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Welfare Reform

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

5. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the non-implementation of welfare reform on the Northern Ireland Executive’s budget. (905668)

The failure of the Executive to implement welfare reform means that Northern Ireland is retaining a system that too often fails the people it is supposed to help by trapping them in dependency and discouraging work. This failure also means that financial savings are being forgone and other areas of public spending in Northern Ireland are being cut as a result—for example, the budget for policing and justice.

I think I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that garbled answer. Will she confirm that she is in agreement with all the Northern Ireland parties that the bedroom tax is a pernicious policy? Given that, will she tell us what proportion of the overall budget cuts proposed for Northern Ireland are directly related to the non-implementation of welfare reform?

I believe that of the £87 million of savings forgone for this year, around £16 million relates to the spare room subsidy, which is all about fairness to ensure that the rules for the social sector are the same as those for the private rented sector. I do not think that is an unreasonable position. The reality is that our welfare reforms are about encouraging people into work, reforming the system to ensure that work always pays and ending the perversities and arbitrary cliff edges that saw people trapped on benefits under the old system, which Labour manifestly failed to reform.

Sinn Fein MPs claim to be fighting welfare reform. When did the Secretary of State last directly challenge Sinn Fein MPs to come to this House, to take up their places and to fight it from these Benches? If they are not prepared to do that, when is she going to remove the £600,000 a year they receive for not coming to this House?

I think it would be far better if Sinn Fein took their seats. That would give them the opportunity to debate these important Northern Ireland matters. I know that the contribution of all the Northern Ireland parties who take their seats in this House to the debate on welfare reform was very much welcomed. Now is the time to get on with this. Failing to implement welfare reform is putting severe pressures on departmental spending in a range of other areas for the Executive, including policing.