'The Economic Situation of Catholics and Protestants' by Bob Rowthorn and Naomi Wayne, from Northern Ireland - The Political Economy of Conflict
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The following chapter has been contributed by the authors, Bob Rowthorn and Naomi Wayne, with the permission of Polity Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
This chapter is taken from the book:
This chapter is copyright Bob Rowthorn and Naomi Wayne 1997 and is included
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The Political Economy of Conflict
The Economic Situation of Catholics and Protestants
In this chapter we examine the economic circumstances of the two
communities within Northern Ireland. After a brief consideration
of comparative living standards we focus on employment and unemployment
patterns. Here we find the hardest statistical evidence, and also
the issues with the most far-reaching political and social consequences.
The standard of living
The Continuous Household Survey for 1983-4 provides the most recent
information about living standards of Catholics and Protestants.
This shows the following:
In other respects the average quality of housing seemed much the
same in both communities. Overall, 16 per cent Catholics and 10
per cent Protestants considered their housing to be unsatisfactory.
Thus, housing is on average worse among Catholics. However, a
large majority of people in each community are fairly satisfied
with their accommodation, though in each there is a minority whose
housing is grossly inadequate.
Source: Continuous Household Survey, 1983-4
There is clearly much poverty and insecurity within the working
class of each community, though it is worse amongst Catholics.
The survey tells us nothing, of course, about the middle and upper
classes, who normally own their own houses.
Religion and employment
We have seen how employment opportunities for Catholics in Northern Ireland were restricted by discrimination, lack of education and skills, and the location of industry. In recent years some effort has been made to remedy some of these problems.
Catholics' education has improved. Some have acquired technical skills through special training programmes, and the Fair Employment Agency has been created to combat discrimination. In certain kinds of public employment discrimination has diminished. Catholics are now well represented up to the middle ranks in the civil service, though the top is still Protestant-dominated (much of this for historical reasons; i.e. because it takes time for newer entrants to secure promotion, etc.). However, Catholics remain disadvantaged. There are still many with inadequate skills, and they continue to suffer discrimination in both manufacturing and private services, particularly in the Belfast area. Also there are some types of work which few Catholics will accept: less Catholics are in the security forces now than 15 years ago.
With regard to location of industry, there has been a gradual shift of emphasis to create jobs in Catholic areas. Initially efforts were concentrated in Derry and other western parts of the province. This started even before the introduction of Direct Rule: between 1967 and 1971 the Catholic dominated west of the Bann, which contains 27 per cent of the population, received 36 per cent of the new jobs which were created with help from the Northern Ireland government. This development was partly due to an approaching scarcity of certain types of labour in the east of the province, and partly for political reasons.
In recent years attention has also focused on west Belfast, where
Catholic unemployment is enormous. However, this shift has been
operating against a background of industrial decline and the reluctance
of outside firms to invest in Northern Ireland. LEDU's attempts
to stimulate 'home grown' industry in Catholic areas have also
had only limited success.
Who do which jobs? Catholics and Protestants
Protestants hold most of the top managerial, professional, scientific and technical jobs. Catholics are massively underrepresented in those positions and also in relatively well-paid areas like the security forces, and the metal and electrical trades. On the other hand, they are over-represented in such notoriously low-paid occupations as construction and personal services (table 7.2). Thus, Catholics are both more prone to unemployment than Protestants, and where they do have jobs, they are generally lower down the occupational scale. There is, however, one important exception.
They have a strong position in 'Professional and related occupations
in education, welfare and health'. This is mainly due to the large
number of Catholic nurses and teachers in Northern Ireland. Their
overrepresentation in nursing is itself partly a reflection of
both religious and sexual discrimination elsewhere in the labour
market. Nursing is, quite simply, one of the few professions readily
open to educated Catholic girls. The numbers in teaching are explained
by the religious segregation of the schools. Children in Northern
Ireland are normally taught by people from their own community:
Catholics teach Catholics and Protestants teach Protestants. As
Catholics generally have much larger families, proportionately
more Catholic teachers are required.
Who do which jobs? Women and men
Catholic women suffer from higher unemployment than Protestants, but those in jobs are not seriously worse off. They are underrepresented in top managerial, technical and scientific jobs, but this is roughly cancelled out by their enormous overrepresentation in the middle-range public-service jobs, nursing and teaching.
What is more striking than religious differences is the gap between
the sexes. In almost every well-paid or high-status job, the order
of precedence is: first, Protestant men; then Catholic men; then
women. As a rule, Catholic men have more chance of obtaining a
'good' job than women of either religion. The health and education
professions are partial exceptions, though even here women are
on the lower rungs of the ladder - nurses and class-room teachers:
not doctors, consultants or school principals. (See table 7.2.)
a Working population
The gap between Catholics and Protestants today
It is widely believed that the economic crisis of the 1980s has hit Protestants more than Catholics and eliminated many of the old inequalities. As far as unemployment is concerned, this belief is false. Unemployment has certainly risen amongst Protestants, and for many of them the future is bleak. However, it has risen even faster amongst Catholics and the gap between the two communities is now greater than ever before.
This is shown by the Census of Population (see table 7.3). In 1971 the male unemployment rates were: Catholics 17.3 per cent and Protestants 6.6 per cent; by 1981 these figures had reached 30.2 per cent and 12.4 per cent respectively. Thus, over the decade, the unemployment rate for Catholics had increased by 12.9 percentage points and for Protestants by 5.8 points.
