Welfare Reform Debate Focuses on People Affected by Cuts
The conference was run by NICVA and the Advice Services Consortium (Advice NI, Law Centre (NI) and CAB) will shift the debate away from the political impasse to look at the reality of welfare reform in England and Scotland, highlight learning for Northern Ireland and discuss how the Northern Ireland Executive can secure the best deal possible for people here.
Seamus McAleavey from NICVA said, “This event puts the focus of welfare reform firmly back where it really matters, on the people and communities who will be affected by any changes. It is essential that the Northern Ireland Executive learn from the experience of other regions and act together to secure the best possible deal for people in Northern Ireland – especially those who will be most adversely affected.”
At the conference the Minister outlined, in detail, the package of measures which his predecessor agreed with the Department for Work and Pensions, and HM Treasury, to help alleviate some of the worst impacts of the changes arising from the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill in Great Britain.
The Minister said: “Having listened to the concerns expressed by different groups in Northern Ireland about the impact of welfare reform, a package of measures has been developed with the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Treasury. This package is the envy of both Scotland and Wales and goes a long way in addressing the concerns which have rightfully been raised around protecting the most vulnerable people in our society.
“I am pleased to be able to speak at the conference today to give members of the community and voluntary sector a detailed overview of what is actually included in the package for Northern Ireland, so that there can be an informed debate going forward.
“We need to talk about welfare reform and what Universal Credit or PIP actually means for individual benefit claimants. We need to move the debate on from being about the financial consequences of not doing welfare reform to an informed and open debate about how best we can use the welfare system to tackle poverty and help people into employment.
“During the conference I would urge delegates to test these measures with the speakers from Great Britain on whether they would help alleviate some of the worst impacts of the changes arising from the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill in Great Britain.”
The Minster went on to say that he has committed to a step change in how his Department communicates about welfare reform, adding: “The issue of welfare reform is still being debated by the political parties in Northern Ireland, but I want to give an assurance that I am committed to communicating to the public here as soon as I am able to with firm proposals for the way forward.”
The full text of the Minister's speech can be found here.
Bob Stronge, from the Advice Services Consortium added, “We know from experiences in England, where the reforms are already taking effect, that it is the most vulnerable in our society who are suffering; struggling to buy food, pay bills, heat their homes and indeed keep their homes. We also know it is community and voluntary groups who are being left to pick up the pieces – provide advice, food and support.”
"Citizens Advice in England, Scotland and Wales have built up significant experience of handling the impact of welfare reform changes on the ground. We are delighted they are here to share that experience, so that there is a fully informed discussion of welfare reform in Northern Ireland."
Other speakers at the event included Steve Cullen Chief Executive of Warrington CAB, a Universal Credit Pathfinder Area, discussing the on the ground impact of welfare reform; Lynn Williams, Policy Officer, SCVO will outline Scotland’s experience of welfare reform and Mary McManus, Manager, East Belfast Independent Advice Centre will outline frontline experiences of welfare reform as an advice worker in Northern Ireland.
Presentations from Steve Cullen and Lynn Williams are available below along with a Twitter Storify of the day.