Other News In Brief

DUP Call On Chancellor To Shelve Plans To Raise National Insurance Contributions

The DUP have called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to shelve plans to raise National Insurance contributions, scheduled to take effect from 1st April 2022.

Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart made the call in a letter to the Chancellor, urging the change in policy to support working families and 'squeezed middle' households amid rising household and energy bills.

Carla Lockhart said: "On a day and daily basis, the Government talks about the pressures on households because of the ongoing record increases in energy prices, their commitment to supporting households to meet the challenges of inflation, and their commitment to making work pay.

"Yet from 1st April they will be making a change in taxation that will hammer workers across the UK. The intended rise in National Insurance contributions will deprive people of much needed extra spending power when they desperately need it

"Currently employees pay 12 per cent NI on earnings between £9,568 and £50,268. From April 6 this will increase by 1.25 per cent.

"This means an employee on a £20,000 a year will pay around an extra £130 a year in tax.

"The levy will cost someone on a £30,000 salary about £255 more per year more

"Someone on £40,000 will see their National Insurance contributions go up by around £380 a year - to £4,032.

"A worker on £50,000 will shell out an extra £505 a year - up to almost £5,360 in tax.

"These are hefty rises, particularly when inflation is running above 5%. It will hit some of the lowest paid workers, but will also deliver a heavy blow to incomes in 'squeezed middle' households. These households receive little support to meet rising cost of living, yet now they are going to have less money to makes ends meet. That is wrong.

"I am calling on the Chancellor to shelve this proposal – now is not the right time to be hitting take home pay. I hope the Government will listen to the growing voice of opposition to this rise and act to support households across the UK at this financially challenging time, not make it more difficult."

Alliance Welcomes Progress Of New Stalking Legislation

Welcoming the progress of the latest stage of the Protection from Stalking Bill in the assembly, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has said that once completed, the legislation will do a number of key things to support victims.

The South Belfast MLA was speaking after the Consideration Stage of the Bill in the Assembly. The bill from Justice Minister Naomi Long will create a specific offence of stalking, along with better focus on recognising stalking behaviour, while allowing all victims of stalking automatic eligibility the use of live links or screens when giving evidence in court.

Ms Bradshaw said: "I welcome the progressing of the legislation tackling stalking, and it is vital we now move quickly to complete its passage through the Assembly.

"Given there were over 10,000 reported incidents of harassment in 2019/20, the last year for which final records are available, the urgency of this Bill is clear. We have heard many harrowing cases from victims of stalking and the often sexist attitudes and behaviours which can lead to it.

"Stalking can be both psychologically and physically damaging to victims, and this Bill does three key things to support them. It establishes repeated, often fixated or obsessive, behaviour constitutes and offence. It ensures any incidents of threatening or abusive behaviour may be prosecuted, and, via Stalking Protection Orders, it engages strongly in prevention on behalf of victims. It also increases penalties specifically for stalking.

"For too long, people have lived, often in silence, with the devastating effects of stalking. This Bill is a giant step towards ensuring far fewer face those effects in future."

SDLP Warn That People 'Simply Unable To Afford A 30% Gas Price Increase'

The SDLP have warned that people will be simply unable to afford a 30% gas price increase.

The party's Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan was speaking after the Utility Regulator warned of the increase in the coming weeks.

Foyle MLA Mr Durkan said: "When is this going to stop? It seems like every few weeks we are now being told to expect a massive increase in the cost of essential utilities and we're long past the point that ordinary families are no longer able to pay it. Given the increases of the last few months I have no idea how people are expected to pay these costs, we are going to reach the stage were people are forced to strictly ration their gas or be unable to turn it on at all.

"We have pushed and pushed Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to support people on this issue, and although it has been completely inadequate there's only realistically so much we can do in the face of global price rises. Last year, the SDLP put forward an energy costs action plan with concrete proposals to address the energy crisis in both the short and long-term and this too was ignored by Minister Hargey.

"Just this week Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy revealed he had left £100m of his budget unspent, with it now at risk of returning to the British government. Minister Hargey handed back over £20m of her own department's budget allocation. This is money that could have gone to support local families and we need to see it redeployed to do some good as soon as possible.

"Families across the North have already seen their finances pushed to the absolute limit and this announcement will have left many feeling numb. These announcements have now become so frequent that they have lost all meaning to the average person. Unfortunately many will not realise the impact until they receive their bill or go to top up their card and realise they simply can't afford it."

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