Assembly to scrutinise Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland
On Thursday 20 September 2012 the Northern Ireland Executive gave the go ahead for the Department for Social Development to start the legislative process so that the Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland can be introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly and begin the process of scrutiny. As part of the process, exploration of the proposed operational flexibilities can now begin to ensure that consideration is given to the specific needs of people in Northern Ireland.
In a press release the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, has welcomed a move by the Northern Ireland Executive to begin the discussion on welfare reform.
He said: "I welcome the support from my Executive colleagues to begin the discussion on welfare reform. I will shortly introduce the Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland to the Assembly and the important process of scrutiny can begin. There has already been much public debate on the proposals contained within the Welfare Reform Bill, and I welcome the fact that the Bill can now be fully interrogated, through the proper legislative process, which will ensure that all those with an interest in the proposed reforms can have their say".
The most radical change in a generation
The welfare reform agenda has been described as the most radical change to the social welfare system in a generation. Its most high profile measure will see a new benefit, Universal Credit, being introduced in 2013, replacing six existing means tested benefits and tax credits for working age people. As enabling legislation, the Bill only provides an outline of Universal Credit and other benefits, with detail left to regulations still to be drafted, including, most crucially, the amount of benefit, the details of how the size criteria for public sector housing will work in Housing Benefit and housing credit, how childcare costs are to be included and the rate at which benefit will be withdrawn as earnings increase.
The underpinning principle of welfare reform is to ‘make work pay’. The legislative changes aim to:
- simplify the welfare system
- encourage people into employment
- make savings.
Given the wide variety of reforms, the implementation of the changes will impact upon a significant percentage of the working age population in Northern Ireland. NICVA welcomes that the Bill will now be subject to full legislative scrutiny to allow a full debate to occur with the aim to discuss potential proposed operational flexibilities that can be made to mitigate impacts and to tailor different approaches here.
More on Welfare Reform
NICVA supports the Welfare Reform Group proposal that, in previous circumstances, different arrangements have been made that have not in effect, been a breach of parity. NICVA proposes that full scrutiny of the bill now provides the Northern Ireland Assembly with a unique opportunity to impact on the formation of social security policy here for the next generation. NICVA hopes that this opportunity can be exploited to achieve the best outcome for Northern Ireland citizens. Further updates will be available at www.nicva.org as the process gets underway.
Following a stakeholder event at NICVA at the beginning of October, the Department for Social Development has added a link to their Departmental internet site where you will find further information on the Welfare Reform Bill in Northern Ireland.