Northern Ireland

Simon Hamilton warns of billion pound loss over welfare delays

Simon Hamilton
Image caption Simon Hamilton accused Sinn Féin of a lack of leadership

The finance minister has warned of a billion pound reduction to Northern Ireland's budget if welfare reforms are not passed by Stormont.

Simon Hamilton also said that 1,500 civil service jobs could be lost.

Mr Hamilton said: "We have already lost £15m this year. Over a billion pounds will be lost in the next five years in penalties from treasury if we don't proceed on welfare reform."

Westminster passed the controversial welfare reforms in February 2013.

The Northern Ireland Executive has negotiated some amendments but has still not passed the bill, and £5m a month penalty charges came into effect in January.

DUP MLA Mr Hamilton told BBC Northern Ireland's Sunday Politics programme that the £1bn figure was the amount the Westminster government would have expected to save through the reforms.

He also accused Sinn Féin of a "lack of leadership" on the issue.

Sinn Féin has led the opposition to the welfare reforms.

'Self-inflicted wounds'

He said: "Within five years the total figure will have gone up. It's an annual figure of around £300m, and once you add all that up it's an additional billion pounds coming out of our budget.

"Never mind what the chancellor is going to pass on in the cuts that are going to be seen right across the UK, these are self-inflicted wounds by a lack of leadership from Sinn Féin on this issue.

"It is going to have a devastating effect on public services if you were to take that additional amount of money out of public services in Northern Ireland."

Mr Hamilton's comments came just a few days after Thursday's announcement that 300 DVA jobs are being lost in Northern Ireland.

He added: "Around 1,500 jobs in Northern Ireland, where people are doing social security work on behalf of customers in England and in Wales, could be lost, in fact are probably most likely to be lost.

"Because, as we have seen with the DVA jobs this week, why will an English minister taking a decision want to keep jobs in Northern Ireland if we don't even have the same benefits system that they have?

"We have been making this very clear to Sinn Féin, to the SDLP and to others, that whether we like the welfare reform bill or not, we can't afford to take that hit because some vulnerable people are going to suffer because of the billion pound reductions that are going to impact upon public service delivery here."

Last week Mr Hamilton also warned of future public spending cuts.

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