Concerns about welfare reform raised at high level meeting with Lord Freud
The meeting provided voluntary and community organisations with the chance to learn more about both the thinking behind the proposals and their practical implementation. Lord Freud began the meeting by expressing a personal interest in Northern Ireland that he first developed as a journalist in the 1970s. He said that his department had and would maintain a high level of contact with DSD and he would be keeping close eye on how the proposed changes were implemented here. Describing the welfare reform agenda as ‘revolutionary’ Lord Freud went on to urge the groups present to embrace and make the most of the changes rather than participate in ‘sterile’ political debate on them.
The voluntary and community organisations present made a number of strong representations to Lord Freud, expressing their concerns at the practical impact of the proposed reforms on children, families and older people; the impact of sanctions; housing; the move from Incapacity Benefit to ESA; and the need for access to a robust system of independent advice for people coping with these major changes.
Representatives clearly set out how circumstances in Northern Ireland differed from other regions across a range of issues such as the impact of the conflict on levels of disability and mental health issues, lack of childcare, limited housing stock and high levels of NEET young people and economically inactive people. They stressed that the implementation of reforms must take these circumstances into account.
Speaking after the meeting NICVA Chief Executive Seamus McAleavey said
"We were glad to welcome Lord Freud to NICVA on behalf of the community and voluntary sector because the issues discussed today will have a real impact on the people our sector works with. The voluntary and community representatives present were very clear about their concerns and for his part Lord Freud engaged in an open debate on each topic. The implementation of the reform proposals now lies with the NI Executive and Assembly and with the Welfare Reform Bill imminent we look forward to stepping up our engagement with local representatives on this issue.”