Stormont must back workers and urgently reform welfare

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The failure to reform welfare in Northern Ireland is hugely irresponsible of nationalists.

This has been apparent for many months, as the excesses of welfare become more and more apparent to average workers in the Province.

But now we find that failing to reform welfare might in fact cost Stormont around £500 million a year.

This will be due to London’s penalty for Northern Ireland keeping a more generous welfare system, but also due to hugely expensive IT systems that will be needed to support a separate welfare system from Great Britain.

How many people in Sinn Fein and the SDLP really believe that it is reasonable and fair to pay thousands of families in Northern Ireland more than the £26,000 cap that now prevails in GB? This is equivalent to £34,000 a year before tax.

It is a slap in the face to hard-working families in which two parents go out to work each day and struggle with the cost of childcare then to discover that some other families are making such sums in welfare. The obvious unfairness and decadence of such payments is one reason why welfare reform is so popular across the UK.

Yet the continuation of massive, unreformed welfare payments is of such importance to Sinn Fein and the SDLP that they are seemingly prepared to consider either the collapse of Stormont, of crushing cuts to other areas of public funding, such as policing, schools, hospitals, defence and transport.

Even if the sum saved from welfare reform was only £50 million a year, it would be the right thing to do morally, to ensure that welfare money is targeted at the unemployed, pensioners and the most vulnerable people in society. Also to ensure that people in work are better off than people on benefits. But it isn’t £50m a year. It is many times that amount.

This is not a difficult concept to grasp, yet even unionist politicians are failing to articulate it. They argue for reform as a way of avoiding Treasury penalties, rather than something that is wholly appropriate in its own right.