Lord Freud meets with sector representatives at NICVA

Lord Freud, the Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and the Minister in charge of overseeing welfare reform, met with representatives of the voluntary and community sector at NICVA yesterday [Wednesday, 28 November 2012]. 

Opening the discussion, Seamus McAleavey, NICVA Chief Executive said, “We are pleased Lord Freud has come back today to hear from the sector, and we are encouraged that some of the issues raised at our last meeting in May in relation to the special circumstances in Northern Ireland have now been incorporated in the proposed Northern Ireland legislation.”  The discussions today centred on Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances with regard to housing issues and the welfare reform changes.

Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, said that Lord Freud had been very helpful in achieving flexibilities for Northern Ireland, and we were now moving into a challenging phase where there had to be a real focus on finding ways to mitigate for the differences that existed in Northern Ireland.  In relation to housing issues, he stated that housing development here had not matched what was needed in terms of people and homes and the range of provision we require.

The voluntary and community sector representatives talked about the problems associated with segregated housing, the shape of the housing stock which is predominantly three bedroomed and how it is not easy to get accommodation appropriate to individual’s needs.  Penalties for under-occupancy would be unfair.

Lord Freud responded by saying the May meeting had been “valuable, sensible and useful” but that there is still much challenging work to be done.  He wanted to hear first-hand what the difficulties might be for Northern Ireland and learn and make adjustments appropriate.

Childcare and the current level of provision in Northern Ireland was also discussed, as were the issues of housing provision for people with learning difficulties, and the provision of support for mortgage interest payment for those made redundant. On this final issue Lord Freud agreed that there were “astonishing” levels of households in Northern Ireland in negative equity and that he was keen to review this issue in more depth.

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