Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

£7m a month bill in welfare row: Taxpayers 'will suffer' as parties continue to squabble over benefit reform

DUP's Gregory Campbell
DUP's Gregory Campbell

Failure to implement welfare reforms in Northern Ireland will cost Stormont more than £7m per month in this financial year, the Government has warned.

But that will rise to a staggering £10m every month in 2015-16, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said – more than double the £5m a month penalty in effect since January.

Months of wrangling between the local parties over making controversial changes to the benefits system has finally led to the Government's long-standing threat becoming an expensive reality.

In a response to the DUP's East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, Treasury chief Danny Alexander outlined the massive reductions to the block grant from Westminster.

While the increase in the looming cuts have been known for some time, it now means the Executive knows exactly how much it will lose.

Recently, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton – who was warned of the likely cuts in advance – said the scale of the cuts faced in Northern Ireland would mean a devastating £68.2m reduction in health spending.

LibDem MP Mr Alexander bluntly said the cuts were being imposed because Northern Ireland was not making savings "as a result of the lack of progress on welfare reforms already in place in the rest of the United Kingdom".

"For 2014-15 those estimated savings are £87m and in 2015-16 they will rise to £114m ," he said.

The DUP has lambasted its partner in government, Sinn Fein, for blocking changes to welfare reform – with the First Minister Peter Robinson even threatening to hand the powers back to Westminster as the bitter row deepened.

More recently, Mr Robinson accused Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams of deliberately scuppering a deal the two parties had made – a claim backed by the SDLP. Mr Campbell said Mr Alexander's response to his query about the reduction to the block grant "makes it abundantly clear that Northern Ireland is being currently penalised because of SF internal division".

"A penalty of over £7m per month will undoubtedly have an impact on the vulnerable. Front-line services in hospitals and schools will be hit. Policing will also be impacted," he said.

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