It’s time we actually debate welfare reform

Graffiti on a Belfast Dole Office

Graffiti on a Belfast Dole Office

After weeks of debate about welfare reform in Northern Ireland, it must be said that we haven’t actually debated welfare or reform. In fact, the argument, at its core, has been about power and responsibility, which, at this point, neither the DUP or Sinn Féin seem to want.

We desperately need leadership and we’re not getting it. The debate about welfare reform should be about how to simultaneously protect the vulnerable from harsh cuts while balancing the government books. Instead, the two largest parties in the Assembly have focused on whether it’s worse to impose decisions made by London or make no decisions at all. Neither party has taken ownership of the situation and offered a way forward.

Northern Ireland isn’t alone in trying to stop the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have, for example, explicitly said they will try and delay the rollout of Universal Credit until Westminster devolves further powers to Scotland. The same kind of desire for control and responsibility of local affairs can’t be said to exist here in Northern Ireland. Our own brinksmanship-style politics instead threatens to send fiscal powers back to Westminster. In a worst case scenario where we return to Direct Rule, welfare reform, as a NICVA statement recently put it, “could be implemented at the strike of a pen with none of the mitigations” [previously negotiated by Sinn Féinn and the DUP].

The Tories and their Lib Dem coalition partners may be a bunch of baddies, but who will take the courage to stand over an alternative vision? The current situation is untenable. There isn’t the money in the public purse to sustain current levels of expenditure. What should we do about that? The DUP and Alliance are right to say that the financial reality of the situation cannot be ignored. But if the reforms are bad reforms (and they are bad reforms); if they will harm our communities, and lift no one out of poverty (as they are designed to do, remember); and if they force us into a new system that all our parties either oppose or voted against at Westminster, why shouldn’t we collectively stand up against them?

There are credible centre-left ideas about how to resolve our public expenditure crisis. We could implement Living Wage legislation, which would lift people out of poverty and bring down dependence on government subsidies, thereby relieving stress on the public purse. We could crack down on tax dodging, and make sure multinational corporations and the very rich pay their fair share of taxes, increasing government revenue.

There are centrist ideas that all of us could support as well. For example, we could challenge Westminster to decentralise the economy away from London and better invest in other regions, with the hope of sharing in some of the economic recovery the south east of England is experiencing.

Likewise, there are credible ideas on the right that the left should be willing to explore. The left tends to think of poverty solely in economic terms, avoiding its social and personal pathologies, such as the breakdown of family, alcohol and other drug addictions, teenage pregnancy, educational underachievement, and crime. The left has long claimed that the stress of financial hardship is to blame for such pathologies and tends to avoid deeper interrogation and engagement with them. The right is wrong to take the focus off of material deprivation when debating poverty. Higher wages, more jobs, an adequate social security net, and job protections are crucial to ending poverty and welfare dependency. But perhaps those of us on the left should give some credence to ideas championed by the right related to teenage pregnancy, the benefits of marriage, and stronger parenting. Accepting these social ideas does not undermine our ideas of a more fair and just economy.

The point is we need to debate how to lift people out of poverty and stabilise public expenditure. If Northern Ireland is to stand collectively against London-imposed welfare reforms and cuts, as Sinn Féin advocates, we need a strategic short-term and long-term plan, which they haven’t provided.

We should have been rigorously debating the above ideas for the last three years, but we didn’t, and so we’re stuck in a rut of negative politics, either defending a dysfunctional, bankrupt system we can’t afford, or accepting welfare reforms that everyone acknowledges will be bad for Northern Ireland. Despite the torpidity that hovers over the Assembly, however, if it collapses, it will be the poor and vulnerable that suffer the most. Direct Rule under a Tory government that does not understand the unique needs and issues of Northern Ireland will be to the detriment of our society. There really is no way forward except together. So if it’s going to be a new round of talks, as SOS Theresa Villiers has proposed, let’s make sure they go somewhere this time.

