A Legatum Institute report outlines the case that Northern Ireland is among the most prosperous parts of the UK.
Indeed, every day, five more people come to Northern Ireland than leave.
What the hell?
We should not be so surprised. Northern Ireland has terrible incomes, health outcomes, infrastructure… well, actually no it hasn’t.
It is true that Northern Ireland’s GDP is markedly low. But this is an entirely inappropriate measurement of the actual standard of living. Take actual incomes minus housing costs (lower rates and mortgages) and suddenly they are close to the UK average; add to those the highest per head public spend of any UK region, and it should be no surprise that people are pretty prosperous.
It is true also that by some measures, notably recorded disability, Northern Ireland comes out poorly health-wise. In other ways it does not, however. Obesity levels are high by EU standards but low by UK standards (friends who recently moved to the Channel Islands noticed this immediately); dementia diagnosis rates and cancer survival rates are high; crime rates (which have an obvious impact on health) are by far the lowest.
Most people living in Northern Ireland think the infrastructure is terrible; and certainly main roads are embarrassingly poor compared to the Republic’s new network. By UK standards, it is not that bad, however. The Belfast-Derry road, certainly after its pending upgrade, will be markedly superior to, for example, the Newcastle-Carlisle road; the Dublin-Glasgow route is at least dual carriageway standard throughout the island of Ireland, but not so in Scotland. Belfast does have one airport linked to the rail network (by the way, despite the supposedly “huge hike” to Sydenham Halt from the City Airport terminal, I was on the platform just 18 minutes after leaving the aircraft last Monday).
By the way, given the cutbacks in public sector spending and staffing, Northern Ireland’s economic growth rate, by some measures the highest in the UK outside London and Northeast England, has been quite impressive over the past 24 months or so. The gap between public sector and private sector pay has fallen from 43% to 25%, still the highest in the UK but a marked improvement in the performance of Northern Irish business.
Throw in the social capital of close family and friend relationships, and it is unsurprising that Northern Ireland tops the “happiness” charts and performs well in the “prosperity” indices.
There is no harm in aiming high and demanding improvement where it is obviously necessary, but we should also note what we do well.