The impasse over welfare reform remains in place.
However, there could be a way through the roadblock if the Stormont Executive and Assembly were to look for solutions based on the reality of economic life in Northern Ireland, rather than the fantasy social engineering which is at the core of welfare ‘reform’.
Today, the trade union movement is launching a new charter for workers and their employers, the “Congress Charter for Fair Conditions at Work”.
The charter has five points covering pay, hours of work, representation rights and respect in the workplace.
It says that in order to earn a living income from full-time work – taking account of taxes and welfare – it would be necessary for a single adult to earn at least £7.85 per hour.
Decent working conditions and a fair income are essential components of any civilised society, along with the provision of high quality public services that meet all the citizens’ needs.
Sadly, Northern Ireland is failing its workers.
Northern Ireland has the highest incidence of low pay in the UK (28 per cent) and consequently more working people who require tax credits and housing benefits to supplement their low-paid jobs.
Spending on tax credits in Northern Ireland has increased by nearly 70 per cent in the last 10 years.
You may not realise that Tax Credits account for 14 per cent of all welfare spending in the UK, compared to 2 per cent spent on Jobseekers Allowance.
These ‘reforms’ are not about getting the work-shy into jobs.
These people have jobs (which don’t pay enough to live on without a subsidy from taxpayers).
If you renamed Housing Benefit and Tax Credits as ‘Landlord and Boss Benefit’, it may be clearer where the money is going and who is really scrounging off the taxpayer.
Welfare spending can only be tackled by tackling low pay.
We can start by urging more NI companies to join the growing list of Living Wage employers, which include Nationwide, Belfast City Council, KPMG and Business First.
• Peter Bunting is assistant general secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Northern Ireland Committee