Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Narrow majority opposes implementing welfare reforms

By Liam Clarke

Welfare reform - the issue that threatens to bring Stormont down in a budgetary crisis - splits the community.

A new welfare system is being introduced in Britain which will restructure benefits and slow down the rate of increase in welfare spending.

Northern Ireland has negotiated some opt-outs which would blunt the hard edges but the new system has been blocked by Sinn Fein and the SDLP who argue that it would still cause too much hardship to the poor.

As a result the Executive is facing crippling fines from the Treasury, forcing cuts in other areas.

Our poll reveals that the most popular option is to implement the changes with the opt-outs that have been negotiated.

This is favoured by nearly half the population (47.6%) when don't know (DKs) are excluded.

The problem is that a narrow majority (52.4%) oppose implementing the changes.

Of these 24.2% believe we should do so "whatever the cost" and 28.2% believe we should confront Westminster by refusing to either change welfare payments or cut down on other budgets.

This has the making of a perfect storm and divides the community along sectarian rather than class lines.

All social classes give very broadly similar responses and there is no huge difference across the age ranges either. DKs, the social category which includes most claimants, were 40.3% in favour of implementing the reforms.

However, when DKs are included in the calculation 42.3% of Catholics believe in confronting the Government, an approach shared by only 8.8% of Protestants. Nearly half of Protestants (49.7%) want to implement the changes with modifications, though only just over a fifth (22.1%) of Catholics agree with them. DKs were similar amongst religious communities, 15.7% of Protests and 16.3% of Catholics.

Women were more in favour of implementation (42.5%) than men (35.6%).

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness yesterday called for Westminster to freeze £87m in fines. Mr McGuinness said this would allow parties to enter talks over the current deadlock.

But First Minister Peter Robinson accused Sinn Fein of failing to face reality over welfare reform.

"This is a crisis situation caused by crankery within Sinn Fein. It is totally irresponsible," he said.

"As a responsible Government, we have to take the hard decisions. We are not there to be applauded from the sidelines because we just take the nice decisions."

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