Chambré Senior Account Executive James Mayne takes a look at the SDLP’s manifesto for the upcoming Assembly election on 5 May.
The election campaign marches on and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) launched their manifesto on Tuesday. At just under 40 pages the manifesto, ‘People First’ sets out a number of polices to deal with what the SDLP believe is the voters’ biggest concern, the cost of living crisis.
The party is running 22 candidates across all 18 constituencies with a near 50/50 gender balance. At the last Assembly election in 2017, the party returned 12 members to the Assembly. The SDLP will be targeting key constituencies such as Strangford and Fermanagh & South Tyrone where they came just short in the last election. They will also be hoping to return Pat Catney in Lagan Valley, the surprise result in the constituency and arguably the election as a whole in 2017.
Cost of living
The Cost of Living crisis is the SDLP’s “first, second and third priority” according to leader Colum Eastwood MP. The manifesto lays out a 6 point cost-of-living action plan that aims to ensure the following:
- Giving every household a minimum £200
- Families with two children on free school meals (FSM) will receive £1200 before December
- Relaunch the FSM payment scheme during the school summer holidays
- Reduce the cap on energy market profits
- Press UK Government to introduce one-year VAT holiday for domestic energy charges
- Press UK Government to introduce windfall tax on energy companies.
The party also commits to extending the Department for Communities £100 Emergency Fuel Payment scheme for families on lower incomes until December 2022. Its commitment of giving every household at least £200 is similar to Sinn Féin’s pledge which proposed to give every household a minimum of £230.
The party sets out a twelve-point-plan with an overarching commitment of investing £1bn in the health service. This includes a 6% pay rise for nurses (a 3% pay for health workers was proposed earlier this year and was rejected by the Trade Union, Unison) and a pledge to fully fund the ten-year Mental Health Strategy introduced by Health Minister Robin Swann (UUP, North Antrim) in June 2021. The party also pledges to fully implement the recommendations in the Department of Health’s Expert panel, ‘Power to People: Proposals to reboot adult care & Support in N.I’. This includes a proposal to co-designing a new carers system with sectoral groups and those who use social care.
The SDLP is strongly opposed to the current system of academic selection and pledges to establish a curriculum that benefits all children of varying abilities. The party also reaffirms its commitment to increasing funding for Integrated Education, following its support of Alliance’s Kellie Armstrong’s Integrated Education Bill. It is also committed to addressing the ‘Brain Drain’ issue by improving opportunities for NI students to study here through expanding student numbers at the Ulster University Magee campus and ensuring that no student is unable to access third level education due to financial constraints.
The SDLP calls on a new NI Executive to declares a climate emergency. The party also believes that NI should move beyond the Single Electricity Market to a Single Energy Market for the Island of Ireland. This it argues will increase competition and benefit from economies of scale. The SDLP is fully committed to the suspension on fracking in NI and would permanently ban fracking if given the opportunity to do so.
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon took the ministerial reigns at the Department for Infrastructure in January 2020 and the SDLP Manifesto makes clear it wishes to continue building on her tenure. After progressing on implementing an infrastructure commission in August 2021 the manifesto reaffirms her commitment to establish an Infrastructure Commission to allow for more long term sustainable planning. The party is also committed to transform the planning system to enable a more efficient system that will create jobs and protect the environment.
Economy, Jobs and Skills
The party wants to maximise the benefits of the Protocol by tailoring a growth strategy that benefits from access to both UK and EU markets with reporting of targets to be set under the new Programme for Government. The party pledges an agreed three year Budget matched to a new Programme for Government, reduced corporation tax (% rate not defined) and a cross-departmental, ministerial-led group to respond to the detailed findings of the Fiscal Commission.