Belfast Telegraph

Impasse hitting sick and vulnerable most

Editor's Viewpoint

As the political impasse at Stormont continues, and is likely to remain until much later in the year given the impending general election, the problems caused by the lack of a functioning Assembly and Executive continue to pile up.

And now we can reveal that unless devolution is restored by September, the new Universal Credit - which replaces a number of major benefits - will begin to roll out without mitigation measures in place.

It is estimated that some 126,000 claimants will be £40 a week worse off under Universal Credit. The DUP and Sinn Fein were at loggerheads over welfare reform for almost three years until 18 months ago when mitigation measures were agreed.

But if there is no functioning administration in place at Stormont the power to introduce those measures will pass to whoever is Secretary of State. Implementation of measures to soften the welfare reforms here will prove unpopular in other UK regions. Meanwhile, the situation on health and social services will continue to decline.

Rather than run up an unsustainable overspend, cuts in the service will have to be made, meaning longer waiting lists, which are already subject to unacceptable delays. Care packages for care in the community will also take longer to be delivered.

Essentially, the sick and the vulnerable will be among the first casualties of the political impasse. Yet will they feature much, if at all, in the forthcoming election campaign where the focus, for Sinn Fein and the DUP, will be simply on maximising their vote by rallying supporters under pro-Union or anti-Brexit slogans?

Perhaps, given the context of the election, voters may not be too exercised by the absence of a devolved administration, but when the dust settles and the focus returns to Stormont talks, the pressure will be on the two major parties in particular to reach a compromise.

If the impasse continues and another Assembly election results, the parties would have a self-serving reason to assure voters of their sincerity in seeking a return to devolution.

A failing health service and penal welfare reforms could well make voters rethink their loyalties.

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