Belfast Telegraph

SDLP drowned out as it gets serious about benefits

By Liam Clarke

While the UUP clowned around this week, the SDLP has struck a more serious note.

Their earnest discourse on changes to the benefits system was drowned out by McNarrygate on the one hand and Peter Robinson's inspired gesture of attending a GAA match on the other.

That is part of a tic-tac between himself and Martin McGuinness which may well end in the deputy First Minister meeting the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee visit to Northern Ireland.

But back to the SDLP and to a conference they held earlier this week.

Benefits changes imposed by Westminster may well have more effect on our day-to-day lives than the guest lists at GAA matches and garden parties, or the machinations of the UUP.

Benefits are usually spent on local goods and services - not on online shopping and foreign holidays.

So cutting them could suck hundreds of millions of pounds out of the local economy, causing hardship to claimants as well as hitting retail businesses. The savings will go straight back to the Treasury.

As minister for social development in the last Assembly, Alex Attwood seemed to be making some progress with Lord Freud - his Westminster opposite number - in having us made a special case, but we have seen no results yet.

Let's hope that Nelson McCausland - his DUP successor, who has so far focused more on catching benefit cheats - can bring the deal home.

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