Alliance is committed to tackling poverty and social exclusion, protecting families and the most vulnerable within our society. We find it unacceptable that Northern Ireland is dogged by particularly high levels of deprivation, poverty and inequality. If the correct policies are not put in place to counter-act the current financial climate, this will continue. A truly shared society requires us to tackle all forms of division and this requires addressing social and economic inequality. This must start at a young age - if we do not help children early enough then it is much harder to break down barriers later on. Our proposals for tackling poverty and social exclusion include:
- Fully implementing the Child Poverty Strategy and earlier support for families at danger of entering care.
- A legal requirement for the NI Executive to deliver adequate childcare provision.
- Tackling fuel poverty through our proposed Green New Deal and associated schemes such as the warm homes scheme.
- Developing a Financial Inclusion Action Plan which would provide people with information on financial products and coping with debt.
- Good quality housing is also essential for tackling poverty. Alliance believes that decent housing is a right and should be available to all, regardless of whether people are owner-occupiers, social housing tenants or private renters. In order to improve the quality of housing, we support:
- Making an on-going commitment to capital investment for new social housing;
- Introducing mandatory private landlord registration
- Extending decent homes standards to private rented housing
- Ensuring adequate tenancy support in the private rented sector is available
- Supporting independent housing advice services.
Alliance will continue to argue for a fairer UK-wide benefits system as this will have the greatest impact on what we are able to afford in Northern Ireland.
We want to undo the Conservatives’ welfare policies – the government are willing to spend billions of pounds on Brexit preparations and are willing to risk losing billions from our economy due to the effects of Brexit. We can no longer accept the logic that we cannot afford a more generous welfare system for those who need it.
We will argue for a full review of the UK welfare system – preferably by a Royal Commission or panel of experts, to include the option of a Universal Basic Income trial for Northern Ireland – based on the principles of dignity for all, support for those who need it, simplicity for the claimants, eradicating poverty, and ensuring that there are meaningful pathways to work.
More immediately, Alliance will support the following measures within the first year of a new Parliament:
- Repeal of the bedroom tax, UK-wide.
- Ending cruel and punitive sanctions and replacing them with an incentive-based system.
- Reducing the five-week wait for the first payment and offering an interim payment.
- Removing the two-child limit and the benefits cap.
- An overhaul of bereavement benefits.
- End outsourced medical assessments for welfare.
- Scrapping the six-month rule for terminally ill claimants and ending frequent, repetitive assessments for people with lifelong, permanent or deteriorating conditions.
- A wide range of opportunities for claimants to re-skill or re-train, where appropriate.
Welfare and Northern Ireland
While it is clear that Universal Credit (UC) has not worked and must be changed at Westminster, the mitigations that were put in place by the Assembly from 2016/17 are due to expire in March 2020, which risks exposing people in Northern Ireland to some of the worst effects of UC.
As the time in which an incoming Executive could act has how passed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should legislate in Westminster to extend the mitigations for at least four years.
The contract for independent advisory services should also be rolled over in parallel.
We also want to see the Secretary of State urgently legislate to reclassify housing associations in Northern Ireland. If this is not done in time for the end of the current temporary derogation in March 2020, social housebuilding in Northern Ireland could grind to a halt.
We believe that people should have secure jobs, with proper rights and fair pay. Alliance will:
- Ensure robust regulation of the “gig” economy, including zero-hour contracts and entitlements and protections for casual workers.
- Support minimum wage equality for young people and a review into minimum and living wage standardisation across age groups.
- Supports an increase statutory maternity pay (SMP) and Maternity Allowance to the same level as the minimum wage.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to which employment law and employment relations policy and practice is devolved. While taking into account developments in Great Britain and the need on occasions for a common framework and approach, we have the capacity to shape employment law and relations policy to take account of the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland. We will ensure continued NI Assembly competence in this area, which is especially important in the context of Brexit.
Childcare provision in Northern Ireland is out of step with the rest of the UK. We want to see the introduction of 30 hours of free, high-quality childcare on a similar basis to that provided in England and Wales, but at the same time learning from difficulties in delivery there in order to provide childcare that benefits child development and helps parents. We want to see:
- A refreshed childcare strategy that ensures sustainable funding for high quality, free and affordable childcare, encourages the growth of Sure Start centres, and promotes wraparound care and other flexible options.
- Acknowledgement of the additional challenges for parents of twins and other multiple births and providing additional support. Revision of how childcare costs are supported within Universal Credit.
- Restoration of a UK-wide target on reducing child poverty.
Alliance acknowledges the difficult and valuable work carried out by carers in Northern Ireland and the role carers play in providing support to loved ones which allows them to retain their dignity and respect.
We also acknowledge that the work, as well as the intensity of the commitment, can be emotionally difficult and place financial, emotional and physical strain on the carers themselves and the government has a duty to support them. Alliance will:
- Advocate for an increase in the Carer’s Allowance, bringing it into line with Job Seekers’ Allowance.
- Support funding and legislation to entitle carers to respite provision so that they can have regular breaks from the responsibility of providing care.
- Push for a Northern Ireland approach to identify and support child carers and a strategy to ensure there is alternative care provision where suitable.
- Ensure that the role played by carers is fully recognised as reform of the health service is implemented.
Alliance is committed to pension provision that enables older people to live independent and dignified lives. We have worked to reduce pensioner poverty and we support many improvements to the state pension system such as:
- Retaining the triple lock on the state pension and ensuring an annual uplift linked to inflation.
- Providing transitional support to those women who have been affected by the decision to bring the date of the increase in the women’s retirement age forward, in line with the WASPI campaign.
- Taking independent, objective analysis on the issue of the national pension liability, age of eligibility and how this affects long-term funding arrangements.
- Continuing to support automatic enrolment into workplace pensions. We will seek to balance the need for sustainable finances with the need to ensure people have a dignified retirement and time to adjust to any necessary changes in their pension provision.