UTV is reporting that the welfare budget in NI faces cuts of up to £450m. Cuts in welfare spending are made up of the likes of the following
Changes because of the spending cuts include: child benefits frozen for three years from April; Job Seekers Allowance claimants losing entitlement to the support for mortgage interest scheme if they have been on benefits for two years; housing benefit reduced by a tenth from April 2013 if a claimant has been on the benefit; and a compulsory medical examination for all new and existing working age DLA claimants from 2013.
NI is more dependent on state spending and social welfare than other regions of the UK, and dependence within NI varies immensely. West Belfast, for example, is much more dependent upon social welfare than north Down. In other words, these cuts have the potential to do serious damage to entire communities, communities that are already among the most deprived and that have the most social problems in western Europe.
These are also the communities that tend to vote most heavily in favour of the two leading lights of the NI Executive, the DUP and PSF. What will these parties do? It’s already clear from the statements of Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson that the DUP is embracing the cuts agenda. Their nationalist counterparts on the other hand are being more coy, blaming British Tories, and presenting themselves as fairly powerless to do anything about them. Are they?
The UTV report points out that if the local politicians refuse to make the cuts, then they will probably just be made at Westminster before the money arrives in NI. That is one option. Another is to refuse to administer the cuts, and collapse the executive. Creating a crisis of this magnitude would force the Tory-LibDem coalition to think seriously about what it was doing. Our politicians are of course far too self-interested and enjoy the exercise of power too much to do this. Instead they are much more likely to administer the cuts while blaming the Tories and LibDems. Who of course deserve a great deal of blame, but we need only look at Wilson’s attitude towards the trade union demos and McGuinness’s praise for PFI to see that they mightn’t be all that far out of step with the locals.