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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

ANBCouncil backs motion of concern over ongoing cost of living crisis and government imposed cuts

Hand putting money into purse

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has backed a Sinn Fein motion to endorse a cost of living campaign which is seeking to ensure a guaranteed income of at least £120 weekly for a single adult and £200 for a couple.

The motion proposed by Glengormley Councillor Michael Goodman and seconded by Macedon Cllr Taylor McGrann calls on the council to “note with concern the ongoing cost of living crisis and British Government imposed cuts exacerbating poverty and financial pain on people in the community”.

It also calls for “a living wage economy and a fair Social Security system that targets resources where they are most needed and ensures people have a minimum essential standard of living; recognises that the current Social Security system, particularly Universal Credit, is not fit for purpose, not properly funded and is failing people; further recognises that those who rely on Universal Credit are incredibly vulnerable to changing circumstances often beyond their control, such as loss of employment, illness, increased caring responsibilities and family breakdown”.

The motion endorses the Trussell Trust charity’s ‘Guarantee our Essentials’ campaign in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a social change organisation, which calls on the UK Government to “enshrine in law the amount people need to ensure the basic rate of Universal Credit at least covers the essentials”.

The Trussell Trust says the “basic rate of Universal Credit should at least cover the cost of essentials like food, household bills and travel costs, but it is not currently set according to any objective assessment of what people need”.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has stated 90 per cent of low income households on Universal Credit are currently “going without essentials”.

It has also said: “Poverty comes at a significant cost to the individual, but also to the economy and wider society, with downstream costs to public services such as the NHS.

“The Essentials Guarantee would embed in our Social Security system the widely supported principle that, at a minimum, Universal Credit should protect people from going without essentials.”

The UK Government would be required to set the level of the Essentials Guarantee at least annually. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has indicated  this should be at least £120 a week for a single adult and £200 for a couple.

Antrim Foodbank has said it is facing “unprecedented pressure this winter” with the number of people needing support expected to “surge” amid decreasing donations of food during the last six months resulting in “a widening gap between donations and distributions”.

Fionnuala O’Donnell, manager of Antrim Foodbank, said:

“In recent months, the need for emergency food parcels is outstripping the number of donations we are receiving. This coming winter will be our toughest and busiest ever but we will continue to support the people who need us in Antrim.”

Last month, Newtownabbey Foodbank said on social media: “We are delighted to see so many organisations support us this harvest time. Without the support of many local schools and other organisations we wouldn’t be able to continue to offer our service to the wider community.”

Speaking at a meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council on Monday evening, Cllr Goodman said:

“The reality is years of Tory austerity, cuts to benefits and wages not keeping pace with inflation and soaring price of food, fuel and energy costs.”

He went on to say “one-off payments are not a solution” adding that people “deserve their needs to be met as a minimum”.

Dunsilly Alliance Cllr Jay Burbank commented: “It is unfortunate that we need such a campaign.”

He proposed an amendment to the motion to reiterate the council’s “ongoing efforts around a basic income”.

His amendment was seconded by party colleague Alderman Lewis Boyle, a Ballyclare councillor and accepted by Cllr Goodman.

Macedon Ulster Unionist Cllr Robert Foster said Sinn Fein members “should go to Parliament and put forward the case for the constituents of Northern Ireland”, adding the motion is something the council “does not have the remit to do”.

Antrim SDLP Cllr Roisin Lynch said she was “happy to support the motion and amendment”.

Cllr Goodman remarked if there was an Executive with “Unionist members sitting round the table, there would be no need to be traipsing to Westminster”. He dismissed what he described as “cheap political comments”.

Cllr McGrann commented: “Eighteen out of 650 members are not going to change anything at Westminster.”

Airport DUP Alderman Matthew Magill said: “In short, those of us on these benches would welcome any attempt to create greater fairness in the system. We share the concerns in relation to aspects of Universal Credit.”

He acknowledged there is “a need for review and a need to improve the system” but he stressed the need “to take an evidence based approach”.

The motion was carried after 17 votes in favour and 20 abstentions.


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