South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Executive must work to protect the most vulnerable in society (June 2010)

Last week's budget announcement by the British government was a bad budget. It will damage the economy, put jobs at risk, undermine public services and push low-income families further into poverty.

It can only be described as a return to Thatcherite policies that will lead to an increase in unemployment, a weakening of the welfare state and greater inequality in our society.

Cutting public sector wages & social welfare payments while increasing VAT will further depress consumer demand, putting private sector jobs at risk. If people have less money in their pockets they will spend less and jobs will be lost.

Reducing public spending by 25% over four years will have a devastating impact on front line services, this will hit women and children and households living in poverty the hardest. We of course will find out the extent of the impact on the Block Grant in October.

The British government have said that there was no alternative. However, as always, the British Government will work to suit themselves when it comes to economic matters.

We know only too well that they had alternatives.

In the same week that the Thatcherite budget was announced, it was also announced that the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the British economy since 2001 now stands at, at least £20bn.

The British government could have ended their illegal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. They could also have chosen not to pump an estimated £100bn into replacing Trident.

That is £120bn spent on illegal wars and weapons. £120bn that offered an alternative to cuts in public services and benefits, worse pensions, student fees and low pay.

Locally, from Sinn Féin's perspective there is a way out of this. We need an all-Ireland economic recovery plan under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council. It needs to contain a national job creation strategy.

The Assembly Executive also needs fiscal powers in order to allow it to do everything in our power to tackle these savage cuts and to protect public and private sector jobs, front line services and the incomes of low and middle income families.

The arguments for greater economic control to be developed to the hands of locally elected and responsible politicians are becoming increasingly relevant within the current economic climate and last week's budget.

The reality is that economic policies emerging from London are not designed for the long-term benefit of the economy or citizens here in the north of Ireland. The ability to control these issues ourselves should be granted to local and accountable politicians.

There are also steps that local politicians can be taking to counteract the British budget and help protect public services and those least well off here.

For example, the review of local government, through the Review of Public Administration (RPA), would save £400m over time. A saving which would help protect frontline services from Tory cuts.

The DUP, however, argued to maintain the status quo and instead backing the RPA they, for party political reasons, sought to protect 26 local councils, their councillors and their expenses rather than make a saving of £400m which would have directly impacted on efforts to protect frontline services from the worst excesses of the Tory cuts.

So, despite what we have been told, there are alternatives to this Thatcherite budget. There are also steps which locally elected politicians can take also. The DUP has serious questions to answer on this matter. They need to tell the electorate why they are putting party interest above the good of the people here.

For our part, Sinn Féin is committed to protecting frontline public services while recognising the current economic realities that exist; we must ensure that the Executive, despite cuts being forced upon it, works to ensure the protection of those most vulnerable and in need of protection. This is something that continues to be at the forefront of our agenda.