End of Session Report 12 May 2011 – 31 August 2012

Committee: Social Development

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Monday, 12 November 2012

ISBN: Only available online

Membership and Powers

The Committee for Social Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48.

The Committee has power to:

  • consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • consider relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of primary legislation;
  • call for persons and papers;
  • initiate inquires and make reports; and
  • consider and advise on any matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Social Development.

The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.

The membership of the Committee since 23 May 2011 has been as follows:

Mr Alex Maskey (Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Paula Bradley 1
Ms Pam Brown
Ms Judith Cochrane
Mr Michael Copeland
Mr Mark H Durkan
Mr Alex Easton
Mr Fra McCann
Mr David McClarty
Mr Alastair Ross 2

1 With effect from 20 February 2012 Ms Paula Bradley replaced Mr Gregory Campbell

2 With effect from 26 March 2012 Mr Alastair Ross replaced Mr Sammy Douglas

End of Session Report 2011 – 2012

During the period 12th May 2011 to 31 August 2012, the Committee for Social Development completed a substantial work programme including 43 meetings – 38 of which were entirely in public. 5 meetings were partially in private session generally to allow Committee Members to consider Departmental briefings on ongoing investigations at Helm Housing Association and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and to consider the draft Fuel Poverty Report.

Details of the key items of business considered by the Committee are given below. 

Primary Legislation

Pensions Bill

The Bill has five parts, 34 Clauses and 4 Schedules and makes provision for Northern Ireland corresponding to the Westminster Pensions Act 2011.  The Bill introduces proposals relating to:

  • the State Pension framework, in particular bringing forward the equalisation of women’s State Pension age with men by November 2018 and the increase in the State Pension to age 66 by October 2020;
  • the introduction of an earnings trigger at which an employee is automatically enrolled in a workplace pension and the introduction of an optional waiting period of up to three months before the automatic enrolment duty commences;
  • the use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI) as the measure of inflation for indexation and the revaluation of occupational pensions and payments from the Pension Protection Fund; and
  • a number of technical amendments relating to the operation of the Pension Protection and changes to the definition of Money Purchase Benefits.

The Committee concluded the Committee Stage within 30 working days from the date of referral and received evidence from a number of key stakeholders including Access to Benefits; NIPSA; AGE NI; and the Department for Social Development. 

The Committee submitted its report to the Assembly in May 2012.

The Committee raised concerns about the following issues:

  • the impact on those women who will be delayed in receiving their State Pension as a result of bringing forward the date for the equalisation of women's State Pension age with men by November 2018;
  • the proposed State Pension amount being below the stated poverty level in terms of Universal Credit;
  • the increase in State Pension age not being linked to the health profile of an individual i.e. people may be living longer but not necessarily living healthier; and
  • the passported Winter Fuel Payment being linked to the pensionable age.

Subordinate Legislation

The Committee considered 72 proposed statutory rules.  Most of these rules were associated with social security, pensions and child maintenance.  Where necessary the Committee sought additional information and briefings from officials and other stakeholders before reaching a decision.   In addition the Committee agreed to a ‘prayer of annulment’ in relation to housing benefit regulations (see Committee Motions).

The Committee considered 59 statutory rules that were laid in the Assembly.

Reports

Fuel Poverty

The Committee also produced a report into Fuel Poverty.

The Committee for Social Development convened a stakeholder event comprising relevant government departments, Non-Governmental Organisations, statutory committee chairpersons and stakeholders from the public and private sectors to identify potential solutions to fuel poverty and a mechanism to take these forward.

The Committee’s report made a number of recommendations including that:

  • the Department for Social Development establish an Overall Action to address fuel poverty and this should be Reducing and Preventing Fuel Poverty – a coordinated and collaborative approach.
  • Thematic Action Groups (TAGs) are established and are based on themes identified as a result of the discussions on the night of the fuel poverty event.
  • the key role of each TAG will be to identify and prioritise agreed workable and realistic solutions to fuel poverty and not to develop ‘wish lists’.
  • each TAG publishes a work-plan which details specific actions to be undertaken. The work of each TAG should not exceed 6 months.

The Committee’s Report was debated and the motion “That this Assembly approves the report of the Committee for Social Development on fuel poverty; and calls on the Minister for Social Development to implement its recommendations to ensure a strategic, cross-departmental and cross-sectoral approach is adopted to reduce and prevent fuel poverty” endorsed by the Assembly in May 2012.


