Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 30 October 2012

Venue: Room 29

The meeting opened in public session at 10:11am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Welfare Reform Bill – Briefing by the NI Welfare Reform Group

The following representatives from the Churches joined the meeting at 10.12am

Ms Georgina Ryan-White, Law Centre;
Ms Anne Moore, Save the Children; and
Ms Bernadette Magennis, Age NI

The representatives briefed the Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill. 

This was followed by a question and answer session which covered a number of issues in relation to the Bill including; concerns that there is a lack of knowledge regarding the regulation making procedures of the Bill and the need for a draft timetable for publishing the regulations; the requirement for safeguards to be put in place for claimants with mental health and literacy issues when English is not their first language; how mixed age couples will be impacted when one claimant is not of working age; and how exemptions should be put in place to protect lone parents’ children from the obligation on their parents to undertake employment or work-related tasks that are not in the best interest of the child.

The Committee asked the representatives if they could provide examples of typical possible categories of potential Universal Credit claimants.

The Committee considered a number of proposed recommendations from the NI Welfare Reform Group and agreed to consider these going forward.

This session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their attendance.

The representatives left the meeting 11.21am.

Mr Gregory Campbell and Ms Judith Cochrane left the meeting at 11.21am

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 11.21am.

The Committee reconvened at 13.12pm.

3. Welfare Reform Bill – Briefing by the NI Equality Commission

The following representatives joined the meeting at 13.13pm:

Ms Evelyn Collins, Chief Executive;
Mr Darren McKinstry, Director of Policy and Research; and
Mr Tony O’Reilly, Policy Officer.

The representatives briefed the Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill and recommended amendments to lessen adverse impact on the relevant Section 75 equality groups. 

A detailed question and answer session followed covering a range of issues including; whether the Bill, as drafted, breaches the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; whether there would be a breach in equality if a pilot scheme was not implemented in Northern Ireland; the need for appropriate equality training to be given to skilled staff who make decisions and assess claimants with mental health issues; and the role of the Equality Commission if there are clear inequalities in the Bill.

The Committee considered a number of recommended amendments from the Equality Commission and agreed to consider these going forward.

Ms Paula Bradley left the meeting at 14.05pm

This session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their attendance.

The representatives left the meeting 14.14pm

Ms Paula Bradley re-joined the meeting at 14.14pm

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 13.22pm

4. Welfare Reform Bill – Briefing by the NI Human Rights Commission

The following representatives joined the meeting at 14.16pm:

Mr John Corry; Commissioner
Dr David Russell; Deputy Director
Mr Colin Caughey; Policy Worker

The representatives briefed the Committee on the human rights aspect of Welfare     Reform Bill.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 14.22pm

A detailed question and answer session followed covering a range of issues including; concerns regarding the absence of detailed human rights analysis of the Bill and its potential implications; how the Bill could potentially discriminate against women and the rights of the child; the potential discrimination against disabled people when undertaking the reassessment when moving from DLA to PIP; the consequences if the Bill breached the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and the potential violation of human rights if the Bill led to claimants becoming destitute.

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 15.09pm

The Chairperson advised Members and the representatives that the Clerk has sought legal advice regarding schedule 1 paragraph 7 of the Bill which related to migrant workers.

The Committee considered a number of recommendations and amendments from the Human Rights Commission and agreed to consider these going forward.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the NI Human Rights Commission to ask for comment on whether there would be a breach of human rights if a claimant served 2 years in prison for benefit fraud and on release has a further year of a three year benefit sanction. 

This session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their attendance.

The representatives left the meeting 15.23pm

Agreed: The Committee agreed to hold an informal external meeting on Wednesday 7 November to take stock of the evidence from stakeholders and to clarify issues in advance of the clause-by-clause stage of the Committee’s consideration of the Bill.

5. Matters Arising

The Chairperson advised Members that given the repeated concerns from stakeholders regarding the lack of attention to both human rights and equality   requirements in consideration of the Bill, he intends to return to the issue of whether the Bill should be referred to an Ad Hoc Committee on Conformity with Equality Requirements at its meeting on Thursday the 8 November.

6. Any Other Business

There was no other business

7. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place at 10:00am on Wednesday 31 October 2012 in Room 30 Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 15.35pm.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
8 November 2012

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