Belfast Telegraph

Poor sold out by this dodgy deal

By Steven Agnew

To call a deal that has been rotting on the shelf for the best part of a year 'a Fresh Start' smacks of the worst possible spin.

However, that is far from the worst deception at the heart of this dodgy, behind-closed-doors agreement.

On the surface it would appear that the top-up payments amounting to £345m over four years mean that the impact of welfare cuts will be significantly mitigated in Northern Ireland. However, this is little more than a sleight of hand.

A single line on page 22 of the document hints at the hidden deceit, namely: "This sum incorporates the present discretionary fund."

Oh, well, that's okay, I'm sure. Incidentally, how much is it?

I asked this innocent question during the Assembly debate on the issue. The minister did not respond, so I tabled a written question. I was shocked at what I discovered.

In each of the last three years the discretionary fund, which covers community care grants, budget loans and crisis loans, amounted to a total of more than £80m.

That means that there is effectively no new top-up fund to mitigate against welfare cuts; there is simply a reallocation of funds from within the welfare system. This is robbing the poor to pay the poor - and telling them to be thankful for it.

The acquiescence to Tory demands on welfare reform would appear to be complete.

The DUP and Sinn Fein, backed by the Alliance Party, agreed to a full implementation of the welfare cuts that were applied in Britain, bar a minor amendment on sanctions.

The Green Party has consistently stood against welfare cuts. While we have always acknowledged that Sinn Fein's claim that "no one will be worse off" was unrealistic, this deal is a sell-out of the poor, sick and disabled.

At the same time, they have committed us to a further £240m-£300m of voluntary cuts as a result of the corporation tax break to big business from 2018.

As I said from the outset, the devil would be in the detail.

The so-called 'Fresh Start' is a deceit which the devil would applaud.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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