Joint Forum Meeting June 2018

The second Joint Forum meeting of the year took place on 19th June in the East Belfast Network Centre. The meeting was attended by representatives from voluntary and community organisations and the public sector.

We were joined by three speakers from the Department of Justice, the Executive Office and the Department for Communities to present and talk about outcome seven of the Programme for Government, issues around the Brexit process and the roll out of Universal Credit respectively.

Problem Solving Justice

Brian Gryzmek from the Department of Justice (DOJ) spoke to the group about outcome seven of the Programme for Government (We have a safe community where we respect the law and each other) and problem-solving justice. It was interesting to hear about DoJ’s plans to make the justice system here more effective by focussing on intervention and early support and seeking greater collaboration across departments and sectors to obtain better outcomes. It was highlighted that one of the over-arching aims was to divert people away from the justice system, as many of those who end up in the criminal justice system require support for much more complex issues such as mental health, addiction and abusive relationships.

Brian highlighted a number of pilot schemes being rolled out by DoJ here including a domestic violence perpetrator programme which is victim-focused and works on rehabilitation of the offender. Another pilot programme included the substance misuse courts again aimed at getting people to address the reasons behind why a crime was committed. Brian raised the point that putting people who committed criminal offences in prison was the simple option whereas there is a need to look at more tailored support initiatives. DoJ have created a video to explain the problem-solving justice initiative which you can watch here.

Brexit Update

The Joint Forum was also joined by David Patterson from EU Future Relations Division in the Executive Office to provide us with an update on the Brexit process. He outlined what the priorities for Northern Ireland were in terms of the negotiations and including frictionless movement and trade, energy, agri-food and fisheries, justice cooperation, Good Friday Agreement- North/South cooperation and rights, future funding, infrastructure, education and health. It is clear that the border represents a huge difficulty which is compounded by the lack of any single solution to deal with the range of multi-faceted issues this presents. David stated that work to be done in relation to the NI/Ireland section of any withdrawal agreement needs a lot of work and this will continue through the summer. In terms of PEACE and INTERREG, the EU Commission has proposed continued support in the 2021-27 period under a new programme- PEACE plus.

In terms of next steps, it was advised that officials in NI will continue to plan for day one with upstream engagement continuing throughout the summer and they will continue to keep people informed and engaging with local political parties. Focus will also be on what the future relationship with the EU will look like and discussions around a Common Framework.

From the Joint Forum discussions on the Brexit process, other issues emerged that we wished to flag with officials. These included:

  • Issue of women and women’s rights
  • The real impact on rights on the ground here
  • The psychology of the border and the perception of some people ‘having more rights than others’ depending on their identity
  • Workers and especially cross border workers’ rights
  • Regulatory alignment (and the issue of ongoing regulatory divergence in terms of marriage equality and reproductive rights)
  • Non-diminution of rights here and how this happens in the context of the repeal of the Charter of Fundamental Rights
  • Impact on social rights


The Brexit update presentation is attached.


Universal Credit Roll-out

Our final speaker was Claire McKee from the Department for Communities to give an update on the roll out of Universal Credit. This included a recap of what Universal credit is, how it is made up and how it is paid. She also outlined the £1.5bn package that was included in the Autumn Budget Statement (2017) to deal with concerns around Universal Credit. Claire advised that Universal Credit is now working as anticipated and the roll out will continue, completing in December 2018 (for new claimants and those with a change in circumstances. DfC are continuing to engage with advice centres and stakeholders to keep people informed. The presentation on Universal credit is attached.

Funding update

Following on from the presentations from the speakers, Arthur Scott (Joint Chair) provided an outline of the current position around funding. He highlighted that we are likely to see a continuation of the one-year budget cycle that we have experienced in the last number of years, alongside an ever-decreasing budget for the Department for Communities and the likelihood of further cuts to the sector. He acknowledged the difficulty and pressure this puts on the sector but in the absence of a government and Ministers to take decisions, nothing was likely to change in this regard.

Joint Forum task and finish groups

From the Joint Forum task and finish teams we were advised that work is continuing to finalise the review of the Concordat as well as work around implementation and communications. The Rural Issues team advised that they are RCN are working with NISRA and NILGA to produce evidence of the policy gap. A meeting of academics, government department and voluntary and community sector representatives on 5 July to explore rural evidence base and how it might prove that a policy gap exists.

Update on two-child cap and rape clause

The final item was an update from Anne McVicker (WRDA) to provide an update on work being done around the issue of the two-child cap policy and the rape clause. This includes a meeting with the Department of Communities around the anonymity of claimants under the non-consensual conception exemption, publication of human rights guidance on how to apply section 5 of the Criminal Law Act when information about a rape is revealed as part of a benefit claim from the Attorney General for NI, the legal challenge brought against the two-child cap by the Child Poverty Action Group in England, the continuation of the Westminster lobbying continues with organisations from NI meeting MPs and DWP officials to outline the specific impact of this policy on families here and the setting up of a civil society working group on the two child cap. A detailed update is attached.

Minutes from the latest meeting are also attached. If you have any questions, please get in touch with [email protected]

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