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  • SouthDown

    It’s about time they got to debating important things instead of squabbling over flags and parades. There are more important issues, this is one such instance.

  • But wasn’t there an agreed way forward, negotiated with Westminster, that in the end Dear Leader vetoed because votes in the South are more important that people in the North. This is a distraction from internal disagreement within SF on what’s best way forward – though that seems to be whatever the dear leader wants. That’s where the debate on welfare reform is taking place, and all we can do is stand idly by while SF does whatever it does. If that Mickey rant on Slugger was anything to go by, rational debate ain’t coming soon.

  • Tacapall

    “After weeks of debate about welfare reform in Northern Ireland, it must
    be said that we haven’t actually debated welfare or reform. In fact, the
    argument, at its core, has been about power and responsibility, which,
    at this point, neither the DUP or Sinn Féin seem to want”

    Dont you get it yet Barton, its not just about Welfare reform, its about implementing all outstanding aspects of the GFA before there is any further movement forward. The DUP have brass necks to complain about the financial implications of Sinn Fein and the SDLP’s position when they are happy to ignore the financial realities of their own making like Flag protests and its associated violence, they can happily excuse the massive policing bill at Camp Twaddle and any civil disturbance associated to Orange order parades being banned from walking up a road.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’d like someone to explain to me exactly what the cuts are and how they will cause harm so that I can judge myself. Up until the present, all I see are articles from the left saying that the cuts because Tories/cuts/bullingdon/bankers/capitalism.

    I certainly agree that the Tories do not understand poverty and are not really interested in properly addressing it. However, there is a genuine problem that needs solving. We had a huge economic boom in the mid 2000s and a large number of unfilled jobs that were taken up my migrants from Eastern Europe. Why weren’t those jobs filled by some of the ~3 million unemployed ? I know people who are fit for work but choose not to. I’m not sure whether what they are doing is fraud or not.

    Another problem I have is the lack of honesty that I perceive within Northern Ireland, including those on the left. We all know that in order to spend you have to raise revenue. Yet the established parties here – including Sinn Féin – happily support neo-monetarist Thatcherite trickle-down policies such as the rescinding of water charges – which is really a form of tax; the proposals to cut corporation tax; the cuts to Air Passenger Duty; and the ongoing freezes in the regional rate (which have been in place for most of the time since DUP/SF came to power). They could introduce tolls on the major roads and use the proceeds to pay for improved public transport.

    Nobody from Sinn Féin asked the British government to stop the cuts in income tax, which will eventually (compared with 2010) benefit me to the tune of something like £500 per year that I don’t need.

    As can easily be seen, the unimaginative economic policies pursued by Stormont have acted to subsidize the middle class and have done little or nothing for poorer people. Were they not preoccupied with trying to buy off the middle class, there is a range of things that could be done. They could stop the rates freeze and make homeowners pay their way. They could introduce a property tax on second homes, or taper the rates on high-end properties. Reintroduce prescription charges (with protection for people suffering from chronic or terminal illness). Charge the better-off a fee to see the doctor. Increase the business rates paid by large multi-national retail concerns.

    So I hope we do have a proper debate about welfare and how it can be paid for.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I was actually going to put this on my own blog tomorrow, but I’ll delay it a week and instead place it here:


    Irish Nationalists think the UK’s welfare system as at May 2010 was absolutely perfect.

    That is the logic of their current position in Northern Ireland. Much has been made of how Nationalist opposition to matching welfare reforms being carried out in Great Britain is leading to mass pot holes, delays in cancer treatment and increases in housing rents – all of which is probably true. However, rather less is being made of a more obvious point: Northern Ireland’s current welfare system isn’t fit for purpose, doesn’t work, and therefore obviously needs reformed. To be clear, Northern Ireland parties would be perfectly at liberty to design their own welfare system without losing ‘parity’, provided it was designed to achieve the same outcomes as the one in Great Britain.

