Proper protection for the most weak and vulnerable in society must be built in to next year’s draft budget arrangements, the Presbyterian Church has said.
In a submission to the Northern Ireland Executive, the Church said it appreciated “the scale of the challenge” in rebalancing the economy, but had concerns about welfare reform proposals.
Co-Convener of the Church in Society Committee, the Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, said: “A major concern of the Church in regard to the draft budget is the need to provide proper protection to the weak and vulnerable.
“The Church therefore welcomes the protection indicated within the Stormont House Agreement on welfare reform, though the impact of the new flexibilities is not yet clear, and may also have an as yet unspecified but significant downside for other areas of our public services.”
Rev Hamilton added: “The Executive’s current draft budget offers a measure of protection to the provision of health and some education services, (but regretfully not the higher education sector), as well as to the police.
“We have a particular concern that departmental cuts which will limit or reduce the skills capacity in Northern Ireland will be counterproductive in building the strong economy needed to underpin a sustainable budget and adequate public services.
“We ask that specific attention be given to this issue as an outworking of the Stormont Agreement to ensure that it is properly addressed. We therefore urge all parties, including those not represented in the Executive, to proactively seek consensus on these difficult issues for the good of the whole people of Northern Ireland.”
The Presbyterian submission also highlighted what it called the “significant costs associated with providing public services in a divided society”, and welcomed a commitment to have an independent audit of each department on the impact of the ongoing divisions in our society.