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Sort out the welfare mess now

By Steven Agnew

Published 22/05/2015

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

It is the first duty of Government to support the most vulnerable in our society and the Green Party has this at the heart of everything it does.

That is why that, unless there are significant changes between now and next Tuesday, we will continue to oppose the welfare cuts as proposed.

Ultimately, while the pressure to make these changes has come from the UK Government, welfare is devolved and whether or not these cuts are imposed in Northern Ireland is a decision for the Northern Ireland Assembly to make.

Before the Stormont House Agreement the Department for Social Development estimated that the welfare cuts would cost around £120m per year.

In spite of Sinn Fein saying no one would be worse off, this same agreement budgeted for approximately £90m per year.

The sums just don't add up.

David Ford said at the Alliance conference that Stormont can't protect vulnerable people if money is taken out of public services to fund further adjustments to benefits.

Yet the Alliance Party is part of the cross-party consensus that we should reduce Northern Ireland's income further by reducing corporation tax.

This would take at least £300m per year out of the Northern Ireland pot.

In order to resolve this crisis there needs to be some decisive action by the Executive parties.

The parties need to take a mature approach and negotiate to solve this not-insurmountable problem.

Surely parties who agree that they can find vast sums to give big business tax-breaks can find the relatively small amount required to ensure that vulnerable people get the help they need?

In the neverending blame game, the DUP is trying to blame those of us who are seeking to oppose welfare cuts.

Rather, it is it that continually threatens to walk away if it doesn't get its own way.

It is time that those who hold the power started to act for the benefit of their constituents who need them most.

What the Executive needs to do is sit down and sort the welfare mess out.

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

Belfast Telegraph

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