Belfast Telegraph

The rising cost of resisting change at Stormont

By Rebecca Black

Stormont cannot survive if Westminster's welfare reforms are not introduced. That is the stark message from First Minister Peter Robinson on the future of the Welfare Reform Bill, which was meant to have been introduced by October 2013.

It has been blocked, however, by Sinn Fein's refusal to support it because of the party's opposition to cuts which they believe will hit the vulnerable.

The SDLP is also generally not in favour of the changes.

Westminster threatened financial penalties to the block grant which Northern Ireland receives annually if the reforms are not introduced.

Northern Ireland currently pays most of its bills with the aid of a £10bn payout from Westminster each year. First Minister Peter Robinson has warned that there will be a 10% cut in that grant over five years if welfare reforms are not introduced.

Last year Stormont faced £13m in cuts for not introducing the reforms. This year it faced cuts of £87m, and that figure is set to rise to £114m next year.

Mr Robinson has said the cost to Stormont of running its own welfare system, while the rest of the UK moves on with the Welfare Reform Bill, will be £1.6billion over 10 years.

This figure does not include the projected £1billion that it will cost to set up our own IT network to continue administering the current welfare system. It is believed it will cost £300m each year to maintain this IT network.

According to research by academics from Sheffield Hallam University published last year, Northern Ireland is expected to be the region of the UK that suffers most under the welfare reforms. This research estimates the reforms will take £750m annually out of the economy here.

Division over welfare reform cuts to the heart of the current difficulties between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Earlier this year it was claimed by the SDLP that Sinn Fein had agreed to a deal on bringing welfare reforms to Northern Ireland – before Gerry Adams put a stop to it. Sinn Fein denied the claims that Martin McGuinness' agreement was opposed by senior members in Dublin.

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