Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Welfare reform has to be tackled

The warning could not be clearer. Unless our politicians fall into line with the Westminster's welfare reform it will cost us £2.8bn – money we cannot afford to lose – and 1,410 well paid civil service jobs.

No political party will like cutting benefits especially with elections looming. Some may even say they are opposed to such a move on principle. But what is the choice?

We may all argue that cutting benefits is an attack on people who are already living on the margins. Yes, there are people who abuse the system, but far more rely on it to keep body and soul barely together. What our politicians could usefully do is attempt to mitigate the effect of reforms on those depending on the state for income. They should use whatever leverage they can to amend the reforms and fight for the protection of the most vulnerable.

But there is no sense in standing King Canute-like trying to defy the tide of reforms. By refusing to deliver progress on reforms will mean not just penalising those on benefits, but everyone else in the province as well.

For if Northern Ireland tries to go it alone with its own system it will mean huge penalties in the block grant and cutting public services which are already under strain.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton is right to warn his Executive colleagues that they must now become grown-up politicians and display leadership.

There is no point in mouthing points-scoring platitudes and expressing defiance when what is really needed is to face reality. Reform of the benefit system is inevitable whether anyone likes it or not. Stalling is only wasting valuable public funding which is desperately needed for services like education and health.

Our politicians cannot continue to stick their head in the sand and hope that someone will wave a magic wand and make their problems go away. This is one issue where they have to show their mettle and take tough – even unpopular – decisions. No one will ultimately thank them for dodging the issue.

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