Follow The Money: New Welfare Money a “sleight of hand”?

This story from John Manley in the Irish News caught my eye today, who writes about an assembly question submitted by the Green party MLA, Steven Agnew on where the new money to mitigate welfare reductions is coming from.

In the report Manley says

The deal agreed between the British and Irish governments and Stormont’s two biggest parties includes welfare mitigation measures of up to £90m a year.

However, an answer to an assembly question tabled by Mr Agnew shows that the SSA’s discretionary fund already pays out more than £80m a year.

The latest Stormont deal – entitled ‘A Fresh Start’ – states that the discretionary fund is incorporated into the bespoke benefits top-up measures for the north.

The North Down MLA argues;

The welfare reform proposals are nothing but a sleight of hand.

The discretionary fund for welfare pays for community care grants, budgeting loans and crisis loans – are these payments to be sacrificed to in order to top-up welfare payments?

It will be interesting to see how the Evason working group, who are tasked to come up with measures to fund welfare top-ups, plan to fill the gap in the agreement.

Full story is in today’s Irish News.

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

  • Jag

    Is this “Fresh Start” deal about to split SF?

    Mairtin O’Muilleoir-owned Anderstown News seems to be dissing the deal.

    It’s a fact that welfare rate-setting powers have been handed back to Westminster, at least for the next 13 months.

    It’s hard to see how £150m a year for the next four years (even if £80m is existing money as suggested above is “old money” already available) will cushion cuts to the £5.6bn annual budget*.

    I think some SFers believe the deal last week may be fatal; people in 2015, North and South, won’t accept SF’s excuse that they only committed to “No Tory cuts” to welfare whilst it was under Northern Ireland govt control, and SF has no hand in the imminent cuts because it voted to hand the powers back to Westminster. I think those SFers may be right.

    *From the BelTel in June

    “Our current £5.6bn bill includes:

    £971m spent on Disability Living Allowance, which has surged by more than 22% in five years;

    £179m on Jobseeker’s Allowance – broadly unchanged from 2010 despite the number of people in work rising significantly;

    £655m on housing benefit – a rise of 17% in the last five years;

    And £734m on employment and support allowance, which has jumped by 39% in the last year.

    In total, £5.583bn was spent on welfare in Northern Ireland during 2014/15, including £2bn on the retirement pension.”

  • Sliothar

    On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot in the Fresh Start deal for SF, who – I think Newton Emerson said it somewhere – that they had been screwed.
    It’s certainly possible: some of the personnel involved in their team are getting on a bit and might have taken their eyes off the ball facing, as they did, the combined forces of the DUP and the British government.
    Despite the fact that they have been uncommonly quiet since the launch, two things niggle me, however.
    1. It never was in SF’s interests to wave through the austerity cuts. So, what better way to pass the buck than to let the Brits themselves do the cutting. Not good decisive policy-making but, at least, it might – just about! – get them out of the jail in which they imprisoned themselves by their ‘Not an Inch’ (Oops!) stance they initially adopted. They can always go into default mode by blaming the old enemy. Except, except, – and apart from it being a too obvious ploy – it just might not work this time around. People are getting sick to the teeth of the prevarications – on ALL sides – that it’s just no good blaming Themmuns all the time. They themselves will have to deliver something, sometime. Thus far, they haven’t.

    2. So, did they get anything out of the last few months of hard slogging? Well, apart from my reservations above about SF’s possible waning negotiating powers, all talks invariably end up as horse deals. To date, we don’t have any info on trade-offs, quid pro quos or, more crudely, ‘What’s in it for us?’ It will be interesting to see in the coming months if any side deals emerge to try and assuage the SF electorate that their MLAs haven’t quite sold the pass. It had better be ‘better than good’, though.

  • David

    It’s not up to the Evason group “to fill the gap in the agreement.”

    Their job is simply to devise mitigating measures based on the funding made available to them.

    But Steven Agnew is right when he says the current Discretionary Fund is being counted in that headline £585 million. As quoted from the Fresh Start document in my previous post.

    1.1 The Executive has agreed to allocate a total of £585 million from Executive funds over four years to ‘top-up’ the UK welfare arrangements in NI with a review in 2018- 19. This sum incorporates the present discretionary fund. [added emphasis]

  • murdockp

    The one thing that is never talked about is creating jobs and getting people into work.

    Welfare is talked about in NI as if it is a lifestyle choice.

    We need a cultural shift on this one.

  • OneNI

    So SF have bought a pig in poke from the pig poker?