Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

War on welfare state sad

Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Northern Ireland - like many parts of Europe - has begun a series of commemorations to remember the sacrifice of the two World Wars.

When those men and women returned from the front, they built the welfare state – the thread of social protections that make up the safety net, such as health, education, housing and a living income for those who were unemployed, or who could not work.

However, the rich always opposed their introduction and are now trying to roll back those entitlements, using austerity as the excuse and welfare reform as the method.

There is a deliberate attempt to confuse the electorate between deliberate cuts in Government spending. For example, the £78m cut in this year's block grant to Stormont does not have anything to do with welfare reform.

A conscious effort is being made to conflate those cuts with the £87m that could be levied if we do not impose welfare reform. There is a further effort to paint this as a choice: reforms or a fine.

Let's be clear; this is a hit one way or the other. The choice is whether we take a further hit across Government departments, or whether we swipe it from the pockets of some of the poorest in society.

Our political masters tell us welfare reform is about taking tough decisions. Ask yourself: where is the nobility in withdrawing benefits from the severely disabled and the working poor?

Resisting injustices and defending the defenceless are tough decisions, which the trade union movement has never shirked from.

The reforms imposed so far have been a waste of taxpayer resources, according to the National Audit Office. What an appalling legacy, in contrast to the brave generations who built a land fit for heroes in the aftermath of those wars we now commemorate.

As for those political parties who plan to run for election based on their achievements of misery and impoverishment by tearing up the welfare state – we will remember them.

  • Peter Bunting is assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions

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