    The truth, in Northern Ireland as in Great Britain, is this. As each generation goes by, proportionately more people are caught in the welfare trap, spending almost all (or even all) their adult lives on benefits. At the same time, the system has become so complex that many who are entitled to benefits and to whom the system would provide a useful safety net are deprived of access to it. Others, meanwhile, who are willing to work and who would gain from the social networks and self-esteem of doing so find it entirely financially unviable to do so. What kind of ludicrous system is that? Yet it is the one Nationalists have chosen to defend – and that is the key point here.

    It needs to be pointed out, decisively, that lazily seeking to maintain a broken welfare system which creates an ever more hopeless “client state” of people for whom benefits are a way of life is indefensible. Welfare was designed to be a safety net, not a way of life – and reforms are necessary to return it to doing what it was designed to do. This has nothing to do with “cuts” and everything to do with helping people live the most enriching lives they can – something the current system actually inhibits in many cases. (Note again here: even if we accept that in addition to the reform programme the Tory-led government is introducing benefits “cuts”, Northern Ireland is quite at liberty not to introduce such “cuts”, and in fact to invest more in its own reform programme. That would require our MLAs to explain what reform programme they will carry out and what else they will cut or where else they will raise revenue to make that investment. Has a single MLA done this?)

    It also has to be pointed out that Nationalists are refusing to govern. Government requires compromise, not grandstanding for partisan gain. Even if they fundamentally believe the current system is perfect, they must recognise that others don’t and seek a deal. Instead, they are playing into the hands of those who wish to reform the system radically by refusing to operate the current system.

    So the challenge has to be clear and from all quarters: why are Nationalists defending a Welfare System which stops people from living enriching lives and fails comprehensively to meet the goals for which it was established? Let us hear from them what is so wonderful about the current broken system that it must be maintained, almost literally, at all costs. And why are Nationalists refusing to govern, especially given this is a system they largely created in the knowledge that it requires compromise? Let us hear from them about why the current system should not be reformed, when they have failed to operate it in good faith. Those are the real issues here.

  • Ian James Parsley

    (By the way, I don’t accept the “Living Wage” is a solution – certainly not a guaranteed one. It is indeed put forward by the Left, but is presented as if it would have no effect on anything else. In fact, for example, if a small retailer had to introduce the “Living Wage”, they may opt to automate check-outs [thus raising youth unemployment particularly among those not in graduate professional services] or to raise prices passed on to the consumer [thus raising the cost of living, primarily for those who use convenience stores – not the richest, predominantly]. So, as with so many apparently simple measures, it may end up having a punitive effect on the very people the “Left” are supposedly trying to help.

    But I absolutely do accept the very well made point that we need to stop this situation whereby solutions presented by either “side” are attacked purely on the basis of the “side” they come from, rather than the objective research/evidence.)

  • Shirley McMillan

    ‘But perhaps those of us on the left should give some credence to ideas championed by the right related to teenage pregnancy, the benefits of marriage, and stronger parenting.’ Could you expand on that a bit Barton. I’m not sure what you mean and I’d like to be clear. Thanks.

  • Surveyor

    That’s all very well Ian James Parsley but did you not read the graffiti on the wall in the picture? Where are all the jobs going to come from if people are going to live in your utopia of an enriched life? (But only on a minimum wage it would seem as you don’t agree with a living wage)

  • I’m not entirely comfortable with some of this content, but here’s a copy paste of Breakthrough Northern Ireland, a document put together by the Centre for Social Justice (essentially a centre-right think tank closely associated with the Conservatives). The idea for pointing to such policy ideas is not to approve them, but to draw them into the conversation. All about how family matters as much as money. “Children’s poor outcomes are not simply due to lack of money; so often disadvantage among children stems back to experiences of family dysfunction and breakdown which go on to affect every area of life. Family environment is crucial as this is where most individuals’ physical, emotional and psychological development takes place. The absence of a stable, nurturing family environment profoundly damages children – particularly in Northern Ireland’s most deprived communities where social exclusion and isolation are most felt.”

