Manifestos: the SDLP
People First the SDLP’s manifesto prioritises the cost-of-living crisis.
“Working families across Northern Ireland are experiencing an unprecedented crisis in the cost-of-living. People are being hit again and again by soaring electricity, gas, oil and food bills. And all the while, they are being let down by politicians who are obsessed with the Protocol or with their own position at Stormont.”
And it responds by making five pledges “to put people first”. These are to give every household a minimum of £200; investing £1 billion in the health service and 6% pay rise “for nurses”; increasing free pre-school care from 12.5 hours to 30 hours a week with even more for 0-2 year olds and families on lower incomes; Doubling investment in the Social Housing Development Programme and; investing £500 in every child’s future when they are born with an additional £500 when they reach £10.
Unfortunately, as with all the party manifestos the SDLP’s is uncosted. And whilst it would be manifestly unfair to single it out in that regard it is a pity because it would be interesting to know where the party expects to source the enormous sums it would require to deliver such largesse.
Under each of the pledge there is a list of actions that would be required. So, for example, one measure to alleviate strains on households would be to “Reduce the cap on energy market profits and ensure savings are passed to consumers. In Northern Ireland, energy companies are permitted 2% of revenue as profit whether their revenue is £100,000 or £10,000,000. The current regime means that regardless of the level of profit made, energy companies can keep 2%. As more profits are made, this 2% threshold should be reduced and prices lowered accordingly.”
The manifesto contains a 12 point plan to improve the health service. This is striking for its recognition that good health care goes far beyond the service provided by hospitals.
There’s a pledge to provide more care outside hospitals. “The health service should reach into all our communities and support all of us where we need it most, when we need it most.” And a commitment to keeping people out of hospitals. “the lack of effective community care contributes directly to the problems faced by Emergency Departments.”
Further than that there is a recognition that ensuring good health goes far beyond a good health service.
“Northern Ireland currently operates a service designed to deal with illness when it arises, instead of promoting health. The SDLP’s focus is not only on reforming waiting lists but also on preventing people from becoming unwell. “
There are specific commitments to active travel and to use Clean Air Zones.
For all this there is recognition of the parlous state of Primary Care. The plan here involves increasing spending on it to 11% of the total health budget. But once again those services that would be reduced as a consequence are not spelled out.
Similarly whilst adult social care would be reformed by fully implementing the recommendations Of the ‘Power to People” the tricky issue of finding the funding to do so is not addressed.
There are two other particularly noteworthy policies within the manifesto.
The first is the creation of the Children’s Future Fund the first fund of its type anywhere in Europe.
It would see £500 invested for every child at birth, with an additional top up of £500 at age 10 in a pooled investment fund for all children and young people in Northern Ireland.
The fund would reach £100m within ten years, y £300m by the time the first child reaches the age of 18,and would be used to invest in green technology, climate change technology, and digital technology.
The party has also said it will explore the potential of implementing a Universal Basic Income (UBI), including UBI pilot schemes. “
It all makes for an exciting read if you are prepared to ignore basic questions as to the potential cost.
There is an irony here given the party’s support for the Fiscal Commission and its apparent enthusiasm for the “meaningful increase” of local tax and borrowing powers.
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