Fears that welfare reform will hit the poorest, hardest
Photo: From left to right, Les Allamby Director, Law Centre NI; Neil Couling, Director, Department of Work and Pensions and Bob Stronge, Chair of NICVA
The Welfare Reform Bill currently progressing through Westminster has been widely described as the most radical shake up of the social security system in over 40 years. NICVA and the Law Centre (NI) held a conference on Tuesday 6 March to open the debate on some of the issues involved in the changes to welfare reform.
The event, which was part of NICVA’s European Union PEACE III funded Vital Links project, gave representatives from the voluntary and community sector an opportunity to hear from and directly engage with prominent decision-makers, policy makers, and eminent contributors to the welfare reform debate both here in Northern Ireland and within the UK.
Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of NICVA, commented
“There is a real fear that the Welfare Reform Bill will have a negative impact on the people of Northern Ireland, and their lives. With the Bill expected to be introduced into the Northern Ireland Assembly this month, this event was extremely timely in opening up the debate. The voluntary and community sector now has a better understanding of some of these changes, and we hope the prominent decision-makers fully comprehend the impacts on some of the poorest people in our society who will be hit hardest.”
Les Allamby, Director of Law Centre (NI) said
“This will be the most significant piece of welfare legislation for a generation. We will be doing some things differently to Britain as we have no Work Programme and will not be devolving the Social Fund or our rate rebate scheme to local authorities. It is important to look at how we can take an approach that meets the needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland and this conference gives us the opportunity to stimulate this debate in advance of the Bill going to the Assembly.”
Alex Maskey MLA, Chairperson of the Assembly’s Social Development Committee said:
“I am very pleased to be able to take part in this timely conference on welfare reform. My Committee and indeed, all MLAs, are concerned about and aware of the way that this reform will impact on local people. We are committed to mitigating, as far as is possible, the effects that this reform will have on the most vulnerable in our society. The discussion today makes a welcome contribution to the debate as the Assembly begins to examine the proposed legislation and it is a contribution my Committee takes seriously.”
Alex continued on the day “We will not be paralysed by the issue of parity, I will be working with everyone to minimise the negative effects of welfare reform. We want the bill to be given complete and full scrutiny.”
Speaking on the day, Baroness Ruth Lister offered some advice to the Northern Ireland Assembly “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”.
Due to unforeseen circumstances Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could not attend the event, however provided the below statement:
"Our welfare system has provided a vital safety net for millions of people. Yet today our welfare system is broken. It fails properly to incentivise work, traps too many people on welfare dependency and is highly complex. In addition the costs are spiralling out of control. That is why the Coalition Government has introduced the most radical shake up of welfare for over sixty years.
"Our reforms are based on three clear principles. They will ensure that the most vulnerable in society continue to receive support, they will make work pay for those moving into employment and they will be fair to taxpayers. It is now for the Executive to introduce welfare reform legislation at Stormont. The UK Government has made clear that where possible it will be flexible so that the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland are recognised."
Recordings of the live broadcast are available here.
A replay of the live blogging, and other social media which took place during the event will also be made available here soon. See some of the debate by following hashtag #wrni