  • Michael Henry

    We are two sides- one side supports the bombing of people in Iraq and Welfare cuts-the other side supports Peace / people / and are opposed to Welfare cuts-I am on the side of People- not war or cuts-

  • barnshee

    “they can happily excuse the massive policing bill ”

    A mere flea bite compared to the costs of decades of ruin and destruction by the republican community— a mere flea bite

  • Dan

    I’m sure the majority in NI are fully supportive of crackdowns on the thousands who choose welfare as a lifestyle choice…..unfortunately for some parties, seeing their support bleeding the hated Brits dry is all part of the project, and will be encouraged

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Barton – “strategy” in this neck of the woods. Oh do behave! We can’t even get our politicians to be civil to each other even the cameras are not pointing at them. “..the unique needs and issues of Northern Ireland..” yep, we’ve got even more spongers and time wasters here than in bonnie Scotland. Sure lets just keep throwing money at them for flat screen tv’s and 3 litre bottles of cider. But yes, we can educate them away from the evils of drink, drugs, multiple litters….they don’t want to hear your message Barton and to think the imbeciles in the Big House will provide a solution is laughable. They are the biggest spongers of the lot. At least the Tories have the proverbials to call the reality. Labour are just buying their votes. More spending, more welfare means more taxes or more borrowing. It really is this simple.

  • mac tire

    Well, that didn’t take long. And this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a major part of the problem. You can all see it right there. This is what we are all up against.

    “It’s time we actually debate welfare reform”
    “Sure. Republicans. Ruin. Destruction.”

    Barnshee, you keep your eyes on that rear view mirror. The rest of us will just concentrate on where we are heading.

  • Surveyor

    Sorry Sergio but mentioning flat screen TV’s is the Welfare discussion equivalent of Godwin’s Law. But for by that benefits provision covers a host of things, not just the stereotypical view of scroungers getting easy money every week.

  • NMS

    @ Michael I see your on the side of dirty tricks too. The Provos running scared of a Trot . I suppose Murphy is lucky in the past your Provos friends would have had him disappeared and dumped in a bog.

  • Kevin Breslin

    However with the Life & Times Survey showing a majority of the people (I.e. not just nationalists) sceptical of direct London led welfare reform implementation and the only social contract being that the losers from welfare reform should bite their tongue while those lucky enough to have avoided being maimed by a terrorist or an accident gets on with trying to put themselves above their own waters in their own mind. We don’t have ANY reform, just laissez-faire, if laissez-faire worked here, terrorism, social division, flags and parades could all be solved by doing nothing as well. We have welfare deform, only a few changes in an IT system that was imported from AtoS, I guess. Would the welfare system of the 80’s or 70’s be any improvement?

    Under simple majoritarianism, would the DUP really want to go back to a system where they were 30 years ago, keeping the working class on board Project Ulster through a them and us approaching to having loyalists being against all nationalists, all middle and upper class unionism and basically everything in between?

  • Kevin Breslin

    If a Living wage took people off of work related benefits, and non-EU imported automation machines were VAT taxed, you could argue the case that the state could steer small companies to invest in their labour force rather than in machines imported from China who’s workers don’t reinvest in the Western European small business market anyway. Removing state subsidised labour in the private sector is a welfare cut. Having heavily state subsidised industry where even big corporates are using subsidised labour can only be paid by international borrowing both private and state anyway, as you create a culture where no one wants to pay for work.

    Let’s recall that beasts of burden and slavery did not annihilate the need for and to work, as well as the right for and to work. Neither will machines. There is a belief that a poor man’s best fighting chance is by maximising the benefits of trickle down economics, but why are these believers just as hypocritical as the left-wingers they criticise?

