SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack has called on Sinn Fein and the DUP to “come clean and admit they made a mistake in voting to accept Welfare Reform in 2015”.
She made the call after Derry City & Strabane District Council passed a motion acknowledging the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) social security system replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA),is causing severe stress to those most in need of support.
The council called for “urgent intervention to address serious concerns about the operation of the new PIP regime including reports of the Capita assessment process being degrading and humiliating.”
Councillors also mandated that officers write to Leo O’Reilly, the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities calling on him to review PIP.
Following passage of the motion, which was amended by DUP Alderman David Ramsey, to include a request for figures from the DfC on the number of local PIP applicants who have been rejected after undergoing assessments, Colr. Cusack attacked the two main parties for giving legisaltive consent to the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act in 2015.
She said: “It’s exactly two years ago since the DUP and Sinn Féin, their partners in government at the time, voted to allow the Tories to introduce their cruel welfare cuts to this land. All MLAs from both parties combined to create a majority vote, which opened the gates for Universal Credit, Bedroom Tax and Personal Independent Payment otherwise known as PIP. For the record all SDLP MLA’s voted against this. As these changes have been systematically rolled out, it is only now that people are beginning to feel the reality of their impact on the daily lives of families here. However, as if in a period of denial, those who delivered these austerity measures continue to rage against them, as if they are not complicit in their arrival.”
Sinn Féin has rejected these claims and pointed out that the SDLP, led by Colum Eastwood, who, only days in the job at the time, tentatively supported the Fresh Start Agreement of November 2015, which included £585 million in welfare and tax credit top ups for the North. However, Colr. Cusack suggested Sinn Féin were being disingenuous when equating the Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) of 2007, which was introduced by the former SDLP Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie with her successor, Mervyn Storey’s Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act of 2015.
“Sinn Féin seem to also continue to get their facts wrong when it comes to Welfare Reform Acts such as the difference between the year 2015 and 2007 and Conservative versus Labour legislation. This lack of knowledge comes as no surprise. They ignored the warnings given by both ourselves and numerous professional and voluntary organisations when considering the detail of Welfare Reform proposals.
“I appreciate that millions in mitigations were secured to cushion the next couple years, but in real terms this will come as cold comfort when the money soon runs out.”