How to relieve poverty? Give the poor money

STORMONT is required to produce an anti-poverty strategy under January’s New Decade, New Approach deal. This is the first priority the deal lists in a programme for government.

RESPONSIBILITY: According to the Department for Communities, 151,00 people of working age are in relative income poverty in the North of Ireland. Almost all of them are also in absolute poverty. Stormont could give this number of people significant direct assistance

Of course, Stormont was also required to produce such a strategy under the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements. The executive thought it had done so in 2006 but in 2015 the High Court ruled it had not been detailed enough, in a case brought by lobby group the Committee for Administration of Justice. This generation-long argument is now coming to a head at precisely the moment concepts of government support are being transformed. Over a quarter of all employees in the North of Ireland have been furloughed at public exspence. The self-employed, making up another 15 per cent of the workforce, have been offered almost half a year’s income in grants. Formerly exotic theories about a Universal basic income (UBI) have become a mainstream topic of debate around the world, although that debate as already looming. A UBI trial in the North of Ireland was in the Alliance Party manifesto for last December’s general election. There is no sign any of this new thinking has influenced work on the anti-poverty strategy. Judging by what has dripped out of the process so far, the executive is still beavering away on a classic collection of schemes, initiatives, projects and objectives.

Stormont buildings

In part, ministers have to do this – there is a High Court ruling to comply with. Largely, they are being carried along by the enormous inertia of public sector and third sector interests involved. Yet realism should not blind us to what now appears an obvious alternative: why not just give the poor some money? Even as a thought experiment, it is useful and revealing. According to the Department for Communities, there are 151,000 people of working age in relative income poverty in the North of Ireland, defined as living in a household with less than 60 per cent of the median UK income, or £17,760 a year. Almost all of these people are also in absolute poverty, defined as being unable to afford a decent standard of living, and so in effect another relative income measure.

It is not a grotesque simplification to suggest that Stormont should stop spending the entire anti-poverty budget on itself 

Stormont could give this number of people significant direct assistance. UBISOFT trials tend to offer around £500 a month but this is meant to replace benefits, not in addition to them. As benefits in the North of Ireland are not paid out of Stormonts budget, it could top up the average claimant’s £288 per month in payments to £500 for a total cost of £384 million per year. That is a lot of money, although well within the order of what is spent tackling poverty already. The Department for Communities budget is three times larger and “reducing poverty” is one of its strategic priorities. It is 3 per cent of Stormont’s budget overall. Half as much is reallocated in unspent funds in a typical year.

Stormont Must Go – End British Rule

The sum could be raised in full by putting rates bills up by a quarter, or a large share could be found by cutting existing programmes, spending on which goes mainly on wages for professionals and administrators – the ultimate guaranteed income for the North of Ireland. Stormont ministers have often voiced the view that public spending has a role in stimulating the economy. The most effective form of stimulus spending is giving cash to people on low incomes, as they spend it all immediately on basic goods and services. This so-called ‘helicopter money’ is another once-exotic theory that coronaviris has pushed into the mainstream. There is certainly a powerful case for a one-off helicopter drop this year.

Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and St Andrews agreements

One of the key arguments for a UBI is that it sweeps away the complexity and contention of the benefits system by giving the same entitlements to everyone. While means-tested support would not have this advantage, it could hardly be more bureaucratic or imperfect than the the existing benefits system, which Stormont administers. The issue of unwittingly subsidising low wages already arises through tax credits, administered by HMRC. Stormont could blaze a trail on this through devolution of the minimum wage, also pledged in New Decade, New Approach. Poverty is about far more than a lack of money, which could be seen as merely a symptom of a lack of opportunity. Nevertheless, lack of money is how it is defined and how progress in tackling it is measured. It is not a grotesque simplification to suggest that Stormont should stop spending the entire anti-poverty budget on itself.

With many thanks to: The Irish News and Newton Emerson for the original story 

The Code For New Spads In Stormont

STORMONT TALKS: The raw material is there for a deal – By Brian Rowan – Eamonn Mallie

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With many thanks to: The Ulster Fry for the original posting 


Powersharing talks must not be privatised, says Eastwood

Negotiations to restore powersharing must not be “privatised” by the DUP and Sinn Féin, the SDLP leader has warned.


Colum Eastwood criticised previous talks initiatives for being dominated by the two larger parties and excluding the voices of his party, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party.

He said any bilateral side process between the DUP and Sinn Féin would not work.

“I think the mistake has been made over the last couple of years that this process has been privatised between the DUP and Sinn Féin,” he said.

“The strategies that have been employed by those two parties up to now haven’t worked, so I think it’s time for a re-think.”

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Time for politicians to get back to work. People sent a clear message they want a government to deal with health waiting lists, address the crisis in education and to protect our economy from Brexit.

We’ve put our proposal on the table to break the deadlock and get back to work

12:56 PM – May 7, 2019

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He said politicians on the campaign trail for the local and European elections had heard a stark message from the voters.

“I think any of us who have been knocking doors over the last few weeks, and some of us have more doors to knock, will understand what the public are saying,” he said.

“Yes, they have strong views on all the big issues, but they also want us to deal with the issues in the health service, the education system, Brexit, the economy, and they want us to do it in government.

“None of those things will be solved by standing outside and shouting at each other, so this is an opportunity for those of us in these talks to listen to what the public have told us.

“I think they want us to get back to work, to come back together, to remember the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the latest process must not be just “window dressing”.

“What we need to actually get to this set of talks is to sort out a governance structure that doesn’t give a veto to one party that can simply crash democracy in Northern Ireland because of their will,” he said.

“I think today is a start of what we’ll see for the rest of this talks process.

If today is simply window dressing then we’re wasting our time and insulting the people of Northern Ireland

“If today is simply window dressing then we’re wasting our time and insulting the people of Northern Ireland; if this is simply five parties sitting round a table again to re-establish red lines, we’ve let the people of Northern Ireland down, and if those parties who come in with red lines established are sticking by them, then they are letting the people of Northern Ireland down.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said her party was ready to work to get devolution up and running.

“With respect to the talks process today, we are glad first and foremost that we are re-engaged around the table, it has been a long time coming,” she said.

“We believe there is a short window of opportunity in which we can actually deliver devolution again here in this building.

“That will require all parties to make compromises, it will require all parties to really focus their attention intensely over the next few weeks.

“We’re up to that task and we want to ensure that we get devolution and delivery happening.”

Mrs Long added: “It’s not about putting a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

“It’s about doing the reform that is required so that we can restore devolution that’s sustainable in the long term.

“People have given us a strong message after the last weekend, they want devolution.

“It’s up to all parties to deliver what they’ve asked for.”

With many thanks to the: Irish Examiner for the original story

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