Issue 48

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By Brian Pelan, VIEW editor

At the age of 15 or 16 I wrote my first ever letter to a newspaper in Belfast. To my surprise it was published. In the letter I criticised those who referred to people who were unemployed as ‘scroungers’.

I am 61 years of age now and the same abusive language is still being used.

The politics of austerity has not only left a trail of human destruction in its wake, but it has often labelled those who have borne the brunt of welfare cuts as ‘wasters’ and ‘cheats’.

This issue of VIEW, ‘Stories From The Frontline’, is our attempt to reset the narrative and tell the story from the victims’ perspective,

After the global crash in 2008 a series of austerity measures were unleashed in the United Kingdom – firstly by the Labour Party, followed by more brutal measures which were implemented by the Conservative government.

The ‘tighten your belt’ language was specifically aimed at the working class – who were not responsible for the economic crash.

Northern Ireland, until the signing of the Fresh Start Agreement in 2015, had escaped the worst effects of ‘welfare reform’. The Agreement bound the main parties to implementing welfare reform in Northern Ireland on a similar basis to the rest of the UK. Both the two biggest parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, signed the Agreement but managed to have a mitigations package built in to offset some of the losses which would be incurred by those who were claiming benefits.

These measures have not been enough to stem the growing numbers of those suffering from the effects of the cuts. Food banks are on the increase.

The mitigations package runs out in March 2020. There appears to be no plan B.

As we have no Assembly, I wrote to the Department for Communities. In my email, I asked that I wanted to interview the Permanent Secretary Leo O’Reilly. I wanted to ask Mr O’Reilly about the Department’s views on what happens when the mitigation package expires.

I received the following reply from the Department for Communities. “Thank you for your email. Given the wide-ranging nature of the areas you would want to cover, it would not be appropriate for the Permanent Secretary or any civil servant to be interviewed…”

We have seen a rise in hardship, especially from those who have moved from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This is evidenced by the amount of PIP personal stories in this issue.

The situation will only get worse with the introduction of Universal Credit and the end of mitigation in 2020.

Do we want to continue a race to the bottom or do we want to support those whose safety net is being shredded daily? ­

• I want to pay particular thanks to guest editor Mary McManus, manager of the East Belfast Independent Advice Centre and Advice NI, who supported the production of this issue. I would also like to thank all those who told their personal stories of hardship and pain to VIEW.

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