Grainne McKeever reports on a new report and a policy seminar in Northern Ireland addressing the issues and challenges of social security changes and how to mitigate the impact of the reforms.
Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group report
The independent Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group has produced its report into how the additional funds of £585 million, allocated through the Fresh Start Agreement, could be used to mitigate the impact of key social security reforms in Northern Ireland.
The report proposes three strands of support. The first relates to disability and carers: a series of supplementary payments are recommended for some of those who would lose their entitlements to Carers Allowance and Disability Living Allowance when the latter benefit is replaced by Personal Independence Payment, and for claimants who will lose entitlement to contributions-based Employment and Support Allowance through the retrospective time-limiting of entitlement to 12 months.
The second strand, on advice and sanctions, proposes an independent helpline to assist those who have been sanctioned, and the provision of additional financial resources to the advice sector to assist claimants to transition to the new social security benefits.
The third strand relates to tax credits mitigations and universal credit, recommending a supplementary payment for families receiving working tax credit or universal credit, to be known as cost of working allowance; the creation of a £2 million contingency fund to make emergency hardship payments when universal credit payments are delayed through no fault of the claimants’; and a further £2.7 million to be provided to the advice sector and other support organisations to develop means of assisting ‘hard to reach’ populations.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister has confirmed that the proposed package will be fully implemented.
Policy seminar on challenges ahead
The seminar opened with a presentation from Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, which set out the trends in child poverty, tracking the impact of changes to social security benefits and tax credits and the barriers to meeting the targets set out in the Child Poverty Act 2010.
Professor Eileen Evason, Chair of the independent Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group, gave a presentation on the Group’s recommendations (set out above), outlining the difficulties inherent in reporting within an extremely tight timescale and the practicalities of costing the proposals over a four-year period, in line with annual accounting practices employed by the Department for Social Development.
The Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby, presented the human rights challenges that arise from the continuing developments in social security, and the potential for rights-based adjudication to provide protection for vulnerable individuals.
Dr Gráinne McKeever, UKAJI member and member of the Social Security Advisory Committee, gave a presentation on the scrutiny of social security legislation, highlighting the value of having statutory oversight of the range of individual pieces of legislation that could have a significant cumulative effect and on the need to ensure consideration of issues that would have particular impact on Northern Ireland.