Theresa May has reached a deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement to allow her to form a majority government. But the deal came with a price tag of £1.5bn, just days after her party said there was no money for some of the poorest people in society. And it seems the £1.5bn could be coming directly from the mouths of 11 million struggling families.
‘Magic Money Tree’ found in Northern Ireland
May’s Conservative Party has agreed to give Northern Ireland an additional £1bn over the next five years in spending. £850m of this will be spent in the next two years. This is on top of a previously agreed £500m. The extra £1bn funding [pdf] over the next parliament consists of:
- £400m for infrastructure projects.
- £150m for ultra-fast broadband.
- £100m for “immediate pressures” on health and education.
- £200m for “health service transformation”.
- £50m for mental health services.
- £100m to target deprived communities.
But the money, given in return for DUP cooperation on key parliamentary votes, appears to be at the expense of struggling families and sick and disabled people across the UK. Because on Friday 23 June, the government announced that the freeze on welfare payments will continue for the next five years. Something which many believe has directly contributed to increasing poverty.
The new Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said that:
I would expect the benefit freeze to continue. It is sometimes scoffed at, but the fact is there is much greater awareness of food banks than was the case previously. It’s become much more widely used. If we want to reduce poverty, if we want to reduce the need for people to use food banks, it’s that we have got to have a strong economy that creates jobs.
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Most working age benefits are currently frozen until 2020 at the levels they were at in April 2016. They include Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit, and tax credits.
£1.5bn looks familiar…
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned in October 2016 that the freeze would mean 11 million families would lose £360 a year. But it said this freeze would save the government an additional £1.2bn a year by 2019-2020 on top of the £3bn that was first forecast. This is due to rocketing inflation.
So effectively, the Tories have taken over £1bn from UK families and handed it over as a bribe to the DUP. Because the money for Northern Ireland is on top of the nation’s usual funding. This is not, of course, to say that the nation doesn’t need additional funding. But it comes as figures show 14 million people in the UK are now living in poverty. In March, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation called on the Conservative government to end the benefit freeze, saying:
While employment is at record levels, the rising cost of living and freeze on benefits and tax credits mean ordinary working families are facing a tough outlook. In tight fiscal times, it is vital any additional support is directed at families who need it most.
The Walking Dead
It appears the Rowntree Foundation’s appeal has fallen on deaf ears. At a time when spiralling inflation, benefit cuts, and precarious employment are plunging millions of people into poverty across the UK. May has taken money that could help relieve some of the suffering from millions of families. And she has handed it over to one of the most controversial right-wing parties in the UK. All to keep her “zombie” government afloat.
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