Belfast Telegraph

The issue of welfare may do for Executive

By Liam Clarke

Nelson McCausland says he has proposals on welfare reform ready, but he never mentioned them at yesterday's Executive.

Recent DUP rows with Sinn Fein have left the atmosphere too poisonous to agree such swingeing cuts.

The annual hit to our economy is up to £750m, and it won't just affect claimants. Benefit payments tend to be spent locally. Cuts impact on local traders and Stormont doesn't see any of the savings. They go straight back to the Treasury.

So it is small wonder that politicians are lining up to distance themselves from the cuts, or reforms. On the other hand, nobody wants to have to find the huge extra costs involved in breaking parity with Britain and setting up our own system. Nearly half our spending is on health, so it is hard to see how we could make up the difference without cutting the health budget.

Sinn Fein has brought this issue close to the brink, but the SDLP also pushed hard, and unionists from working-class areas, like Michael Copeland of the UUP, have protested long and hard.

All the Northern Ireland parties voted against the Bill.

Yet parties have been willing to scupper it and bear the cost. Strong opposition strengthened Minister McCausland's hand in negotiations with the Treasury, but only up to a point.

He now claims to have secured flexibilities to show to ministers.

Handled badly, this issue could collapse the Executive.

Belfast Telegraph


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