The recent Stormont debates over welfare reform bring to mind some interesting points.
The first concerns the benefit cap that the Conservative Party would like introduced at £26,000 (falling to £23,000 during the next parliament).
Sinn Féin have historically had an ‘average industrial wage policy’ in which their elected representatives had an income cap imposed on them by the party, and many have had to raise their families under this policy.
We can assume then that Sinn Féin accepts the underlying concept of an income cap in principle – whether for welfare claimants or for those in work.
The question instead is at what level this income cap should be set?
The second is that for much of the second half of the last century a long sustained campaign was fought to remove obstacles preventing those with disabilities from working, and this led to legislation being enacted to remove discrimination preventing those with disabilities from entering the workplace and securing paid work.
I recently worked in a call centre for a large company which went to considerable lengths to adapt their computerised systems for disabled colleagues, and to also provide motorised wheelchairs for those with mobility issues.
Now, how is it that in Northern Ireland many severely disabled people actively seek out work whereas others appear to perceive disability as a barrier to work, and is it right that they do so?
The question arises as to whether many disabled could not work seated at a computerised terminal talking to customers?
The last point to be raised here is over housing benefit.
Average house prices in Northern Ireland are half those in Britain.
However, if we continue to pay housing benefit at the same rate it is paid in London then it won’t be long before we once again have London house prices here in Northern Ireland.
We should trim Northern Ireland housing benefit, which is paid to landlords, by some fifty per cent to reflect cheaper housing costs in Northern Ireland.
Bernard J. Mulholland