On 16 September this blog looked at how much higher salaries are in the south than in the north. On 17 September this blog looked at how much higher public spending on 'big ticket' items is in the south than in the north. However, what if the two comparisons are actually looking at the same thing? Since a large part of the health and education budgets in both jurisdictions are accounted for by salaries, then perhaps the only reason the south spends more per capita than the north is because of inflated salaries, which in turn are spent (wasted?) on over-priced housing?
So rather than looking at the input side of public pending it might be wiser to look at the output side – i.e. at what people in the two jurisdictions actually get for their money (or, in the case of the north, London's money).
Rather than looking at the money spent on health, for example, it might be more useful to look at issues like life expectancy, infant mortality, and so on. Rather than look at money spent on education it might better to look at the proportion of 18 year olds going on to third level education, or illiteracy rates.
On health issues, the All-Ireland Health and Social Care Indicator Set published in 2008, tells us that:
"The overall Northern Ireland life expectancy was 75.9 years for males and 80.6 years for females.
The overall Republic of Ireland life expectancy was 75.5 years for males and 80.6 years for females."
(For comparative purposes: The WHO reports that in 2005 the life expectancy at birth for males in the EU-15 countries was 76.8 years and for females was 82.6 years and in the EU-27 countries was 75.4 years for males and 81.6 years for females - so neither jurisdiction is doing very well.)
Compared with the average for the whole island the standardised death rate in 2004 was 4.7% higher in Northern Ireland and 2.1% lower in the south. The standardised death rate in the south and in the north was 324.9 and 347.6 per 100,000 persons respectively. Compared with the average for the whole island the standardised death rate was 32% higher in Belfast and 27% lower in Roscommon.
Infant mortality rates, quoted by NISRA, are 4.9 per thousand in the north in 2007. The CSO in the south announced that the rate for the first quarter on 2008 was 3.3 per thousand.
Turning to education, the Department of Education in the north tells us that in 2006-2007 39.4% of school leavers went on to higher education (either Institutions of Higher Education or Institutions of Further Education – Higher Education courses). In the south, though, the CSO, in Measuring Ireland's Progress 2007, tells us that "among young adults (those aged 25 to 34), 41.6% of them have attained third-level degrees - the second highest level in the EU after Cyprus, and substantially ahead of the average of 29.1%"
On literacy rates it is difficult to find separate statistics for Northern Ireland, but if the south is compared with the UK, Ireland scores higher on reading literacy (517/495) and mathematical literacy (501/495), but lower on scientific literacy (508/515).
So what does it all tell us? That on some measures the north's public services give a better outcome, but on others the south's are better. More than anything else it shows that any arguments about the merits or demerits of Irish reunification based upon the perceived benefits of 'the Union' are spurious. 'The Union' provides its supporters with nothing more than they would get in a united Ireland.
Which brings us back to where we started. If public services are essentially comparable north and south, then they can play little part in a rational contest between a United Kingdom and a united Ireland. However, the small matter of the significantly higher private wealth in the south should not be forgotten. At the end of the day, if you have more money you can consume a greater quantity of the goods that are traded internationally, or goods of a greater quality. Whether that is the key to happiness is a much-argued question, but in any debate on the merits of the reunification of Ireland unionists will at least have to think of a better argument than their traditional one of 'the UK is a richer country' – because per capita it isn't.
And neither is it a more 'developed' place. The UN Human Development Index put Ireland at No 5 in 2008, but the UK was only at No 21. Since the north is not exactly the most developed part of the UK, on its own it would score pretty badly. So it seems that in terms of pure 'value for money' the south does far better – it is richer, more developed, and certainly as happy.
Catholics voting for unionist parties would really be like turkeys voting for Christmas. But so, of course, is everyone who votes for a unionist party.