“By standing firm against the London-Dublin Tory axis, Sinn Féin achieved a welfare system better than the one in Britain…”

According to Sinn Féin national chairperson Declan Kearney, [Don’t mention the Dark Side! – Ed]

…Sinn Féin from 2011 onwards opposed the proposed welfare cuts and insisted welfare protection was absolutely fundamental for all citizens.

“That is why Sinn Féin politically campaigned against welfare cuts alongside trade unions and grassroots communities.

“This principle guided our strategy during the Stormont House negotiations and why, in December last, when the other four Executive parties agreed to a deal on welfare, Sinn Féin refused to do so and kept negotiating.

“By standing firm against the London-Dublin Tory axis, Sinn Féin achieved a welfare system better than the one in Britain, by an average of £94m per year.

Except that, as noted here, Sam McBride pointed out in the News Letter

…although the Stormont House Agreement secured some more money for Stormont, it did not extract from the Government a single additional penny for welfare reform.

And most of the money which it moves across the Irish Sea is borrowed, with the largest loan of £700 million to be used to pay off public sector workers.

Rather than ‘stopping Tory cuts’, it is now increasingly apparent that what Sinn Fein actually secured in December was the agreement of the DUP to use some more of Stormont’s existing budget to top up the benefits of those who will lose money under the reforms.

In coming years, with an already shrinking Stormont budget, increased debt payments from increased borrowings and what are sure to be continued pressures on the NHS, the benefit top-up payments will be fighting with funding for hospitals, schools or the police.

Effectively, everything which Sinn Fein has secured for welfare claimants will come from other Stormont services.

The yet-to-be-defined mitigating schemes that Declan Kearney is pointing at are not a concession from central [UK] government.  They are to be funded by money diverted from the Block Grant by the Northern Ireland Executive.  As such they could have been put in place at any point during the last 2 years of ‘paralysis’. [Adds At a time when Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness was claiming that, “We are not in conflict with Peter Robinson and the DUP on the issue of welfare.  We are in conflict with the British government…”]

In fact, Scotland has been doing something similar since April 2013.  As this written answer to the Scottish Parliament on 20 January this year demonstrates [541kb pdf file]

Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much it has spent on welfare reform mitigation since April 2013 and how much it plans to spend in 2015-16, broken down by type of mitigation.

(S4W-23791)

Margaret Burgess: From April 2013 to 2015-16, the Scottish Government’s current and planned funding will result in an investment of £296 million to mitigate the effects of the UK Government’s welfare reforms.

Details are as follows:

Welfare Reform Mitigation activity2013-14(£million)2014-15(£million)2015-16(£million)Total from2013 to 2016(£million)
Scottish Welfare Fund(£33 million plus admin)£38£38£38£114
Other Welfare Reform Mitigation*£7£8.2£8.2£23.4
Council Tax Reduction Scheme£23£23£23£69
‘Bedroom tax’ – Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)£20£35£35£90
Total£88£104.2£104.2£296.4

 

*Welfare reform mitigation includes funding for organisations that provide advice and support services to help people affected by welfare reform. This includes funding for Citizens Advice Scotland and continued support for the Making Advice Work grant funding programme and the new Tackling Money Worries grant funding programme administered by the Scottish Legal Aid Board. The funding also supports actions to tackle poverty, particularly child poverty including activity designed to maximise household resources for vulnerable groups, and initiatives with the third sector, local authorities and others impacted by welfare reform.

[ Isn’t £104.2million greater than £94million? – Ed]  Indeed.

And, as Sam McBride mentioned, there are consequences…

Tony Carlin, [Irish National Teaching Organisation], said the [NI Education] department had not made provision for real term increases.

“The increased monies were only in respect of cash terms, schools were not protected from inflation, external financial pressures, pay rises etc,” he said.

“The result will be that schools will probably face around 3.5% to 4% cuts this year.

“There will be about 500 teaching posts lost and also support staff’s jobs will be lost as well.

“The schools believed that they had money but unfortunately the devil is in the detail in this one. We are disappointed because ultimately children’s education will suffer.”

Mr Carlin said there would also the the impact of another £83m in savings.

“This could mean cuts perhaps to school meals, transport, special needs, crossing patrols. This is going to impact on schools indirectly and on the education of pupils.”