Welfare reform and NI
"Carve out your own space - become a flagship for the rest of the UK,” urged Baroness Ruth Lister at 6 March Law Centre (NI) / NICVA conference on welfare reform.
With the Welfare Reform Bill due to be introduced this spring, the Law Centre and NICVA hosted a conference on welfare reform on Tuesday 6 March at NICVA.
The impact of sanctions, cuts to housing and disability benefits, payments to ‘head of household’, whether welfare will address poverty or worsen living conditions, child poverty, the timescale of reforms and the different situation in Northern Ireland were much debated on the day.
The event was broadcast live from NICVA on www.nicva.org/live and twitter.
Neil Couling, Director, Department for Work and Pensions, explained the principles and process of the government’s welfare reform programme, while Les Allamby outlined the impact of and concerns about welfare reform in Northern Ireland.
Labour peer Baroness Ruth Lister, in conversation with Paul Clark, spoke from her experience in the House of Lords about the pitfalls of the current trend of reform and criticised the demonisation of people in receipt of benefits.
She urged the Northern Ireland Assembly to: “Use your flexibility to the maximum, particularly around payment times (fortnightly instead of monthly),and the purse / wallet issue. Carve out your own space - become a flagship for the rest of the UK who I hope will look to Northern Ireland on this”.
Will Haire, Permanent Secretary, Department for Social Development, gave the current Northern Ireland position on the Bill. The panel discussion explored ways to implement welfare reform differently in Northern Ireland without affecting the parity principle.
The conference closed with a political debate involving Neil Couling, Alex Maskey MLA, Chair of Social Development Committee, Baroness Ruth Lister, Mark H Durkan, MLA, Judith Cochrane, MLA, Paula Bradley, MLA.
The next issue of Frontline will feature a report of the conference and the day's broadcast will be available on NICVA's website.