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Law Centre echoes Social Development Committee’s concerns on welfare reform

The Law Centre has welcomed the Social Development Committee’s acknowledgement of significant concern about the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill on vulnerable people. The Bill will herald the biggest change to the social security system in a generation.

‘The Welfare Reform Bill is being introduced against a backdrop of stringent austerity measures and cuts across the welfare state. The recommendations contained in this report are a significant step towards tailoring welfare reform to Northern Ireland’s circumstances’ said Les Allamby, Director of Law Centre (NI). ‘The Assembly must now do more to ensure the Welfare Reform Bill incorporates measures to protect the most vulnerable groups when it returns to the floor of the Assembly for Consideration Stage. This legislation will transform the welfare state for a generation and our MLAs must ensure that the changes will work effectively in practice for Northern Ireland.

‘We are looking to ensure that any proposals made in Britain will actually work in Northern Ireland and take into account our particular circumstances.’

‘It is clear that the Committee have closely examined what steps can be taken to protect local households affected by the changes,’ he added. ‘We welcome recommendations opposing the ‘spare room tax’, removal of Employment and Support Allowance in Youth, removal of contributory ESA after 52 weeks for some people and other reductions in income for disabled people.’

‘It is also important to remember that the Welfare Reform Bill does a great deal more than introduce Universal Credit. While more money is going into Universal Credit, it is being paid for many times over by savings made elsewhere in this Bill and in other cuts to social security expenditure’ he concluded.

The report comes the day after the publication of statistics from the Department for Social Development which show the number of households who will be affected by the introduction of Universal Credit.

The Law Centre is also calling on the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that there is comprehensive scrutiny of the regulations that will ultimately implement the welfare reform legislation as this is where much of the scope for flexibility to do things differently lies.

The Committee for Social Development's full report on the Welfare Reform Bill can be downloaded at the Northern Ireland Assembly website:

www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Reports/Social-Development/8856%20Complete%20Version.pdf

A report on the impact of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland can be found at the DSDNI site:

www.dsdni.gov.uk/uc-impact-booklet-transitional-protection.pdf

The Welfare Reform Bill proposes to introduce Universal Credit, replacing Income Support, income related Jobseeker’s Allowance, income related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit and tax credits. It also replaces Disability Living Allowance for people of working age with a new benefit - Personal Independence Payment, abolishes ESA in Youth for people with severe disabilities under 25, introduces much tougher sanctions for failure to effectively take up work or training opportunities, including a sanction of up to three years loss of benefit in some circumstances, introduces a ‘spare room’ tax penalizing people in public sector housing who have spare rooms and removes contributory ESA from people in the Work Related Activity Group after 12 months on benefit.

The DSD timetable for the Bill aims to have the Bill passed by mid-June 2013.

Listen to Les Allamby talk about welfare reform and Universal Credit on BBC's On Your Behalf. The broadcast is available until 9 March only on:downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/northernireland/oyb/oyb_20130302-1011a.mp3

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