  • Kevin Breslin

    With regards to jobs taken up by Eastern Europeans, firstly some of the jobs where created by said Eastern Europeans such as the Polish shops and they may even employ Western Europeans, secondly some of the jobs we didn’t and sometimes cannot train the specialists in and we do need the talent such as a Bulgarian physics professor, thirdly there are illegal migrants and victims of human trafficking that we have ignored but rarely fill jobs outside of the black market where application processes the natives get involved with don’t use. There is a fourth kind where immigrants do compete directly with the native, during my unemployment I’ve found myself more bitter with companies refusing to hire anyone, re-advertising jobs in many places, even with our relaxed attitude to the minimum wage. If this is the case then clearly:


    There are Northern Irish engineers still in Romania, Poland and Bulgaria, there are teachers and doctors also out there taking advantage of cost of living tourism, so I don’t see migration, nor as I’ve said before machinery as barriers to employment.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘Where are all the jobs going to come from if people are going to live in your utopia of an enriched life?’
    You could try talking to some of the 84,314 people recorded in the 2011 census as having been born outside the UK or Ireland.

    I think you would find they’re nearly all gainfully employed in the productive part of the economy and whatever they’re earning, they still appear able to put a roof over their heads and in many cases raise families of very healthy looking children.

  • Michael Henry

    No dirty tricks- Mary Lou has apologised on her Facebook page without anybody asking her to do so- that’s the difference between The Irish and the Brits-

  • Morpheus

    “We desperately need leadership and we’re not getting it. The debate about welfare reform should be about how to simultaneously protect the vulnerable from harsh cuts while balancing the government books. Instead, the two largest parties in the Assembly have focused on whether it’s worse to impose decisions made by London or make no decisions at all. Neither party has taken ownership of the situation and offered a way forward.”

    Bang on. Somehow we have managed to turn something that will affect us all into something sectarian in true Northern Ireland fashion. They object so we don’t, they want it so we don’t, they say white so we say black, they say Gaza so we say Israel blah diddy blah blah blah. It’s pathetic.

    We have a report from Professor Christina Beatty and Professor Steve Fothergill from Sheffield Hallam University which has come under criticism but didley-squat from our Minister of Finance and confirmation from our First Minister that he doesn’t know what the impact of the cuts will be. ‘Ack sure we’ll cut and see what happens’ seems to be the order of the day.

    We have the DWP missing it targets – even the vastly reduced targets – for implementing the new system.

    We have a Welfare Bill which has been stuck at Consideration stage for 20 months with no plans to bring it to the assembly floor for debate.

    We have the Shinners/SDLP saying no to cuts with no cost analysis then we have the rest (minus Michael Copeland) saying yes to cuts with no idea what the impact will be on the people and communities they represent.

    We are supposed to be getting people back to work but have no work for them to go to.

    We have charities reporting that they are feeding 3,000 local people a day and would feed more if it could get more food.

    It’s a clusterf*%k.

    This isn’t a Green v. Orange issue and it needs to be addressed and debated as such

  • Morpheus

    And another thing – why were Scotland quoted £400m for a new Welfare IT system but the one in NI was £1500m according to Peter Robinson?

    We have a third of the population but an IT system nearly 4 times as expensive????

    Any chance the figure could have been pulled out of someone’s ass?

    We need reasoned debates

  • Ian James Parsley

    Two things there. The NILT is an unreliable source. But more importantly – okay, then let’s come up with a Belfast-led welfare reform. Our parties have plenty of researchers who I’m sure have been working on that the past four years, haven’t they…?

  • Ian James Parsley

    That’s correct. Long-term unemployment remained more or less stable both during the boom and the bust. It is a structural problem.

    Also, the easy line “There aren’t enough jobs” shows a complete lack of understanding of the labour market. Skilled, networked people don’t wait for people to find a vacancy for them – they go out and create wealth and employment themselves. One of the big reasons UK unemployment is so much lower than in Ireland or on the Continent is self-employment – less so in NI than GB, so that’s something we need to work on.

    But it’s no good waiting around for someone to show a “vacancy”. It’s about being connected snd educated and providing a product or service of value. But that’s not easy for tens of thousands of people caught in communities characterised by educational underachievement and social isolation. That’s what we need to tackle – and that’s where the current welfare system has catastrophically failed.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I can’t agree that it’s easier for someone who doesn’t speak the language natively and lacks relevant qualifications to find a job than a native.

