By Maria Morgan
Chairperson, NIPSA Civil Service Group Executive (personal capacity)
Since 2010, NIPSA and the trade unions in Northern have been opposed to the so-called “welfare reforms” that are, in reality, welfare cuts. We knew that the proposals were setting out the Tory vision for social security that would destroy jobs and services in towns across Northern Ireland. We now know that the harsh sanctions already being applied to claimants on some benefits are set to increase with the introduction of Universal Credit, which will replace 6 working-age benefits, including Tax Credits for low-paid working families
The imposition of the brutal 2012 Welfare Act by the Tory Government in Westminster has not yet been felt in full in Northern Ireland, mainly because NIPSA, in particular, managed to fight this off. However, the Fresh Start Agreement will now mean that the horrors of the cuts in Britain will be felt by our communities, who will be subjected to the rigours of a sanction and conditionality regime. It is shocking that the Executive parties of the DUP and Sinn Féin gifted their devolved power on welfare to the Tories to impose more cuts and further measures that will undermine the vital support that is required by families who cannot find work or have recently lost their jobs in Gallagher’s, Caterpillar, BHS or Bombardier. We do know that more families with children will be negatively impacted by these cuts.
We recognise that mitigations for Northern Ireland will ease the burden slightly and for a short time but the agreed funding is inadequate to address the needs. We are very concerned that working class communities in Northern Ireland, emerging from conflict, will be directly disadvantaged by these cuts. Proposals to close the Job Centres and Social Security offices in Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle at the same time that food banks are opening up in these towns demonstrate for us the direction of travel in Northern Ireland. We must continue to robustly defend the Social Security provision for our communities and the jobs connected with it. It is very concerning that the Fresh Start Agreement is delivering cuts when it should be defending workers and vital services in Northern Ireland.