Stormont rubber stamps Welfare Reform Bill


Anyone with any illusions in Stormont as a 'progressive' alternative to Tory cuts from Westminster should take note after yesterday’s passing of the devastating Welfare reform bill.  The motion which will impact on thousands in NI and affect disability living allowance, housing benefit and employment support was passed in the second stage by 60 votes to 42. This biggest shakeup of the 'welfare' since 1945 has already been passed in Scotland and Wales and will bring in a single, Universal Credit to replace six income-related, work-based benefits.

In Northern Ireland 9,000 people are likely to be affected by the cuts to housing benefit. When it comes to social housing, people will no longer be able to live in houses with more bedrooms than they need. For example, if a single person is living in a two-bedroom flat, they will no longer receive the same amount of housing benefit. So to stay in the same property they would have to make up the shortfall in rent from their benefits.

The Disability Living Allowance will change to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for people of working age but DLA will be retained for children and pensioners. That will mean all 118,000 working-age people currently on DLA in Northern Ireland will be reassessed and receive PIP instead.

 As NIPSA’s Deputy General Secretary, Alison Millar stated:

"At a time when unemployment is rising in Northern Ireland it is not appropriate that the Assembly are debating how to take £500m annually out of the NI economy. If this Bill is voted through then many more jobs in both the public and private sector will be lost. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Also with unemployment figures rising month on month more families will be faced with a bleak future with cuts to the welfare benefits at a time when they are needed most.”(1)

We should also not be fooled and let Sinn Fein and the SDLP off the hook because the reality is that both parties pushed for amendments and deferral rather than calling for the bill to be scrapped.

If both parties were serious in their opposition to 'Tory cuts' rather than toothless soundbites they could of utilised the so-called Petition of Concern. This technical option is available to any party that is able to garner 30 MLA signatures and means legislation can only be approved if a majority of unionist and nationalist members back it. With Sinn Fein holding sway on the nationalist benches, and the SDLP also willing to sign a petition, it would have guaranteed the fall of the Bill.

The passing of this vicious bill which is a direct assault on the rights and conditions of our class both here and across the UK is part of continuing neo-liberal agenda and re-structuring of capital waged under successive governments. An ongoing process to remove long-standing social-democratic reforms won through years of struggle.

While Stormont has once again proved itself to be rubber stamp for London and cast its colours on the side of the rich and powerful the task for all of us is to build militant opposition in our streets, communities and workplaces to Stormont cut-backs. The gloves are off and the battle lines are clearly marked. The question is what side are you on?