Exact figures are not available for more recent years. However,
evidence provided by the Continuous Household Survey suggests
that in 1983-4 the male unemployment rate was around 35 per cent
for Catholics and 15 per cent for Protestants. This means Protestant
unemployment has only just reached the level considered normal
for Catholics at the height of the economic prosperity in the
early 1970s. Catholic women have also been worse hit by the crisis
and have a higher unemployment rate than Protestant women, though
the gap is less than for men.
There are two main factors explaining why unemployment has risen faster among Catholics:
Of the Protestant growth sectors, by far the most important are
the local security forces, which have mushroomed over the last
13 years. The combined strength of the RUC and UDR alone now approaches
20,000. If prison officers and other security and protective workers
are included, the total employed in the local security services
is around 30,000. Most of these are male Protestants. Approaching
one in ten of all Protestant men in paid employment now works
for the security forces in some capacity. Without this kind of
job to fall back on, the unemployment rate amongst Protestant
males would be much higher than it is at present, though still
well below the rate amongst Catholics.
a This figure refers to 1981
The geography of unemployment
It is often said that unemployment amongst Catholics is especially
high because of where they live: Catholics are concentrated west
of the Bann where unemployment has always been relatively high,
while Protestants are concentrated to the east where unemployment
has always been lower. This is certainly true, and it does help
to explain why unemployment is on average higher among
Catholics (see table 7.5).
a The original census figures for Roman Catholics have been adjusted to allow for the fact that many people refused to state their religion when completing the census return. The estimates shown here are taken from Compton and Power, 1986.
Sources: Census of Population, 1981; P. A. Compton and
J. P. Power, 'Estimates of the religious composition of the population
of Northern Ireland' (unpublished paper, 1986)
Source: Unpublished data from the Northern Ireland Census
of Population, 1981
The greatest gulf is in Cookstown where the male unemployment
rate for Catholics in 1981 was 43.3 per cent as against 14.4 per
cent for Protestants. Similar differences exist in Armagh, Craigavon,
Dungannon, Fermanagh, Limavady, Lisburn, Derry and Omagh. In each
case the male unemployment rate for Catholics is 2½ to 3
times greater than for Protestants. Among women the gap is less
dramatic, though still considerable, and throughout the province
female unemployment is much higher for Catholics than Protestants.
Unemployment in Britain and Northern Ireland
It is also often said that Northern Ireland, along with Merseyside,
has the highest unemployment rate of any region in the UK. Though
correct, this statement is misleading, because it ignores the
large differences that exist within Northern Ireland itself.
Note: The figures give per cent of economically active
population, ranked according to the male unemployment rate
Although it has risen a great deal in recent years, unemployment amongst Northern Ireland Protestants is not especially high by UK standards. At the time of the 1981 Census of Population, for example, male unemployment amongst NI Protestants was 12.4 per cent, while in Britain average unemployment stood at 11.3 per cent. Moreover, there were eight British regions where male unemployment was higher than for NI Protestants, sometimes by a large margin. Indeed, in Merseyside, central Clydeside and Tyne and Wear the male unemployment rate was 1½ times the rate amongst NI Protestants (see table 7.7).
For Catholics the picture is very different. Their male unemployment
rate is nearly three times the UK average, and is much higher
than for any region in Britain. For example, in 1981, Northern
Ireland male Catholic unemployment was 30.2 per cent, while in
the worst region on the mainland, Merseyside, the figure was 19.1
Table 7.8 compares Belfast with some other UK cities where there
has been a similar decline in manufacturing. Unemployment amongst
Belfast Catholics is much higher than in any of the areas shown.
Amongst Protestants, however, it is considerably lower than in
these areas. The contrast is greater in the case of men. In the
cities shown, the male unemployment rate in 1981 ranged from 19.9
per cent to 24 per cent. In the same year, Belfast male Protestant
unemployment was 15.6 per cent, while for Catholics the figure
was 31.4 per cent.
a Named Wards are those with above 25 per cent male unemployment.
These Wards contain 57 per cent of the city's Catholic population
and 16 per cent of its Protestants. The Wards listed are arranged
in order of decreasing male unemployment rate.
Unemployment amongst Belfast men is analysed on a ward-by-ward basis in table 7.9. Detailed information is given for wards in which the male unemployment rate was more than 25 per cent in 1981. Out of the 19 wards in this category, ten were overwhelmingly Catholic, four were mixed, and only five were predominantly Protestant.
The most interesting case is the Shankill ward, whose population
is entirely Protestant. The Shankill is often cited as an area
of extreme Protestant deprivation, and in 1981 its male unemployment
rate was 27.6 per cent. This is an appalling figure. However,
it is only half the level recorded in Catholic wards such as Whiterock,
Falls and Grosvenor. It is also less than the average rate of
unemployment amongst Catholic males in Northern Ireland as a whole.
Thus, as far as male unemployment is concerned, the average
Catholic rate is even worse than that for the most deprived
Protestants of the Shankill.
Ethnic minority unemployment in Britain
Table 7.10 compares Northern Ireland Catholics with disadvantaged
ethnic minorities in Britain. In 1983-4 unemployment amongst Northern
Ireland male Catholics was 35 per cent, compared to 28 per cent
for West Indian men and 22 per cent for men from the Indian subcontinent.
The Northern Ireland male Protestant unemployment rate of 15 per
cent was less than for any ethnic minority group in Britain. For
women the picture is more complex, though even here it is clear
that Northern Ireland Catholics are as badly off as most ethnic
minorities in Britain.
Note: Figures give per cent of economically active population
Our survey of living standards and of employment and unemployment patterns in Northern Ireland can be summarized as follows:
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