Highlighting Poverty and Social Deprivation  

The Workers Party has held a protest outside the gates of Stormont to highlight the appalling levels of poverty, social deprivation and the effects the rising cost of living is having on families and children.  

Party spokesperson and veteran trade unionist Lily Kerr said,
” We hope this will send a strong message to all those who think that flags, border polls and sectarian headcounts will pay the bills or put food on the table”.  

Politics and the media are dominated daily by petty disputes over ‘who-said-what’, what flag to fly, what title to give someone and who’s going to be the First Minister”, she said  

Meanwhile, in the real world, families are going hungry, children are going without heat and workers, as well as those people on benefits, are forced to use food banks to try and make ends meet”

Northern Ireland has higher levels of multiple deprivation than the rest of the UK with over a third of the population living on or below the breadline.

Low pay and inadequate benefits lead to poverty and of heat and food lead to mental and physical ill health

Computers and internet access are unaffordable for many families.
People are struggling with rent and mortgage payments
Some people are losing their homes.25% of children live in poverty
Fuel poverty is a reality for thousands of local families                                                                                                   
Poverty is not inevitable”, Lily said. “It is a direct result of an economic system that values profit more than people”.Only a socialist society will consign poverty, deprivation and despair to history, but we must make immediate demands and see immediate changes to improve people’s lives, health and futures” she said  

Our immediate response to the current crisis is a call for:  
better jobs with better wages
a more flexible working environment
higher pay for low-income families
strengthen and simplify the benefits system
invest in public services
an immediate universal fuel allowance
more public affordable housing   .

Mental Health: further failures not an option

A few weeks ago, the Workers Party made a formal submission to the Northern Ireland Executive’s ‘Mental Health Strategy 2021-31’.

One of the key points which we kept re-iterating was that previous mental health strategies had failed, and failed again. 

They failed to confront many of the core causes, failed to address the provision of services and failed to meet the needs of patients and clients.

Anti-depressant prescription rates in Northern Ireland are significantly higher than the rest of the UK. The number of antidepressants issued here has risen by 25% in five years. In the past year alone, more than 3 million prescriptions were handed out – 8,500 a day on average.

There is also a worrying increase in the number of anti-depressants being prescribed in the Republic of Ireland.

In part, this is accounted for by the increasing levels of mental ill health but also is a consequence of a lack of alternative treatments, particularly counselling services, talking therapies and early intervention.

Volumes of research have been produced linking poverty, poor housing, employment environmental and other social issues to poor and deteriorating mental health. 

Yet mental health is still considered, almost exclusively, as a medical condition. Only when some of the major causes of mental ill health are factored in to a joined-up response strategy will we even begin to make progress.

Additional to the above factors we are also living with a legacy of mental health issues going back decades. This is now cross generational and cannot and should not be treated with medication alone. The impact of the pandemic on mental health is only just beginning to emerge.

The funding of mental health services in Northern Ireland is currently 27% lower than all other areas of the UK. No mental health strategy can ignore that fact. Funding must be made available; it must be ring fenced and it must be directed at the causes as well as the treatments for mental health. If it is not, we will be back in ten years time discussing another failed strategy and another generation will have been condemned to unnecessary suffering, exclusion and worse.