Welfare Reform: Are the SDLP showing real policy leadership or just grandstanding?

Welfare Reform, austerity, cuts and Tories-these are the words of the day at Stormont. Here are some of the pictures doing the rounds from the SDLP about the Welfare Reform bill


A full list of the amendments to the Welfare Reform bill can be found here

Then the SDLP put this out there


Arguments for SDLP position:

  1. They are honouring a position set out to oppose the initial opposition for Welfare Reform.
  2. The party are seeking to actually have a debate on the issue, whilst the Petition of Concern will halt any real changes to the bill.
  3. Is there a certain ideological consistency in their position that could be outlined within a broader centre-left movement.
  4. Does the deal really reform welfare? Is there enough in the proposals to actually allow those on welfare to be able to find work and a better standard of living?
  5. Assessments- A often repeated comment today in Stormont was the impact of the controversial assessment system in the rest of the UK. Is it not worth taking another look?

Arguments against SDLP position;

  1. They signed up to the Stormont House Agreement which brought this bill to the Assembly in the first place.
  2. Why now? Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy made the point in Stormont should the party not have presented these amendments sooner, rather than later?
  3. Is there an alternative? The NI Executive doesn’t exist in isolation from Westminster, is there a real departure within the SDLP proposals.
  4. Political sensibility-I keep coming back to big changes such as this and yet the party is still in the Executive and remains there despite disagreements over huge issues.
  5. Fiscal sensibility- We have already lost millions of pounds, the more we delay against a government that is patently not interested in listening, is it not responsible to halt the fines.
  6. Breathing space- This deal allows £500 million from within the block grant to mitigate some of the aspects of Welfare Reform which can help buy time to deal with some challenges (I appreciate this can also be called kicking the can down the road)
  7. The debate focused mostly on the placement of the Petition of Concern with some neglect of the amendments that were placed by them.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs