Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:15 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Eamonn McCann Eamonn McCann People Before Profit Alliance 1:15 pm, 16th January 2017

Again, that is an argument between the DUP and Sinn Féin. I will let a Member from Sinn Féin respond to that.

It is worth commenting that, if there is an intervention from Sinn Féin or the DUP, it is against the other major party. There has been finger-pointing and denunciation by one of the other. Harsh words have been spoken by each. Neither party can deny that that has been the tone of this discussion so far.

How distant seem the days when Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness were co-authoring documents in the local press, telling us how wonderfully well everything was going and how destructive the people who suggested there were fundamental problems with this place were. And now, just three months since that article was released, we have the spectacle that we had this morning. People talk about the dysfunctionality. What they are referring to is the fact that we have two parties with different ideologies who basically hate one another and what one another stands for lashed together in an Executive. They are locked together in a loveless embrace from which they cannot escape. That is why we have had all this chaos over recent times; it has not just been to do with the particular circumstances in which things broke down over the RHI scheme.

One of the solutions, which was mentioned before, although I forget by whom, that would provide proper mitigation and a real solution would be if we had a sufficient number of social houses in Northern Ireland. If we had a crash programme of building social housing, through direct state intervention in the economy and the housing market, we could solve the problem or at least move very quickly towards the solution to the problem. Where would we get the money for that? Why not get rid of the stupid idea of abolishing corporation tax, which will cost hundred of millions of pounds with no guarantee whatsoever — no guarantee — that one job — one job — will be created as a result? Could we put that money into a crash programme for building social housing? I hesitate to mention the 490 million quid that has gone up in smoke, but that would have helped too, as would other moneys that are used for purposes the social relevance of which is far from clear to me.

If the state built houses like that, there would be a number of effects. It would reduce the housing benefit bill substantially, at a saving to the public purse. It would also have another effect. If you had that sort of programme of house building — I have made this point in the House before, but I will make it again because it is absolutely key to what we are talking about, including the cost of housing for ordinary people and how they can be helped to afford it — think about it for a minute, fellow Members. What do you need to build houses? You need land and bricks and so on, but you also need a lot of workers to put the houses together. You need bricklayers, you need carpenters, you need plumbers, you need painters, you need electricians, you need roofers, you need glaziers; you need a range of people with those old and traditional skills that we are losing. Putting them to work, bringing apprentices in and so forth would have a significant effect on the economic well-being of this area and of many citizens here.