Committee launches Welfare Reform Bill Report
Synopsis: The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Social Development today launched its report on the Welfare Reform Bill. The Bill, which is acknowledged as the most radical reform of the welfare system in a generation, is set to be debated in the Assembly in early April 2013.
Date: 28 February 2013
Reference: SD 01/12/13
The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Social Development today launched its report on the Welfare Reform Bill.
The Bill, which is acknowledged as the most radical reform of the welfare system in a generation, is set to be debated in the Assembly in early April 2013.
Speaking after the launch of the Report, Committee Chairperson Alex Maskey MLA said: "The proposed Welfare Reform Bill has been extensively examined by my Committee. During the Committee Stage we have devoted over 20 meetings and taken written and oral evidence from nearly 100 stakeholders.
"The Committee shares a number of those concerns raised by a range of stakeholders which included Trade Unions, Church Leaders, the Advice Sector, Disability Groups and the Community and Voluntary Sector.
"While the Committee notes the general principles of the bill, Members have concerns about the potential negative effect it is likely to have on vulnerable groups and individuals. The so-called bedroom tax is likely to prove very problematic as the local housing stock is made up mainly of two and three bedroom houses and flats with few one bedroom units. We are concerned that people will be penalised for not being able to downsize.
"We are also concerned that the Bill proposes that Universal Credit including Child Tax Credits should be paid to the head of the household rather than those who are actually caring for children. A single household payment could potentially have a negative impact on the financial independence of women; and therefore a potentially negative impact on children.
"The new sanctions regime raised a number of concerns for stakeholders and the Committee questioned the Department about this on several occasions. The Committee also questioned the Department in respect of the disability medical assessment and the potential impact it might have on young people with disabilities.
"The Committee opposes aspects of the Bill as it is currently drafted and is seeking flexibilities and appropriate measures of mitigation from the Department for Work and Pensions. In our Report, we have made recommendations which, if accepted, would minimise some of the proposed Bill's more negative effects."
Mr Maskey concluded: "While the report is now complete, the work of the Committee will not end here. We will continue to press the Minister to take on board the Committee recommendations and to effect change, where possible, as the Bill makes its way through the Assembly."