Introduction, by Dirk Schubotz (January 2018)
2018 is a year of many anniversaries for Northern Ireland, but also for ARK. To acknowledge this, during 2018 we will use this special Marking Anniversaries section to reflect on important historical events, and to explore how attitudes and perceptions in Northern Ireland have changed over time.
At the global stage we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. Significant events took place in 1968 in Northern Ireland, but also across the globe. These events arguably shaped in many ways the world in which we now live. 2018 is also the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), and the current political impasse in Stormont is surely going to overshadow the reflections on the undeniable achievements of the peace process which was institutionalised with the GFA.
Whilst we recognise and commemorate macro-political events which have shaped our lives, we also want to look at how the attitudes and experiences of ordinary people have changed in perhaps less obvious ways. Although ARK was established in 2000, it was 1998, the same year the GFA was signed, when the first Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey took place. 2018 also marks the anniversaries of our other surveys; the first Young Life and Times (YLT) survey was conducted 15 years ago, whilst the first Kids' Life and Times (KLT) survey ran a decade ago in 2008. Both YLT and KLT were established to give children and young people an opportunity to express their views on issues that affect them at important stages in their young lives.
Most of today’s Primary 7 children and 16-year olds who grow up in Northern Ireland have not directly experienced violent conflict. In fact, they deal with very similar issues as their counterparts in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland or other parts of Europe. Nonetheless, they are at the receiving end of policy making in Northern Ireland, a society coming out of conflict, and we will also use this Marking Anniversaries section to highlight some of these issues.
European Union? (ARK Feature 4), by Paula Devine and Ann Marie Gray (February 2018)
2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the UK joining the European Economic Community. However, the relationship between the UK and European Union and its predecessors has been complex. In Northern Ireland, this relationship has been complicated by the border and national identity. Surveys since 1989 show general pro-European attitudes in Northern Ireland, although unionist supporters have been less in favour. This pattern is also evident in the referendum and Northern Ireland Life and survey of 2016. In the years to come, public attitude surveys will provide an important barometer of opinion as the UK exits the European Union.
Financial wellbeing, by Dirk Schubotz and Paula Devine (March 2018)
During the 20 years since the Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey began in 1998, there has been a major period of austerity, prompted by crises in the banking and other financial systems. At the same time, the income gap between the very rich and the very poor has been widened. According to the Equality Trust, data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that the richest 10% of the population in the United Kingdom have an average original annual income that is 24 times larger than that for the poorest 10%. However, austerity politics is not an invention of the 21st century. On 4th January 1968 the Labour cabinet under Harold Wilson decided to cut spending - mainly in social services, but also in the defence budget - in order to enforce the devaluation of sterling which had been implemented in November 1967.
Since 1998, NILT has recorded the perceptions of adults in Northern Ireland in relation to their household income, by asking respondents if their household income has kept up with the prices. In the first NILT survey in 1998, 14% of NILT respondents said that their household income had gone up by more than the prices. By 2016, this figure had decreased to 6%. In 1998, approximately one third of NILT respondents said that their household income had gone down in relation to prices, and this was similar in 2016. However, between 2008 and 2013, at least half of respondents said this, including 64% in 2013.
The financial pressures felt by young people and their families are identified in the Young Life and Times (YLT) survey of 16 year olds, and the Kids' Life and Times (KLT) survey of 10-11 year olds. In 2009, 31% of YLT respondents said that the economic crisis had affected their family a bit or a lot, although 7% said that their family was not affected at all. Two years later, however, nearly one half (48%) thought that their family had been affected, and only 3% said that their family had not been affected at all.
Community Relations/Good Relations in Northern Ireland? (ARK Feature 5), by Gillian Robinson (April 2018)
For nearly 30 years, two surveys in Northern Ireland have monitored changing attitudes to equality issues and relations between the two main religious communities during periods of conflict, peace-building and devolution. In this Feature, Gillian Robinson highlights how data from the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey (1989-1996) and Northern Ireland Life and Times (1998 onwards) provide monitoring statistics on how the public of Northern Ireland has viewed community relations. The Feature also explores the link between data, events and policy.