Sinn Fein: ‘Why Tory welfare cuts must be opposed’-Opinion piece from Pat Doherty MP

Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone, Pat Doherty.
Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone, Pat Doherty.

Most of the welfare cuts the Tories are trying to impose on the north are already being implemented in Britain with devastating consequences particularly for the sick and disabled, single parents, those on low incomes and the working poor. Poverty levels have spiralled along with homelessness and suicide rates, with food banks and other charitable help now often the only safety net preventing more people falling into total destitution and despair.

Given the poorer socio-economic demographics of the north we would suffer an even more severe ‘hit’ than the worst affected regions of Britain if the intended Tory cuts were to come into full effect here.

A report commissioned by the Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) spells out the stark consequences of these Tory cuts with £750m a year being taken out of the north’s domestic economy with the most deprived districts suffering the greatest losses.

Based on official government data, the report finds that Derry and Strabane would be worst hit with the loss of income, per annum, for every adult of working age in both districts estimated to be £900 and £870 respectively. Likewise, four districts west of the Bann are ranked in the top six in the north in terms of estimated loss of annual income: (1) Derry -£64m (2) Strabane -£22m (4) Limivady-£16m (6) Omagh-£23m

Therefore, if the local cheerleaders for these Tory cuts were to have their way not only would the regional disparities in deprivation between the north and Britain be further re-enforced but within the north itself there would be a further re-enforcement of the disparities between lowest multi-deprivation ranking districts like North Down and Castlereagh and the highest like Derry and Strabane.

Apart from the deteriorating social consequences that such Tory cuts would bring the consequent loss of household income would result in severe reduction in spending power in the local economy with the inevitable knock on affect of more business closures and job losses.

As a result more people, not less, would become dependent on a shrunken benefits system with an increasingly punitive sanctions regime applied pushing many families and individuals further below the poverty line.

So if anyone thinks these Tory cuts won’t affect them it’s time to think again. This is a Thatcherite agenda that needs to be fought tooth and nail. While billions are allowed to be defrauded through the tax avoidance - including by many who are also generous donors to the Tory party - the working poor and most vulnerable in society are being expected to pay to balance the Exchequer books regardless of the social cost.

Instead of delivering a long awaited Peace Dividend to the North in an effort to tackle decades of historical neglect here, the Tory Government cut the Block Grant to the Assembly by £4 billion during this 2011-2015 mandate which has reduced Departmental budgets at a time when demands upon them are growing and particularly in terms of health.

The Tory government is now threatening to impose financial penalties on the Assembly budget if we do not legislate for their regressive cuts agenda. This is despite the fact that in Britain itself this agenda is being increasingly challenged and cracks are opening up between the Tories and their Lib-Dem coalition partners who are now questioning the wisdom, workability and counter-productive nature of many of the cuts measures.

While back in the north, the DUP continues to act as cheerleaders for the Tory cuts agenda, there is a growing realisation, generated in particular from the issues being discussed in the Scottish Independence Referendum Debate, that the Tory cuts agenda is designed to serve the interests of the Tory heartlands in the south east of England and their millionaire friends. Its clear that the interests and needs of the people of the north do not even factor in their thinking. This Tory cuts agenda must be opposed!