Joint inquiry into Northern Ireland’s welfare policy launched
Welfare Reform came into force in NI at the end 2015 with many concerns being raised about the impact it would have on vulnerable people here. Within the Fresh Start Agreement, a package of mitigations was agreed to protect the people of NI against some of the harshest elements of welfare reform including the bedroom tax and the benefit cap. These mitigations are due to expire at the end of March 2020 when NI will face a mitigation ‘cliff edge’. The NI Audit Office warned that the full impact of welfare reforms has yet to hit NI and the is a significant risk of hardship for some claimants after the mitigation period ends in March 2020.
The end of this mitigations package will mean that tens of thousands of households will be hit with the bedroom tax and will lose out on support totalling £22million. It also means that around 2500 families will be hit with the benefit cap, with affected households set to lose on average £46 per week. All of the households that are currently protected from the benefit cap are families with children. Thousands of sick and disabled people as well as their carers are set to see their mitigation support prematurely end in March 2020 with up to 14,000 people who are worse off following reassessment from DLA to PIP are set to prematurely lose support of up to £19.1m.
Following on from his visit to NI, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights stated that the end of the mitigation package in NI could have ‘dire consequences for people living in poverty. According to the government, rates of long-term unemployment are more than twice those of the UK as a whole’.
The Westminster inquiry also seeks to examine the impacts of new challenges including Universal Credit and the two-child limit. Universal credit is rolling out across NI and since December 2018, any working age person making a new claim for social security assistance will claim universal credit. Universal Credit is already having negative impacts on the most vulnerable people with reports of increased hardship because of issues including delayed payments of up to 12 weeks, increased debt and rent arrears, issues with the ‘digital-by-default’ system and being hit with harsh sanctions. NICVA hosted an event in November 2018 to discuss some of the impacts of Universal Credit which can be read here.
In relation to the two-child cap, it has been highlighted that it will disproportionately impact women and families and will have adverse impacts on child poverty, gender equality and those who are dependants. You can read the Women’s Policy Group paper on the impacts of the two-child cap here.
The terms of reference for the inquiry are as follows:
- What has been the impact of the NI Executive social security 'mitigation package'?
- What would be the likely effects of the mitigation package coming to an end in 2020?
- What, if anything, should replace the mitigation package from 2020?
- What are the effects of having higher levels of welfare entitlement in Northern Ireland? Is it feasible for Northern Ireland to have differing levels of welfare entitlement in the long term?
- How well is Universal Credit working in Northern Ireland? Are there issues with Universal Credit that are specific to Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK?
- Do people in Northern Ireland benefit from the flexibility to have Universal Credit paid at a different frequency or with split payments?
- What is the impact of the two-child limit on families in Northern Ireland?
- Do social housing tenants in Northern Ireland (including NIHE tenants) regularly experience rent arrears? What are the reasons for this? What level of deductions do tenants face to pay back arrears?
The consultation is due to close on 24 May 2019 and you can find more details and submit a response here https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/northern-ireland-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2017/welfare-policy-in-northern-ireland-launch-17-19/
If you are interested in being part of the new Cliff Edge Coalition NI which is made up of 40 organisations in NI which seeks to campaign for the extension of the Welfare Reform Mitigation package beyond 31 March 2020 and raise awareness about the hardship caused by Universal Credit and the need for additional measures to mitigate against this, please get in touch with [email protected].
Links to further information below:
Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881&LangID=E
Welfare Reform: Mitigations on a Cliff Edge https://lawcentreni.s3.amazonaws.com/Welfare-reform-mitigations-on-a-cliff-edge-_revised-Dec-18.pdf
Welfare Reform & Housing https://www.housingadviceni.org/welfare-reform-and-housing
Making Universal Credit Better https://www.adviceni.net/sites/default/files/publications/making_uc_better.pdf