Committee Chairpersons attending the Committee for Social Development's Fuel Poverty Event September 2011

Budget Scrutiny

The Committee has been mindful of the difficulties due to the current economic climate and has worked closely with the Department throughout the session to ensure that best use is made of the resources available.  Briefings were received from departmental officials at each of the quarterly monitoring rounds in June, September and December 2011, and in May 2012.  This detailed examination of budgets has contributed to ensuring that departmental financial targets have been met.

Policy Scrutiny

The Committee has considered evidence and deliberated on a wide range of issues.

Housing and homelessness

The Committee considered the performance of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the implementation of key policies including the Homelessness Strategy and the Supporting People Programme.

The Committee received briefings from Department officials and representatives from the NI Housing Executive regarding the Homelessness Strategy.  The Committee welcomed the strategy and agreed to schedule a further briefing once a draft action plan had been produced.  The Committee also agreed to visit a homeless shelter in the next session. 

In respect of the Supporting People Programme the Committee reviewed the implementation of the recommendations in the DSD Supporting People policy evaluation and sought evidence from Supporting People providers.  The Committee expressed concerns regarding the future funding of the Special Needs Management Allowance to the 34 registered care homes from the Supporting People budget and continues to monitor this issue.

In the last meeting of the last session, the Committee received a briefing by Departmental officials on the Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s 2011-12 Accounts.   The Committee agreed to further consider this issue in the new session once the Housing Executive has responded to the Report and the issue has been considered by the Public Accounts Committee.

Members of the Committee for Social Development visit to Cedar Foundation, Supported Housing, June 2011.

Benefits and poverty

The Committee committed a great deal of its time to the consideration of welfare issues and their impact on the alleviation of poverty.   It received a number of pre-legislative briefings from departmental officials on the proposed Welfare Reform Bill including proposals on: the introduction of Universal Credit; the reform of Disability Living Allowance; changes to Housing Benefit and the reform of Child Maintenance. The Committee also received a number of briefings from stakeholders on the proposed reforms.

The Committee has therefore developed an extensive body of evidence which will inform its consideration of the Welfare Reform Bill which is anticipated early in the 2012-2013 session.

Members of the Committee for Social Development visit to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division.

Members of the Committee for Social Development visit to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division.

Urban Regeneration and Community Development

As part of its consideration of Community Development issues, the Committee took evidence on the Volunteering Strategy; the Urban Regeneration and Community Development Policy Framework; and the Regional Infrastructure Support Programme. 

The Committee reviewed the Ilex Urban Regeneration Company’s revised urban regeneration programme for the North West and visited several projects in October 2011. The Committee was briefed by officials on the Draft Masterplan for Queens Quay Belfast and the Girdwood Masterplan Conceptual Framework and agreed to receive further updates on developments in respect of these.

Ilex Regeneration - Members of the Committee on the Peace Bridge during a visit to Derry/Londonderry

Ilex Regeneration - Members of the Committee on the Peace Bridge during a visit to Derry/Londonderry

Engagement

During 2011-12, the Committee undertook a range of activities to enable interested organisations and groups to engage with the Committee.

Stakeholder Events

The Committee organised a stakeholder event in the Long Gallery in September 2011 for organisations to brief the Committee on issues pertinent to the development of the Committees Forward Work Programme. The event was attended by representatives from Advice NI, Belfast Butterfly Club, Chartered Institute of Housing, the Committee Representing Independent Supporting people Providers, Save the Children, Age NI, the Big Lottery Fund, the Community Development Network Forum, the Construction Employers Federation and the Rural Communities Network.

The Committee organised a stakeholder event in the Long Gallery in November 2011 on Fuel Poverty.  The event was attended by relevant government departments, Non-Governmental Organisations, statutory committee chairpersons and stakeholders form the public and private sector to identify potential solutions to fuel poverty and a mechanism to take these forward.

Committee for Development host Fuel Poverty event November 2011

Committee for Development host Fuel Poverty event November 2011

Informal Meetings

The Chairperson also met informally with the following individuals and organisations to explore issues pertinent to the work of the Committee: the Minister for Social Development; the Permanent Secretary; senior Department officials; the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive; representatives from SABMiller; representatives from Carduus; CO3 and international representatives from the voluntary and community sector; Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations; Lord Whitty (former Chair of Consumer Focus); and Lord Freud (Minister for Welfare Reform).

