Ritchie disappointed at budget

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SDLP South Down MP, Margaret Ritchie, has responded to the 2017 Spring Budget expressing disappointment that the Chancellor did not take full account of the challenges faced by Northern Ireland to sustain and protect our rural economy.

Ms Ritchie said Northern Ireland had featured little in the Budget but there were many issues that will have implications for everyone.

She added: “A border constituency like South Down has its own challenges to deal with in the form of Brexit and the Chancellor does not seem to grasp this. Moreover, this is certainly not a Budget for many of those people who would identify themselves as the people the Prime Minister referred to as ‘just managing’.

“Women affected by the equalisation of the state pension age, for example, have yet again been neglected by this government.

“The Chancellor paid lip service to International Women’s Day but yet made no mention of the Waspi (Women against state pension inequality) campaign, despite thousands of women, including many from Northern Ireland, marching on Parliament to call for a fair pension settlement. There was not even a window of consideration given to these women.

“Similarly, self-employed workers have not been served well by this Budget and self-employment is the backbone of Northern Ireland’s private sector and South Down’s construction and farming sector.

“The changes to National Insurance contributions from the self-employed need to be studied carefully to ensure small business owners are not unfairly and unduly financially penalised,” she added.

“There are many self-employed workers in our tourism and hospitality industry. As the Chair of the All Party Group on the Visitors’ Economy, I was disappointed to see that the Chancellor, yet again, failed to take the opportunity to cut Tourism VAT, which could stimulate the local economy of South Down where tourism is one of our principal economic drivers and create much needed employment across different skill levels, from summer jobs for students to senior professional roles.

“Through the All-Party Group and other parliamentary avenues, I will continue to push for this measure.

“I will also be raising with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the need to protect rural economies where many people are self employed via the construction industry and farming – they will be hit by the proposed increases in National Insurance contributions.”