Nothing fair about welfare reforms

I WOULD like to respond to the letter on the topic of the Welfare Reform Bill by the Conservative Party’s Stephen McIlwrath (March 2). In his letter Mr McIlwrath boldly claims that the purpose of the Conservative’s Welfare Reform Bill is not to cut spending but to get people back into work.

While Mr McIlwrath’s view is at odds with his own party’s website which clearly states that welfare reform is key to dealing with, in their words, a ‘decade of debt’, it does reveal what most people have known all along: the real reason for Tory cuts is ideological rather than based on sound economics.

At 64 per cent of GDP, the UK’s Government debt is not high by historical standards and compares favourably to a debt of 250 per cent at the end of the Second World War when the government established the NHS.

Let’s also not forget that it was the free market hands off regulatory approach promoted by the Conservative Party which resulted in a financial crisis and led to the downturn in the first instance.

In his letter Mr McIlwrath also makes the baseless claim that it will help to combat benefit dependency. Yet, his stance on this issue is indicative of the Conservative party’s simplistic view of the benefits trap which completely fails multidimensional and contextual background of individual benefit claimants. The evidence demonstrates that when you come from a poor background, but live in a progressive society with a strong welfare system, you are far more likely to engage in employment and progress up the social ladder. It is therefore no surprise that the US and the UK have the lowest level of social mobility (the potential to move from the bottom of society to the top) in the OECD while Scandinavian countries such as Denmark come top of the list. Moving further towards a US system where generations of poor are denied any government assistance and which leaves people with a mountain to climb, results in the entrapment of generation after generation in a cycle of poverty.

What is most astounding about Mr McIllwrath’s letter is that he justifies these welfare reforms on the basis that they are fair. Yet, what exactly is fair about a policy, devised by a cabinet of millionaire elites, which takes away what little support exists for the very poorest people in a society with unprecedented levels of inequality rivalled only to those in King John’s England? Or, indeed, what is fair about the Conservative’s policies, which, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, will hit the poorest 30 per cent of households the hardest and lead to an increase in child poverty? And, what was fair about the pay cuts that millions of ordinary people were forced to endure in 2011 while the directors of the top 100 companies in the UK awarded themselves an average 50 per cent pay rise?

Ross Brown

Chair, East Belfast Green Party