    As for the shops they set up, why don’t “natives” set up shops providing products people want to buy? That’s exactly my point above – it’s no good waiting around for someone else to provide you with a vacancy. Sometimes you have to set up on your own. It’s hard work, but I’ve done it and so have hundreds of Poles. Slovaks etc. Good on them.

  • Tacapall

    It seems strange a unionist claiming a NILT survey is unreliable, does it not fit with your humpty dumpty politics. What party are you representing this week anyway ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I said it’s NOT easier for a migrant to work here than a native, which is actually in agreement with you. My problem was that with access to the UK market, the ROI market, several fairly fluent 2nd tongue Anglophones in Western, Central and Eastern Europe and many from around the globe on different arrangements we seem to still have “skills shortages” in apparent labour availability. If employers cannot find the skills they need in that huge market, I don’t know what else they can do.

    Probably, our biggest migration problem is skills willing to cross community regions, considering the brain drain that goes to much radically diverse cultural differences that exist here.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Firstly, I’m not a Unionist. Secondly, why is it relevant. The whole point of this piece is to discuss welfare, not resort to sectarian labels.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Ah my apologies – I had wondered!

    And yes, you then go on to raise further highly relevant points. This is probably why we need our own welfare reform. Which, as I note above, is something I’m sure the relevant MLAs and their Researchers have been planning over the past three years or so…

  • Kevin Breslin

    There are a lot of Sinn Féin supporting taxpayers among the middle classes, in both the public and private sector.

  • Tacapall

    Firstly your just claiming not to be a unionist at this point in time, were you a unionist when you were a conservative unionist ? Any party that wants to allow a British FBI type crime agency to operate in this part of Ireland that is only answerable to a British cabinet minister is a unionist party. Im sorry but you already resorted to sectarian labels – “And why are Nationalists refusing to govern, especially given this is a system they largely created in the knowledge that it requires compromise? Let us hear from them about why the current system should not be reformed, when they have failed to operate it in good faith”

    Tell me when has unionism operated the GFA in good faith, what has unionism compromised on ?

  • Surveyor

    Ok Ian it seems you work in Public Relations as a media commentator on languages and welfare reform. Can I ask what company it is and how you get paid, is it from the public purse i.e tax payers?

    It’s all very vague this Public Relations malarkey, shrouded in Corporate jargon with a whiff of Common Purpose overtures. The vast majority of people have no idea just what they do.

  • Surveyor
  • Old Mortality

    If they’re in the public sector, they’re receiving far more than they’re paying in tax. That includes nearly all doctors and probably more than half the legal trades.

  • barnshee

    If “non-EU imported automation machines were VAT taxed”

    non-EU imported automation machines are VAT taxed

    look before you leap

  • Kevin Breslin

    I mean taxed with an additional import duty, not just standardised VAT tax.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Totally agree, we’re far too generous, all those doctors have to do is work long hours to provide for everybody by obligation in stress filled life and death jobs and the state just gives them MY MONEY for nothing. They don’t EARN it, they RECEIVE it. They are lucky they receive anything at all, if we privatised the whole lot these public sector workers would need to market and sell me the value of this living thing in order to get MY MONEY, I’m not convinced that saving my life has any profit value to me at all. Anyone can understand medicine, but how many people can understand basic commerce?

  • Morpheus

    Little bit of clarity from NICVA regarding their £750m p.a. figure

    After entire programme of WR is complete £750m will be taken from NI economy every year when compared against no reform.

  • Unionist isn’t a sectarian label it’s a legitimate political position in NI as it is throughout the UK.

  • spoonman

    “One of the big reasons UK unemployment is so much lower than in Ireland
    or on the Continent is self-employment – less so in NI than GB, so
    that’s something we need to work on.”
    That’s something the World Bank would disagree with yourself on. At the very least according to them the Irish Republic has a higher proportion of its workforce identified as self-employed compared to the UK.

