There are few clearer examples of the Stormont Executive refusing to get on with the most fundamental tasks of governing Northern Ireland than the current impasse on welfare reform.
The rest of the UK has changed its benefits system, while the Assembly has still not passed its Welfare Bill, despite the fact that it was introduced well over a year ago and discussions have been taking place for much longer than that.
Government is all about making difficult decisions and taking responsibility. The choice for our Executive is very simple. Either implement reform like the rest of the UK, with some special provisions for Northern Ireland, or go its own way and maintain the old system. If it takes the latter option then the costs will rise to about £200 million per year and Stormont will have to find that money from the block-grant, which means cutting spending on schools, hospitals and other public services.
As usual, the Executive parties have fudged the issue. They’ve made no decision on welfare reform and costs are being incurred as a result. They’ve not been open with the electorate and there’s no clear idea where the extra money, about £5 million each month to start off with, will come from.
NI Conservatives believe that it is absolutely necessary to reform welfare and that the task is particularly urgent in Northern Ireland. Benefits dependency has a firm grip in our society and it is ruining lives and keeping people in poverty. We want fairness for taxpayers, a guarantee that it always pays more to work and benefits which are targeted at those who need them most.
As an educator, I’m dedicated to making sure young people have the skills, opportunities and motivation to get the best jobs they can. I know that there is absolutely nothing compassionate about parking people on benefits.
Some Executive parties may disagree, but they have an obligation to be up front about their arguments and make a decision. They can’t keep dodging difficult issues which make up the day to day work of government.
If they can’t reach agreement on central matters like this, then they are failing to govern and trying to pull wool over the eyes of the electorate. The people of Northern Ireland will not prove so easily fooled.