Secretary of State rejects calls to act to avert 'welfare disaster' in Northern Ireland

By agency reporter
January 7, 2020

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has rejected calls to take action to extend welfare reform mitigations.

In a letter in response to the cross party request to introduce appropriate legislation in Westminster, Julian Smith MP has refused to act, citing that welfare is a devolved matter and that any extension is a matter for the Northern Ireland Civil Service and restored Executive Ministers.
Professor Eileen Evason, Chair of the Mitigations Working Group responded: "We understand that the NI Secretary of State is standing by the position that welfare is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and the extension of these mitigations is a matter for the NI Civil Service and restored Executive Ministers.
"Let there be no doubt there is no excuse for inaction. This stalemate will have disastrous consequences for the thousands of households across Northern Ireland that rely on mitigation payments for the bedroom tax, benefit cap and those affected by DLA to PIP reassessment. If the mitigations fall on 31 March 2020, we will face an unprecedented crisis in terms of child poverty, hunger, debt, rent arrears and mass evictions.
"As a matter of urgency, in the absence of an Assembly, we need the NI Secretary of State to pass the necessary legislation at Westminster to extend the mitigations. There is no other way to avoid this looming crisis.'
Kevin Higgins of Advice NI, and member of the Mitigations Working Group added: “We have a mitigation package which has sheltered people from harshest impacts of welfare reform, impacts that are disproportionately greater in Northern Ireland than anywhere else as evidenced by the recent Commons Joint Committee report. We have inadequate, segregated social housing; we have higher rates of disability; we have larger family sizes; all of which places our most vulnerable low income families at grave risk of destitution and homelessness when the payments they rely upon end in a matter of weeks in March 2020.”
Advice NI understands that the Secretary of State's letter also states that the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities is considering what measures can be put in place, should an Executive not be restored before 31 March 2020, including the use of the Discretionary Housing Payment Scheme.
Speaking about the Discretionary Housing Payment option, Kevin Higgins said: “There are a range of significant problems with this option; not least the fact that they are discretionary; there is no legal entitlement; people will have to make an application; repeat applications may be required after a certain period of time; it will be significantly more complex and costly to administer in comparison to the current mitigation package.”

* Advice Northern Ireland https://www.adviceni.net/

* More on the welfare reform situation in Northern Ireland http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/29217


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