The deputy Chairperson informally met with the Chief Executive of the Consumer Council.

Events

The Chairperson addressed the following events on behalf of the Committee:

  • Welfare Reform Stakeholder event;
  • NICVA and Law Centre debate on Welfare Reform Bill;
  • Committee for Social Development Fuel Poverty Event;
  • NEA Fuel Poverty event;
  • Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People’s launch of Welfare Reform Reports;
  • NIFHA Special Achievement Awards;
  • CIH launch of ‘think-piece’ on private rented sector;
  • Northern Ireland Government Affairs Group seminar;
  • National House Building Council event; and
  • Parkinson’s UK event.

Chairperson of the Committee, Alex Maskey MLA, at the launch of the NICCY reports on Welfare Reform.

Chairperson of the Committee, Alex Maskey MLA, at the launch of the NICCY reports on Welfare Reform.

The deputy Chairperson addressed the following event on behalf of the Committee:

Disability Action – ‘Hardest Hit’ debate

Deputy Chairperson, Mickey Brady MLA, on the panel for the ‘Hardest Hit’ debate

Deputy Chairperson, Mickey Brady MLA, on the panel for the ‘Hardest Hit’ debate

Visits

The Committee undertook the following visits to aid with scrutiny of related issues:

  • 30 June 2011 Cedar Foundation, Belfast;
  • 13 October 2011 Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division, Belfast;
  • 24 November 2011 Andersonstown Jobs and Benefits Office, Belfast;
  • 27 October 2011, Ebrington and Fort George, Derry/Londonderry;
  • 19 April 2012, Camphill Community, Glencraig
  • 19 April 2012, Fold Housing Association, Holywood; and
  • 3 May 2012, The Cathedral Quarter, Belfast.

Members of the Committee for Social Development during a visit to the MAC and Cathedral Quarter Belfast

Members of the Committee for Social Development during a visit to the MAC and Cathedral Quarter Belfast

Meetings Outside Parliament Buildings

The Committee undertook the following meetings outside of Parliament Buildings:

  • 13 October 2011, Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division, Belfast;
  • 27 October 2011, The Millennium Forum, Derry/Londonderry;
  • 16 February 2012, NICVA, Belfast;
  • 19 April, Fold Housing Association, Holywood; and
  • May 2012, The Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast.
  • Andersonstown Jobs and Benefits Office?

Members of the Social Development Committee during an external meeting in the Andersonstown Jobs and Benefits, Belfast

Members of the Social Development Committee during an external meeting in the Andersonstown Jobs and Benefits, Belfast

Committee Motions

The Committee proposed a motion for the ‘Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011’ to be annulled by the Assembly due to

concerns about the potential for these regulations to increase homelessness.

In the subsequent debate in October 2011 the Assembly divided and the motion was defeated.

Following the Committee’s Report into Fuel Poverty, the Committee proposed a motion which called on the Minister for Social Development to implement its

recommendations to ensure a strategic, cross-departmental and cross-sectoral approach is adopted to reduce and prevent fuel poverty.  The motion was passed by the Assembly in May 2012.

Key Priorities for Next Session

The Committee’s priorities for the next session will be focused on the legislative programme.  The Committee will also devote substantial time and resources to the consideration of the implications of the new Fuel Poverty Strategy; the new Urban Regeneration and Community Development Framework; the review of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive; the Housing Strategy; and the revised Homelessness Strategy.

Appendix A

Committee for Social Development

Expenditure for the period 12 May 2011 – 31 August 2012

Budget area

Details

Expenditure

Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of committee visits to:

  • Millennium Forum Derry/Londonderry.
  • Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

and 6 meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

£729.52

Printing of committee reports

Includes the cost of committee reports on:

  • Fuel Poverty Report
  • Pensions Bill

£1257.74

Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to committee inquiries, the committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of public notices in relation to:

  • Pensions Bill
  • Business Improvement Districts Bill
  • Charities Bill

£ 3249.62

General expenses

 

Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire, witness expenses, gifts provided by the committee during visits and conference fees for members.

£937.87

Total Expenditure

£6174.75

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