Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Two reports paint bleak economic picture - Flanagan

17 December, 2013 - by Phil Flanagan


It is long past time that we had the necessary tools to enable us to construct a just fair and equal economy in the North that will alleviate poverty, address disadvantage and build a better future. This is not possible while our ambition and imagination are restrained  by British government fiscal policy.

Sinn Féin Deputy Chair of the Assembly Enterprise Committee, Phil Flanagan has said that two reports released this week from the NI Retail Consortium and the “Households Below Average Income 2011/12” report published by the Department for Social Development (DSD) paint a bleak picture for economic prospects.

Phil Flanagan said:

 “The DSD report  ‘Households below Average Incomes’ in 2011-12, shows 21% of the population (379,000) in the North were in relative poverty before housing costs, and 24% of the population (422,000) were in absolute poverty before housing costs

“These figures are a stark illustration of the effects of decades of failed British Exchequer fiscal policies taking no account of economic conditions specific and unique to the North of Ireland. The results of a one size fits all approach to fiscal policy which ignores disparities between here and Britain, in income levels, cost of living and overdependence on the public sector exposes the myth that reliance on fiscal decisions taken in Whitehall best serves our interests. The present Tory austerity policies will only exacerbate and perpetuate this inequality.

Mr Flanagan continued:

 “The second set of figures released this week from the NI Retail Consortium highlighting the reduction in footfall in town and city centres and figures from the Licensed Trade industry indicating that 174 Public Houses have closed in the past year demonstrate the challenges facing the retail, hospitality and service sectors.

“Given the extent of relative and absolute poverty revealed by the DSD ‘Households Below Average Incomes’ report it is unsurprising that the service and retail sectors are particularly under stress.

“It is time that the DUP Ministers responsible for the economy, Simon Hamilton in Finance and Arlene Foster in Enterprise take responsibility for stimulating the domestic economy by demanding transfer of the fiscal powers that will enable us to lift people out of poverty.

“It is long past time that we had the necessary tools to enable us to construct a just fair and equal economy in the North that will alleviate poverty, address disadvantage and build a better future. This is not possible while our ambition and imagination are restrained  by British government fiscal policy.”

Change Cannot Be Stopped

The story of change is only beginning.

Sinn Féin will not allow Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to waste the potential, the possibilities and the aspirations of our people.

A government led by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together does not represent the change that people voted for in February. In fact, it is an attempt to deny change, to protect the status quo and to continue with the same broken politics that has so badly failed workers and families

Sinn Féin will defend the change that the people voted for. We will continue to stand up for workers and families.

North and south, Sinn Féin is that change for a fairer, stronger and united Ireland.

Fully Supporting our Health Service and Frontline Workers

We need to ensure that we have all available capacity within our health systems, that we have sufficient ventilators and respiratory equipment, sufficient beds including ICU beds, and that our frontline workers are protected.  We need more testing and tracing and we need to ensure that we have all available capacity within our health systems, that we have sufficient ventilators and respiratory equipment, sufficient beds including ICU beds. 

The lack of protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, carers and others is causing a lot of concern – with frontline workers taking to the internet looking for resources and the government have stated that homehelp workers don’t need PPE. 

We need to see delivery of more testing across the island to tackle COVID-19 in line with the advice of WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Income Support - Protecting Workers & Families

Sinn Féin’s proposals in the south would have guaranteed 100% of income up to €525 a week for workers and the self-employed who are laid off due to this crisis.  The Irish government’s proposal comes nowhere close to that and does not go far enough. €350 is not enough for people who have lost their jobs. 

While we are supportive of the wage subsidy scheme we believe that it must be targeted and not open to abuse - employers should have to make up the rest of the 30% of the salary – under the Irish government proposal employers could put in just one cent towards their employees pay.

There are also outstanding issues including: will workers have to pay tax on this income, now or at the end of the tax year; can workers who reside in the north but pay tax in the south be able to access the PUP payment?

Protecting Workers, Families and Businesses in the North

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has introduced protections for workers, small businesses and is lobbying the British Treasury to support the self-employed. He has brought in rate relief, including a three month rate holiday for all businesses and grants to support SMEs.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has streamlined the benefit system to make it easy for those affected by COVID-19 to access benefits, including sick pay for workers.  She has also introduced support measures for the community and voluntary sector.

Affordable Housing

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael cannot be trusted to deliver on housing. Their records speak for themselves.

Sinn Féin is committed to delivering the largest housing build in the history of the State.

Sinn Féin's "Fair Rent and Protection of Renters Bill" would prohibit rent increases on existing and new tenancies for three years and end the practice of tenants being evicted from buy-to-let properties on the grounds that a property is to be sold. These are vital protections that people need now more than ever.

In the north, Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has introduced measures to support those in the public housing sector and we have called for mortgage relief for homeowners and businesses.

Banks and the Insurance industry

It is outrageous that many people with a €200,000 mortgage will pay close to €2,000 more over the lifetime of their mortgage because the banks are not only charging interest but interest on the interest.  This is how the banks are intending to profit out of this crisis and it is outrageous. We want the Central Bank and the banks called in by the government and this to be stopped. We have been in touch with the Minister, the Central Bank and the banks on this. The fact is that they already charge twice the average EU interest rates for mortgage  - they need to waive all interest during the period of the emergency and not profit on it.

The behaviour of the insurance industry also needs to be tackled – they are failing to respond properly to this crisis.

The insurance industry is trying to find ways of avoiding providing coverage to businesses who pay very high insurance premiums and have been forced to close as a result of the crisis.  They need to be reined in by the Central Bank and taken to task over this behaviour. Nothing less than this is approach is required.