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.

Adult items and activities: percentage stating ‘necessary’

Item PSE NI PSE Britain
% %
Fridge 99 89
Enough money to pay heating, electricity and telephone bills on time 99
Dry, damp-free home 98 93
Health/disability aids and equipment, if needed 98
Visiting friends or family in hospital or other institutions 97 92
Washing machine 95 76
Replacing or repairing broken electrical goods such as fridges or washing machines 95 85
Celebrating special occasions such as Christmas 95 83
Access to a decent pension 94
Warm, waterproof coat 93 85
Enough money to keep your home in a decent state of decoration 92 82
Fresh fruit and vegetables every day 92 86
Visiting friends or family locally 91 84
Vacuum cleaner 90
Home contents insurance 89 79
Attending weddings, funerals or similar occasions 89 80
Visiting school, for example for sports day, parents evening 88 81
Good clothes to wear for job interviews 86 69
Family days out 86
Two pairs of strong shoes 84 64
Central heating 84 94
Having a hobby or leisure activity 84 78
Collecting children from school 84 75
Meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day, if you wanted it 83 79
Regular savings (of £10 a month) for rainy days or retirement 83 66
Telephone (includes mobile) 81 71
Replacing worn out furniture 79 54
Small amount of money to spend each week on yourself, not on your family 76 59
Good outfit to wear for special occasions such as parties or weddings 75 51
Attending church or other place of religious worship 75 42
Presents for friends or family once a year 72 56
Television 71 56
New, not secondhand clothes 62 48
Dictionary 61 53
One week’s annual holiday away from home (not staying with relatives) 60 55
Roast dinner once a week 59 56
Visiting family/friends in other parts of the country by bus or train four times a year 56 38
Car 53 38
Deep freezer 52 68
Having friends or family visit for a drink or meal once a month 51
Going out for an evening meal once a fortnight 40 37
Going out for a meal in a restaurant/pub once a month 35 26
Daily newspaper 34 30
Microwave oven 33 23
Pet, if you want one 31
Tumble dryer 30 20
Video recorder 22 19
Home computer 20 11
Holiday abroad once a year 19 19
Access to the internet from home 13 6
Dishwasher 12 7
Satellite/cable TV 7 5
Second home/holiday home 6

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. 

Child items and activities: percentage stating ‘necessary’

Item PSE NI PSE Britain
% %
Health/disability aids and equipment, if needed 99
New, properly fitted shoes 99 94
Warm waterproof coat or jacket 98 95
Fresh fruit or vegetables at least once a day 97 93
Opportunity to take regular exercise 97
Three meals a day 95 90
All the school uniform required by the school 95
Celebrating special occasions such as birthdays 95 92
Their own bed 94 93
Having a hobby or leisure activity 94 89
At least four warm tops, such as jumpers, fleeces or sweatshirts 93 73
Books of their own 92 89
Buy new clothes when needed 92
Going on school day trips 92 74
Going on family day trips 89
Toys (e.g. dolls, play figures, teddies etc.) 88 83
Going to youth club or similar activity 88
Enough bedrooms for boys and girls over 10 to sleep separately 87 78
Attending play group at least once a week for preschool-aged children 87 88
Educational games 86 83
At least four pairs of trousers, leggings or skirts 84 69
At least seven pairs of new underpants 83 83
At least 50 pence per week pocket money 82 49
Meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent at least twice a day 80 77
Sports gear or equipment 76 60
Garden to play in 76 68
Construction toys such as Lego 72 62
Having friends round once a fortnight 72 59
New, not second-hand clothes 70 70
One week’s holiday a year away from home with their families 69 70
Computer suitable for doing school work 56 41
Bicycle 54 54
Comic or magazine once a week 52
Pet, if wanted 40
Going to the cinema regularly 25
Computer games 21 18
Access to the internet from home 20

‘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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