SDLP Social Justice Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has demanded an overhaul of the Universal Credit (UC) system and appealed for the retention of the £20 uplift implemented during the pandemic.
Mr Durkan said Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey can longer sit on her hands while the crisis in the welfare system deepens.
The Foyle MLA commented:
“The welfare system was in disarray long before the Covid pandemic hit, with voices from all quarters opposing the draconian imposition of UC on communities across the UK. That any government can reasonably defend any welfare cut during a critical juncture in Covid recovery, let alone the largest cut since the conception of the welfare state, is barbaric.
“This is contempt for low-income families imposed by the Tory government and sanctioned by a Sinn Féin Communities Minister. Deirdre Hargey cannot afford to whistle in the dark while families and children here are subjected to the single biggest benefit cut since World War 2. Minister Hargey has also failed to close the loopholes in welfare legislation and was forced to vocalise feigned outrage at Capita’s handling of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) despite the fact that she extended their contract knowing full well how badly they have failed people. We need action to restore dignity in the welfare system.
“As welcome as this uplift has been, it's important to note that many people on legacy benefits were excluded from such a provision who will be worse off as a result of the pandemic. Universal Credit was already pushing families to crisis point and the increase in foodbank usage in recent years is testament to that fact. As a consequence of Covid that usage has skyrocketed. In my own constituency of Foyle, demand has increased 75% in the past year. Rather than helping vulnerable families and their children, welfare reform has only served to exacerbate levels of poverty. Yet the DUP, Sinn Féin and Alliance who voted to introduce welfare reform and effectively rubber-stamp Tory austerity, have all but washed their hands of responsibility.
“It’s repugnant that working families should have to rely on benefits to begin with. The fact that the system does not meet the basic requirement of putting food on the table for many beggars belief.
“Removing this uplift will have dire consequences for over 50,000 people in the North and their families. The loss of £1,040 a year is disastrous for those affected, but if you consider the effect on the local economy of removing this from tens of thousands of households, it is catastrophic. Research from the Trade Union Congress has shown that this cut will impact heavily on low-income workers - a fact that does not bode well for citizens of the North which is a low wage, low growth economy compared to elsewhere on these islands. This cut will lead to more jobs being lost, increase the dependency on welfare support and perpetuate a vicious circle of reliance on a woefully inadequate system.”