  • spoonman

    The issue of welfare reform and employment must be looked at separately. First, while a neo-liberal consensus on the economy continues, full employment can not be achieved, or at least is to be avoided. Most employers naturally want to keep their labour costs low, and a notable pool of unemployed labour that hasn’t strong union ties sees labourers bargain against each other – what also helps is a loose immigration policy with regards to a workforce. It also usually, but not always, helps keep inflation in check. Remember that Norman Lamont the ex-UK Chancellor once conceded that unemployment was a price worth paying. That has been the economic rationale of whoever has been in power in the House of Commons since the end of the post-war Keynesian consensus. It’s not surprising that countries that have technically “full employment” like Norway & Switzerland also have higher wage & price costs compared to many other western countries.

    Second, the idea of depending on welfare or social security as some form of “lifestyle choice” has only become an issue in the last couple of decades. Such anecdotal examples were quite rare in the 60’s, 70’s and even the early 80’s, as most people in the unfortunate position of claiming the dole was thankfully only for short periods. It’s only become more of an issue with the next generation of people after those who were put on the dole originally, and the sense of helplessness that can be felt growing up in a household where the breadwinners themselves struggled to find work. That isn’t to glamourise it, but to try and find the root of understanding a lack of ethic in some areas of society and looking at how to tackle it. Not surprising then that there seems to be a stagnate body of the potential workforce in this position. This is an issue with the social security systems in place at present, but it’s fault is in tandem with economic policy. Neo-liberalism planted the seeds, and elements of social security have helped feed it.

    Third, it is utterly disingenuous to suggest that those opposing Westminster imposed reforms of social security believe that the current systems in place are perfect or utopian. It is not binary or black & white. There are other ways to try and look at what can be done. For example numbers currently claiming ESA could be better helped with those not in the support groups given actual support to help them get fit enough to go back into the workforce like monitored supervision in courses in FE colleges in tandem with the health service in providing fit treatment whilst guaranteeing their current benefit for its duration subject to attendance. How about looking at policies in other developed countries regarding welfare provision e.g. Hartz reforms in Germany. IDS’s policies in GB have been nothing short of a disaster, and whatever the reasons Sinn Fein & SDLP have in their opposition, to oppose it simply because they are not working in GB is a valid stance.

    There is a case for local MLAs to actually start banging heads together over local economic issues rather than penis waving over things like flags, marches, border polls etc. as it’s not just an issue with the unemployed, but also with those in employment who struggle to make ends meet, and rely on things like tax credits. Not forgetting that the likes of housing benefit and LHA are mostly claimed by those that are already in work. For Northern Ireland to reduce both unemployment and its SS bill, it requires work on several fronts. Reform of social security on its own will do very little if anything. Casting most of the unemployed, sick and disabled as demons does nothing constructive except provide a focal point for the two minute hate.

  • Mister_Joe

    Just an aside; many years ago I read that in some far eastern country, people only paid a (small) fee to their doctors while they were well. If you got sick, you stopped paying so it was in the doctors interest to get you well again. Might have been in China but I can’t recollect for sure.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There are so many things wrong with this analysis particularly in a capitalist society. For one thing we are not Cuba, where there’s something like 1 doctor to 25 patients, we have a much higher ratio and much higher difficulty. Secondly, the demand for new drugs and new equipment means very little capital investment is long term, effectively only the hospital walls have any permanency. Thirdly we have higher standards and demands too in both supply and demand which means we wanted the latest researched medicine and those trained to practice it. Fourthly, we have a much higher price of living in the West, literally and metaphorically, even the best private healthcare regimes are state subsidised. Fifthly we live longer anyway, so higher demand there too.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The capital U unionist is often disowned my many pro-union people based on putting the obsession on flags, parades and ancient, irrelevant or arcane acts of identity that focuses on a UK (even one of convenience) more focused on its internal mind than its external face.