Welfare reform is only fair towards the low paid

Morning View
Morning View

Opponents of welfare reform often seem really to believe that they are kind-hearted campaigners who are nobly battling against savage cuts motivated by cruelty.

It is a deluded self-assessment.

The current welfare system is in fact cruelly distorted against some of the most vulnerable people in society - those many workers who are paid little more than the minimum wage, but who nonetheless head out to work day after day.

It has long been a moral scandal that such people are sometimes worse off than they would be if they chose instead to live on benefits.

At Westminster, all but a dedicated group of politicians on the left now agree that welfare reform in the UK, including Northern Ireland, is essential.

The Liberal Democrats are more wary of reform than the Tories. But they have brought in a measure that has been a key accompaniment to welfare reform - higher income tax allowances.

Low paid employees can now earn more than £10,000 a year, but remain below the threshold for paying tax.

Higher allowances help ensure that there is an incentive for people on the dole to accept even modestly paid work.

The change has been funded by the middle classes, by lowering the threshold at which earners pay 40 per cent tax, so that more middle earners are now in that higher rate bracket.

It is only fair that welfare recipients also contribute to this cultural shift towards employment, and away from economic inactivity.

The cap on welfare uprating was a first step.

Stormont opposition to welfare reform, principally (but by no means exclusively) by nationalist politicians, has so far thwarted its extension to Northern Ireland, and is costing the Province £5m a month.

The Treasury’s penalising of Stormont in this way marks the beginning of the end to consequence-free spending by MLAs, and Northern Ireland will suffer until those politicians accept that.