South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has spoken out against Government plans to reduce Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit by April 2017.
The measure will cut the weekly amount received by recipients with long-term health conditions or disabilities by £30 and will take place before a promised Work and Health programme Green Paper will be considered or implemented.
Speaking after participating in a House of Commons debate, Ms Ritchie said: “The Tories are suggesting that those who rely on the ESA need financial strain to push them into employment. Their plans include this insidious £29.05 a week cut to the ESA Work-Related Activity Group component and the corresponding cut in Universal Credit.
“Theirs is a dangerous and insulting worldview. The reality is that the vast majority of those claiming ESA are actively seeking work and are desperate for the independence and fulfilment a meaningful job can offer. It is lack of support in the workplace and discrimination from some employers that is the barrier to them securing employment, not a lack of work ethic.
“The British Government have also failed to provide one shred of evidence to suggest that the losing £30 a week would be any incentive. Their strategy is based on anecdotal evidence and a blame culture that victimises the vulnerable and shores up the gap between rich and poor. Thanks to the DUP and Sinn Fein our most vulnerable are now at their mercy.
“This threat is a direct result of the DUP and Sinn Féin locking Northern Ireland into the Tory programme of welfare reform via their legislative consent motion last year. By shirking their responsibilities, they reduced our hard won democratic institutions to a post box for this Conservative Government and have exposed our people to their brutal austerity agenda.
“The cuts in ESA and Universal credit are only part of a slow effort that will reduce living standards and pile financial strain on people with complex health conditions and disabilities. The SDLP were not prepared to vote through these cuts in Westminster, nor were we prepared to hand our welfare powers over to London in the first place.
“The Chancellor must use next week’s Autumn Statement to reverse these proposed cuts and properly support ill and disabled people who may be able to return to work. Increasing financial strain is no way to get anyone in a place where they are able to work.”