Brought to you by Tories – Sinn Féin – DUP – Alliance
In November 2015, DUP, Sinn Féin and Alliance MLAs lined up to hand the Tories in Westminster the power to impose their draconian ‘welfare reform’ policies on working-class people here. The vote was agreed by them as part of the Fresh Start Agreement – as their reward, the local parties would be able to slash corporate taxes.
Now, over a year since Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) began to be rolled out, families who were already struggling face even greater hardship. The Department for Communities has admitted that this will mean 126,000 families in Northern Ireland losing more than £2,000 every year – a devastating impact.
Across Northern Ireland, hundreds have been forced onto the streets. Thousands more are left to struggle with mounting debts; parents forced to say no to opportunities for their children, older people left to choose between heating and eating. Meanwhile, funding for welfare advice has been cut further, leaving advice centres across Northern Ireland under threat. It’s hard to see what’s happening and not feel a deep-seated anger.
PIP is replacing the old Disability Living Allowance, but with even more stringent assessments conducted by a private company, often without any medically trained staff, in which more than a third of claimants have lost benefits.
The Tories claimed Universal Credit was only to simplify the benefits system. The truth is that it was another attack on the poorest and most vulnerable, while the Tories’ super-rich friends hoard more wealth than ever.
These benefit cuts don’t just affect the unemployed, sick or disabled. Because it is replacing working tax credits and child tax credits, Universal Credit has hit working families hard, harder so in Northern Ireland as we are amongst the lowest-paid in the UK.
Sinn Féin, the DUP and the Alliance are complicit in this onslaught on working-class people – just like they were in the ‘cash for ash’ scandal and austerity in general. Now, they think that they can fool people into believing they had nothing to do with it.
When that doesn’t work, they claim they had no choice but to support welfare cuts. But that’s just not true. Public opposition in England has already forced the Tories to make some concessions while in Scotland a people-power campaign defeated the hated bedroom tax. To win here, that’s the kind of movement we need to build on a cross-community basis.
Socialist Party members standing in the local election as part of Labour Alternative will be seeking to put the issue of this assault on working-class people centre stage and demand welfare reform be scrapped and replaced with a benefits system which eliminates poverty and guarantees dignity for all. As well as fighting for the need to end poverty pay and guarantee hours, to close the tax loopholes and avoidance schemes through which the 1% elite escape paying any tax whatsoever and for the need for a democratic, socialist programme of nationalisation and public investment to create decent jobs and generate a balanced and environmentally-sustainable economy for all.
By Donal O’Cofaigh, Fermanagh Labour Alternative