In October, the Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group sent out letters to each MLA highlighting the disproportionate impact the cost of living crisis has had on women, inquiring about what they are doing on an individual level and party-wide level to address this crisis, and calling for immediate action. In the month that these letters were sent, we have received responses from representatives from every party outlining what they are doing in their constituency and what the party is doing as a whole to mitigate the impacts of the crisis.
We also asked for meetings with the MLAs or their wider party in each of the letters, which we have been able to organise with every party. To date, we have met with People Before Profit, the UUP, the SDLP, and Alliance, with plans to meet with Sinn Féin and the DUP in the weeks before Christmas. While there is an understanding that the MLAs are restricted in what they can do due to the collapse of the Executive, there have been constructive conversations around what can be done in the absence of a functioning government, what should be done the day government is restored, and what are the wider issues that have been exacerbated by this crisis that need to be addressed.
Ahead of each meeting, we have sent the MLAs a list of short-term and long-term actions that we believe would be an effective way to tackle this crisis. The short-term actions are meant to deal with the current nature of the crisis – pausing social security debt, extending the Warm Home Discount (WHD) to Northern Ireland – the aim is to help people get through this winter. The long-term actions, however, are with the intention to tackle the structural and cultural impacts that have been made worse by this crisis, but have always been in our society. The implementation of gender budgeting, proper investment in the social security system, and the fulfilment of the UN SDGs are a few actions that would help target gender inequality and other inequalities.
We have received positive feedback and support from every party so far on our list of actions, and the MLAs have given additional support to sufficient childcare, greater transparency of government/budgetary processes, unions and industrial action, proactive policy-making, and multi-year budgets to name a few areas. These conversations have demonstrated the want for a restored, functioning government where substantive action can be taken on the cost of living crisis and on areas of inequality.
Letters to the MPs have been sent out, and letters to councillors will be sent out in the coming weeks. We look forward to further engagement from the parties at all levels of government.