Naomi Long MP said: “David Cameron’s says that he does not want to divide the country or target those most vulnerable with the cuts which are ahead, but given that there is little detail in the speech as to where the axe might fall, it is hard to judge how committed he is to those promises.
“The focus on the public sector, benefits and immigration in the speech hint at the future agenda and suggest that Northern Ireland may be in for a particularly difficult time. The Prime Minister needs to bear in mind that the country is already economically divided, with regions like Northern Ireland lagging far behind the South East of England for example, in terms of private sector employment and wealth. If he genuinely wants to avoid widening that gap further, then he has to be sensitive to those challenges as he makes his decisions.
“The green shoots of recovery are very fragile in Northern Ireland and swingeing cuts to the public sector, which seems to be one of the main themes of his speech, will hit much harder here than in other regions and has the potential to extinguish what little growth there has been in recent months or worse, drive us back into recession. If the cuts which he proposes are too deep and too swift, and are not balanced by job creation, there is a serious risk of simply driving people out of productive public sector employment straight on to the dole queues which does nothing to protect public services or create wealth.
“I am also extremely concerned that the speech referred again to immigration, as there is a real risk in an economic downturn of immigrants being scape-goated for the country’s woes, which can fuel racist tensions. The reality is that people travelled here to work and to make a positive contribution, often doing jobs which others couldn’t or wouldn’t do, and our economic problems are clearly not their fault. We need to have a sensitive and pragmatic approach to immigration policy, weighing the economic benefits against the challenges.
“Undoubtedly, the Government has some very difficult decisions to make in the days ahead and Northern Ireland will not be entirely immune to the impact; however, I hope that some sensitivity to our particular challenges will be shown as the decisions are made.”