NICVA Calls for Full Debate on Welfare Reform Bill
Seamus McAleavey, NICVA Chief Executive; “The voluntary and community sector has lobbied to make changes to the Bill that we think will help those most affected.
“But until there is an open debate on the full bill, including any variations negotiated by the previous Minister, it is difficult to assess exactly how it will affect people in Northern Ireland."
Seamus added, “All along we have acknowledged that the problems caused by the welfare reforms are not of the NI Executive and Assembly’s making but are the Westminster government’s policy.
“We also recognised that Northern Ireland would find it impossible to pick up the whole cost of keeping benefits as they were before the Conservative and Liberal reforms. Therefore we sought mitigation.
"We reiterate we would like to see the Bill brought forward and that there is adequate time for a full and open debate. Concerned organisations in our sector and other interested people and organisations will then have the opportunity to lobby MLAs about the Bill."
NICVA, working with a whole range of voluntary and community organisations has put forward proposals to mitigate what they see as the worst aspects of the Westminster legislation
In respect of the ‘bedroom tax’, Northern Ireland has had a long-standing policy of building three bedroom houses, and therefore there is a shortage of suitable smaller accommodation. If the proposals were implemented without variation, the resulting under-occupancy and reduction in housing benefits would create more debt problems for people already struggling on low incomes.
Further variations asked for by NICVA were direct payment of housing benefit to landlords where claimants wanted it; fortnightly rather than monthly payments; split payments where requested rather than a single payment to a head of household. This was to protect families from unfair distribution of resources within a family.
NICVA also believes there should be a statutory right to independent advice for those affected by the reforms.
The voluntary and community sector has also lobbied Lord Freud, Department of Work and Pensions Minister and Nelson McCausland the former Department for Social Development Minister responsible for welfare reform on various issues around welfare reform.