Fresh Start deal allowed Tories to introduce benefit sanctions threatening devastating consequences for most vulnerable
Unite in the Community will protest outside benefits offices across Northern Ireland at noon tomorrow [March 30th]
March 29th: Albert Hewitt explained why his union’s community branches will be organising protests outside benefits offices across Northern Ireland, tomorrow [Thursday March 30th] at 12pm:
“Northern Ireland’s working class has, to date, largely escaped the full brunt of Tory ‘welfare reform’. With the Fresh Start agreement, this situation has changed. Despite the mitigation measures agreed as part of that agreement, the most vulnerable are being hard-hit by the range of punishing changes which are known as ‘benefits reform’.
“Across the UK, Unite’s community branches have led a campaign to highlight and expose the devastating consequences of benefits reform. Central to this package is a new brutal sanctions regime where even minor misdemeanours around application processes can lead to loss of benefits, for up to three years in the most serious cases.
“Benefits reform measures also include new stringent tests for eligibility to Disability-based payments and Carers’ Allowances; severe cuts to Universal Credit payments; a twelve month maximum limit on contribution-based rates of Employment & Support Allowance; and the ‘cost-cutting’ transition from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.
“Unfortunately as a result of the Fresh Start Agreement, benefit’s sanctions are becoming an increasing reality for many of the most vulnerable in working-class communities across Northern Ireland.
“While migating measures have been promoted by the Executive parties as having diluted the Tory-inspired benefits reform, the reality is that increasing numbers are now being left with no benefits coming in at all as a result of the new sanctions regime. The protections afforded to those who are sick or unable to find work only apply to those who are already on the system and who stay on the system. New applicants have no protections but are forced to enter under the new regime.
“The mitigations are proving ineffective in safeguarding those in greatest need. There’s a genuine fear among those on benefits that taking a short-term employment opportunity will mean you lose the few protections you have under the current deal. The new benefits regime is truly brutal and treats individuals appallingly. Our protests reflect the growing anger and despair among those living in deprived communities”, Mr Hewitt concluded.
Unite in the community branches will be participating in the UK-wide protest against Benefits Sanctions on Thursday March 30th. Protests are arranged for noon at benefits offices on the Shankill, Falls’ and Hollywood Road in Belfast, in Derry/Londonderry, Strabane, Newry, Portadown and Enniskillen.