Welfare Reform: the reality
Conference focuses on the need to protect those who are most affected while Minister explains package of mitigations.
On Wednesday 29 October, together with NICVA and with our partners in the Northern Ireland Advice Services Consortium, we held a conference to discuss the future and impact of welfare reform.
Law Centre (NI) Acting Director Ursula O'Hare welcomed the conference as a chance for a packed audience of advisers and policy makers to better understand the impact of reform and to focus on the need to protect those most affected.
Mervyn Storey MLA, Minister for Social Development (pictured above), was able to explain his plans for a Northern Ireland package of mitigations which is currently the subject of intense negotiations at Stormont.The minister's speech can be found on the website of the Department for Social Development.
The proposed measures include:
- a £17 million Northern Ireland Fund to protect current tenants from the effect of the bedroom tax for the next five years,
- £30 million hardship fund to replace Social Fund,
- transitional protection for existing claimants transferring to Universal Credit,
- maximum sanction time reduced from three to two years and removal of civil liability,
- adding lack of childcare as a good reason for refusing employment or training offers,
- additional funding to ensure medical reports are sought prior to unfavourable PIP decisions,
- twice monthly payments rather than once a month as in England,
- households would have the choice of payment to one single account, a joint account, or split into two accounts (with the Department deciding who is the main carer and therefore should receive the share of Universal Credit allocated to the needs of any children or other dependants),
- Housing Benefit element of Universal Credit to be paid directly to landlords,
- if one member of a household refuses to commit to be available for work, only that person would be excluded from Universal Credit.
Steve Cullen of Warrington CAB and Lynn Williams of Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations explained the impact of welfare reform as experienced in their areas, highlighting increased poverty linked to, for example:
- problems with Employment and Support Allowance,
- errors in the implementation of Universal Credit,
- limitations of the hardship funds.
Their concerns were echoed by Mary McManus of East Belfast Independent Advice Centre who highlighted cases illustrating the impact of recent changes on the centre's clients.
Conference organisers Seamus McAleavey, NICVA, Ursula O'Hare, Law Centre (NI), Pól Callaghan, Citizens Advice, Bob Stronge, Advice NI.