PSE NI 2002/03: Findings

The PSE Northern Ireland (PSENI) survey used the same refinements of the consensual method of measuring poverty used in the PSE Britain 1999 by carrying out further statistical analysis on the group below the threshold to exclude those who, though deprived, had higher levels of income. The PSENI survey found higher levels of poverty in Northern Ireland in 2002/03 than the PSE team found in Britain in 1999: 29.6 per cent of households were in poverty in Northern Ireland as against 25 per cent in Britain. Given that in the three years from the PSE Britain survey to the PSE Northern Ireland survey there had been rising prosperity, this finding is of considerable significance. It confirms that Northern Ireland is one of the most deprived parts of the United Kingdom.


The PSENI survey, like the previous Breadline Britain and PSE surveys, found a broad consensus on the necessities of life for both adults and children. In particular, the survey found that there was a very high level of agreement between Catholics and Protestants as to what are necessities. Given that religion is often seen as a major fault line in Northern Ireland, this finding was of considerable significance. There were a few differences between groups; for example rural dwellers were, perhaps not surprisingly, more likely to see a car as a necessity than urban dwellers, but these were not extensive (see the PSENI 2002/03 working paper on Necessities for further details).

Comparing PSENI with PSE Britain 1999, the survey also found broad agreement between people in Northern Ireland and Britain as to what are necessities. The most noticeable difference between the two areas was that a higher proportion of people in Northern Ireland when compared with people in Britain considered most items and activities to be essential. This can be seen in the table below. Some of these differences are clearly cultural: the largest difference was on ‘attending church’ where 75 per cent of Northern Ireland respondents thought this necessary compared with only 42 per cent of British respondents. Some differences may be because the PSENI survey was conducted three years after the PSE Britain survey and there had been a small rise in living standards in the meantime. Or some differences may be due to the way the PSENI survey was conducted: in Northern Ireland questions were asked using a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) whereas the PSE Britain 1999 study used shuffle cards. The current PSE UK research aims to throw light on this as the Northern Ireland 2012 survey will use a split sample, one half using PDAs and the other shuffle cards.


The children’s items showed fewer differences in the proportion of items and activities that the two populations considered essential. The one item in which there was a significant difference between the two populations concerned the provision of 50p pocket money, which is considered to be essential by a greater population of people in Northern Ireland. See table below. 


‘The troubles’

Over the previous 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland over 3,600 people had been killed and tens of thousands injured. The survey asked a series of questions about the conflict.

Overall, 50 per cent of respondents said they knew someone who had been killed in the ‘troubles’. Over a quarter of respondents stated that a ‘close friend’ had been killed and of these 45 per cent had lost two or more close friends. In addition, 14 per cent of respondents had had a ‘close relative’ killed and of these over 20 per cent had lost two or more relatives. The relatively high proportions for ‘close friend’ and ‘close relative’ suggest that respondents may have interpreted these questions rather loosely, though it is of significance that the respondents nevertheless saw the loss in this way.

In addition, nearly 8 per cent of all respondents had been injured during the ‘troubles’ and of these some 50 per cent had been injured on two or more occasions. Just over a quarter had a close friend who had been physically injured and of these 45.8 per cent had been injured on one occasion and over 53 per cent a few or many times. Nearly 18 per cent had a close relative who had been injured and nearly 36 per cent knew someone else personally who had been injured. Of these two groups some 60 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively, had been injured more than once.

Further evidence of widespread exclusion from personal safety in Northern Ireland over the last 30 years is shown in other data. Some 8.6 per cent of households had had to move house due to attack, intimidation or harassment and 4.4 per cent had been forced to leave a job for the same reasons.

The key findings of the Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2002/03 survey are published in Bare Necessities by Paddy Hillyard et al. (Democratic Dialogue, 2003). In addition, the research team published a range of bulletins and working papers on:

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