also exist in poverty.
Catholics are 1.4 times more likely to live in poor households than their Protestant neighbours, with 43% of Sinn Féin supporters living in poverty compared to only 19% of Ulster Unionist supporters.
The report goes on to state that these figures were mirrored by the poverty rates for national identity. 37% of Irish households in the North are poor compared to 25% of those who view themselves as British.
Younger households were also more likely to be poor, with 41% of people between the ages of 16-24 living in poverty. Statistics like these are of particular interest to nationalist communities in Belfast, where a large portion of the population is under the age of 25.
The researchers also asked a number of questions about the conflict of the last four decades and found that 50% of respondents said they knew someone who had been killed in the Troubles. Nearly 8% of those polled had actually been injured themselves, with half of those having been injured more than once.
8.6% of those involved in the study said they had been forced to leave their homes due to attack, intimidation or harassment, with 4.4% having to leave their place of employment for the same reasons.
Nearly a quarter of all respondents had spent time in prison or knew someone who had, and one third of those who had been in prison were now living in poor households.
The study's authors conclude that the Six Counties are ``one of the most unequal societies in the developed world'' and called on policy-makers to take note of their findings.
``While the divisions around religion, national identity and political preference dominate all discussions in the media, in local council chambers, and in the Assembly, this study has turned the spotlight to other equally important but less visible divisions of class, gender, age and disability,'' they conclude.
``The challenge for the North as a whole, and local politicians in particular, is how to reduce these deep fractures of inequality and create a more just society.''