Local Councillors have urged the Department for Communities to take all steps necessary to extend Welfare Reform mitigations for local people beyond 2020.
Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson proposed the move and urged the Council to endorse a range of recent reports which highlighted the serious risk of greater hardship for many within the community if mitigations do not continue beyond March next year.
Speaking in the Guildhall, Colr. Jackson claimed: “In 2015 the Tory government was intent on imposing savage welfare cuts. They stripped tens of million out off the block grant or public services in the form of fines for not implementing this so called Welfare Reform. In November of that year Sinn Féin sought and secured an agreement with others parties from Assembly for a mitigation package from Executive funds to offset some of the worst aspects of the British government imposition of Welfare cuts. In addition a number of changes to the administration to Universal Credit were also secured.”
Colr. Jackson said the £58m package “did not defeat the malignant Tory cuts but they have significantly reduced the punitive impact of it here”.
He outlined how various recent reports detailed just how vital that was to protecting the most vulnerable and how 35,000 tenants here do not pay bedroom tax as a result while families were protected from benefit cap. “No-one should be in any doubt about the opposition we have faced from the British treasury regarding the mitigation package. Unfortunately that opposition continues to this day,” he said.
SDLP Colr. Shauna Cusack said the bedroom tax could affect 40,000 households here. She said it was “simply tragic” the Council was debating an issue everyone may agree upon, but which they did not have the powers to change, while those with the real power to affect change, those elected to the Assembly, have been “missing in action” for two and a half years.
“It’s no secret that the SDLP, unlike SF the DUP and Alliance parties, voted to reject Welfare Reform knowing the suffering it would inflict on thousand of people here,” she said.
Colr Cusack tabled an amendment that MLAs should get back to work to prevent this from happening.
Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said resurrecting Stormont and continuing on the same course rather than getting rid of the cuts altogether was “no good”. “Its akin to turkeys voting for Christmas,” he said.
Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher said he welcomed that Sinn Féin were now acknowledging it was wrong to allow Tories to bring this in, but he said he acknowledged that the mitigations had helped some people, if they hadn’t gone far enough. He said all parties needed to get behind the wheel and stop the cuts completely.
Colr. Jackson said: “We chose to protect the most vulnerable and we make no apology for that.”
The motion as amended by Colr. Cusack was carried with 31 Councillors voting for it and three against.