Mike Penning, former Tory NIO minister, and now Work and Pensions Minister flew briefly into Belfast last week on a mission.
He threatened that unless his government’s cuts agenda is implemented here, penalties will be imposed on the Executive.
Incredibly he said welfare cuts was a matter of fairness. He arrogantly accused those of us who oppose welfare cuts of ‘burying our heads in sand’. He trumpeted his working class background; as if that made more acceptable the Conservatives’ strategy to undermine the welfare rights of the most vulnerable.
However, the background of the messenger has no relevance when the message itself promises great hardship. NICVA has estimated a projected loss up to £750 million from the local economy because of welfare cuts: that equates to £650. a year for every working adult.
Penning says it’s a “tough decision”, but that ignores the devastating consequences for disadvantaged unionist and nationalist areas, low and unwaged families, the elderly, and physically and intellectually disabled citizens.
There will also be a knock on effect for spending and jobs. The only guaranteed economic outcome from these cuts will be greater inequality.
Mike Penning pointed the finger at Sinn Fein for being opposed to welfare cuts. He’s right; Sinn Fein is opposed to austerity north and south. We will defend the underprivileged.
Austerity and cuts won’t end this recession. The only viable alternative is economic stimulus.
So the Block Grant here should be restored to its previous level; corporation tax and other economic levers should be transferred immediately as a basis for further harmonising all-island economic cooperation, and promoting balanced regional development and competitiveness.
British government policy here must change; the British need to properly reengage with the peace and political processes.
Significantly, Mike Penning didn’t stay around long enough to have that conversation.