Debating welfare reform
The second reading of the Bill was introduced to the Assembly by the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland MLA, who described it as “one of the most substantial pieces of legislation that the Assembly has been asked to implement to date. It is the culmination of the wide-ranging debate that is taking place here and in the wider community about the future of our social welfare system. That debate is about issues that will have a major influence on how we address poverty and disadvantage and how we grow our economy.” [Assembly-Business/Official-Report]
The Universal Credit Programme Stakeholder area is now ‘live’ on DSD's website. For more information see http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/index/ssa/welfare-reform-ssa/universal-credit-stakeholders.htm. Please use it as a source of information for Universal Credit.
This site will be used to provide information and regular updates for Universal Credit stakeholders and also contains a revised Q&A brief following their last stakeholder event in October 2012.
If you have any queries please contact the team at [email protected]
The amendment, tabled by Sinn Féin, proposed that “the second stage of the Welfare Reform Bill be not agreed pending further consideration and adjustment to better reflect the specific circumstances, obligations and needs of our people; because, while recognising the need for a simplification of the benefit system and development of work incentives…..” [Assembly-Business/Marshalled-list-of-Amendments]
Minister McCausland outlined some of the issues with the proposed amendment, arguing that the current benefits system is complicated and needs changing and the introduction of universal credits will lift 10,000 people out of poverty.
He also stated that there is no time left to defer the Bill and that breaking parity will lead to a deficit in the budget of £200million. The deficit in the budget, the Minister claims, will lead to a shortage in funding for schools, hospitals and police.
Mitigating against hardship
He further stated that with the abolition of the Social Fund (incorporating Sure Start maternity grants, funeral payments, winter fuel/cold weather payments, budget loans and crisis loans) there will be many vulnerable people and families who will need assistance and the swift introduction of universal credit will help mitigate against that hardship.
However, the Minister did stress that there will be room for debate over operational issues including direct payments to landlords for housing benefit, the potential of bi-monthly payment of benefits and the payment of benefits to the main care giver within a household rather than the person deemed to be ‘head of the household’.
The Assembly passed the second stage of the Bill without amendment by 60 votes to 42, and it has now been referred to Committee for Social Development to allow for full scrutiny, clause by clause.
Still, many unresolved issues remain, including the lack of affordable childcare and the dire economic environment society has been plunged into, leaving a dearth of jobs that pay living wage. There are also serious reservations about the introduction of the real time IT system that will be used to not only process benefits but also for new claimants to register. Yet this system must be fit for purpose with adequate time for piloting before being put into general use.
The underpinning principle of welfare reform is to ‘make work pay’, according to the GB Coalition Government, however with ever decreasing job opportunities and the introduction of tougher sanctions on those who cannot afford to accept employment paying sub-standard wages, the most vulnerable within our society will be disproportionately affected by any cuts.
The full debate
The full debate, from BBC Democracy Live
You'll find the latest information on the Welfare Reform Bill in Northern Ireland at:
The Department is in the process of developing a Universal Credit Stakeholder Engagement area on this site where it will publish presentations from a number of stakeholder events. A revised brief will also be published, along with additional communication products for stakeholders where further information becomes available.
Elsewhere online, more information on the changes to expect (subject to approval by the Northern Ireland Assembly) is provided on the nidirect website.
Advice NI have produced a newsletter on the Welfare Reform Bill, attached below.
Comments from NICVA are included in the article on Welfare Reform here.
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