Belfast Telegraph

Ex-military concerned over NI's cut of Chancellor's payout

By Rebecca Black

Northern Ireland's military veterans have welcomed new funding, but warned: "We must get our fair share."

Chancellor George Osborne announced £25m in the Budget yesterday to support veterans.

This is in addition to a further £75m - allocated from fines paid by banks involved in the Libor lending rate-fixing scandal - destined for charities for regiments which fought in Afghanistan, a permanent memorial to those who died in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to help renovate Battle of Britain memorials.

Local veterans have strongly stated that Northern Ireland must gets its fair share of the funding.

This comes after Northern Ireland received just £50,000 of a previous £35m allocated to veterans' charities from the Libor fines.

Former Royal Irish captain Doug Beattie said local veterans are disadvantaged despite Northern Ireland having a higher percentage of veterans per head of population than anywhere else in the UK.

He said one example of how things are different is where veterans have suffered damage to their reproductive organs. In the rest of the UK they are entitled to three cycles of IVF treatment, but in Northern Ireland they are entitled to just one cycle.

"There is a clear disparity," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Then when you look at how little Northern Ireland received from the last Libor money, it was meagre."

Wounded soldier Andy Allen also expressed concerns that Northern Ireland veterans would not receive much of the funds.

Although there has been no research to establish how many veterans live in Northern Ireland, the NI Affairs Committee estimates there are 150,000.

Mr Allen said one of the main issues facing this community is mental health.

He said the lack of a specialist mental health centre in Northern Ireland means that veterans have to travel to Scotland or England to access these services, and often have to stay for six weeks.

"Veterans are forced to have to travel across the water. And if you take someone suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) they are most comfortable and assured at home surrounded by their family and friends," he said.

Case studies

Self-employed: Cathy Magee

Senior Sales Leader for Avon

Income: over £50,000

As a senior executive sales leader for cosmetic company Avon, Belfast woman Cathy Magee drives up to 30,000 miles a year across Ireland for her job.

She has welcomed this Budget as one in which the government has thought about self employed workers.

"The end of the paper tax return is far better. I use the online version and that is the way of the future," she said.

"The increase in the tax-free allowance over the next two years is also good news.

"I would also welcome the freezing of tax on petrol. It sounds like this Budget has been a good one.

"Due to how much I drive for work, the price of fuel last year got to the point where it was worrying me. I work mostly in Northern Ireland but can often be called on to drive all over Ireland and I was even working in the Isle of Man recently."

Cathy has four grown up children with her husband. She said she smokes, drinks socially and drives a Citroen C2.

"It seems like the Government has thought more about people in this Budget, and what will impact on their lives the most," she said.

Family of four: Jean Wylie (41) and her husband Phil Smyth (50). They have two daughters, Polly and Bonnie

Public Relations Agency owner and photographer

Income: not disclosed

The lack of help with childcare was a major disappointment for this south Belfast couple who have two daughters - Polly (7) and Bonnie (5).

Jean said she felt the Budget was a massive disappointment for parents.

"A big thing for us is childcare," she said.

"When you have two people who work, the cost of childcare is going to significantly take away from your disposable income.

"A big question for me with this Budget was, will it help families. The answer seems to be no."

Jean said if the Government wants to get more people, particularly women, back into work then the cost of childcare is something they need to address.

She said childcare can cost £40 a day, and run to hundreds of pounds a month.

"One of the major things they are not tackling in this Budget is the cost of childcare," she said.

"The fact is in most families, both parents have to work and more needs to be done to facilitate them to work."

She said over the years they have used a number of different forms of childcare, including nurseries, nannies and after-school clubs.

"It is very, very difficult for families with young children to get through those early years," she said.

"It can cost more than £40 a day, and then there is the after-school care.

"Government needs to focus on tackling this and getting more talented people back to work."

Jean and Phil are both self employed, and welcomed the changes to the tax system.

"We both work for ourselves, so it is good to see the tax system modernised," she said.

"This will be much better for people who are freelance or work for themselves."

Single parent: Jenni McCallen (24). She has one daughter

Income: under £11,000

East Belfast mum Jenni McCallen said there is not much in the Budget to help her to make ends meet.

She works part-time to provide for her and her three-year-old daughter Amelia.

"I haven't had time to look at the detail of the Budget to be honest, with work, but from what I have seen, the Government did not seem to have single parents in mind when they were coming up with it," she said.

"There is no sign of help with childcare or help for me as a working mum that I have seen so far."

She said when Amelia starts school in September the regular hours will help her as she will not need as much childcare.

"That is really the biggest thing, sorting out childcare so that I can work," she said.

"It can be really difficult. If the Government want to get more people back to work, then this is something that they need to help with."

However, because Jenni works part-time, she said the increase in the tax-free allowance might help her.

"It means I'll be able to earn a little more because the tax-free allowance is going up to £11,000 by 2017," she said.

"At the minute, I don't earn enough to have to pay tax, this means that I will be able to earn a little more. But when you break the figure down to how much more it would be per week it isn't much. Overall there is really not much for me to get excited about.

Pensioner: Mary Johnston

Retired journalist

Income: not disclosed

There was not much in the Budget for pensioners, but Belfast woman Mary Johnston said she had not been expecting much for those in her age group.

"I see there was a reduction in the price of beer so that will definitely put a smile on some faces," she said.

"I am not much of a beer drinker myself though."

Mary was more interested to see how the Budget would affect her grown up children who are now raising their own families.

"I am not overly affected by the Budget," she said.

"At this stage of my life I have less interest in it, but I have grown children so if it affects them, it affects me."

She said she would have liked to have seen more help for the parents of young children.

"I would have liked to have seen the Government do something to try and reduce the cost of childcare," she said.

"My son and his wife both work and paying for childcare takes up quite a chunk of their income.

"So yes, I would have liked to have seen something done about the cost of childcare to help all the young parents."

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