What are you having for dinner?
Wednesday 31 August 2022
207 days. That’s how long we’ve gone without a functioning Executive at the time of writing. We are at the stage now when the term ‘Northern Ireland Government’ is verging on an oxymoron, an incongruous and increasingly frustrating conundrum that is having real implications far beyond political circles and trade deals.
Our local corridors of power lie empty, leaving the public longing for leadership at a time of real crisis. Northern Ireland’s regional response to rising costs has been blunted, and the sad truth is that, every day without an Assembly only widens the gaps between those who have and those who don’t.
The protocol? That is for Westminster and the European Union to deal with. Priority must be given to the cost-of-living crisis on our doorstep. We can’t wait any longer. Our MLAs have a duty to serve; a duty to work for all the people who cast their vote on the belief that campaign promises and manifestos would be delivered. No longer can they stand idly by while inequality becomes further entrenched in our everyday lives.
We are hearing heart-wrenching stories every day of disadvantaged people not taking potatoes and other vegetables from food banks because of the energy costs to cook them… they are having sandwiches for dinner!
All the while pre-tax profits among our biggest firms rose by 46% to £1.367 billion, according to the Ulster Business Top 100, drawing a stark red line under the growing disparity that continues to fester. Indeed, the combined profit of the 13 fuel and energy companies listed this year totalled a staggering £266.5 million.
I am not an economist, and I know full well that profits are good for NI’s wider economy, but there is something fundamentally wrong when some within our own community are unable to cook because of energy prices.
And then there’s the cooling effect on relief measures. Without an Executive in place to facilitate its delivery, NI households are being forced to wait longer for the UK-wide energy payments. Which only heaps yet more pressure on struggling families, with women, in particular, disproportionately affected.
In Northern Ireland, 91% of single parent households are headed by a woman, while gendered expectations mean many women notice variations in household prices and therefore feel the stress of inflation more acutely.
In social care alone, a sector in which women outnumber men by 4:1 in the UK, 71% of care workers are paid less than the real Living Wage. It’s a similar story across industries where the rate of pay is traditionally lower – namely hospitality, entertainment, and accommodation – leaving women to absorb the shock of this ongoing crisis.
An economy that is divided, unequal and lacking in diversity is not effective. We must deal with the widen gap now. But to do so effectively, we must have a functioning Executive. For too long, Northern Ireland has been a rudderless ship. Since power-sharing unravelled in 2017, and again in February this year, the notion of a NI operating without a government has become all too familiar.
It’s long past time that it raises a mast of hope for people who are struggling and plug the gaps of inequality before they seep into our foundations, creating even more divisions in our society.
What’s on your dinner plate tonight … there is absolutely no justification for the lack of an assembly.
Wednesday 31 August 2022