Yesterday this blog pointed out that, in terms of personal wealth, unionist voters in Northern Ireland are, apparently, voting for relative poverty. By voting to remain in the United Kingdom they are voting to be part of a low wage region rather than a high wage region – average wages in the south are considerably higher than in the north.
An often-heard unionist counter-argument is that, while private wealth in the north may fall below that in the south, public wealth is higher. "We", the unionists may argue, "have the wonderful NHS and excellent schools", (all paid for by the generosity of the harder-working English, of course). "And", continues the unionist argument, "the south couldn't afford to match these wonderful benefits of the Union".
But is it true?
A closer look at the actual figures shows that, while England, and particularly London and the South-East, is amazingly generous to its underperforming Irish colony, in the key areas that count, public expenditure – and thus public wealth – in the south is higher than in the north.
The 'big ticket' items of public expenditure, and those that impact most on the average person, are health, education and social protection (pensions, benefits, etc). On all three of these items the south spends more per capita than the north.
Spending in the north on health in 2008-2009 is planned to be £ 3,255 million (€3,906 million at an average exchange rate of £1 = €1.20), or around €2,300 per person. In the south, however, even after April's supplementary budget, spending on the Health Service Executive will be €14,554 million, or €3,639 per person – fully 158% of the northern figure! The weakness of Sterling in the last year, of course, merely increases the south's lead.
The same is true for education, where the south's per capita expenditure is 119% of the north's (increasing to 128% if today's exchange rate is applied). For Social Protection the rate is 109% (increasing to 117% if today's exchange rate is applied).
On some smaller items the north spends more per capita – significantly including policing, courts and prisons! Agriculture, where most expenditure is set by the EU, per capita expenditure is almost identical.
Of course, the expenditure figures, north and south, are going to shrink quite drastically as governments take action to minimise their budget deficits. Nobody is going to escape, and it is likely that the north will see cuts even more severe than in Britain, as the total public expenditure per capita in Northern Ireland is around 122% of the UK average, for no good reason.
So it seems that unionist voters are not only voting for lower salaries, but also for underfunded health, education and social protection.
That flag must be really tasty!