Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Unions' Stormont rally against welfare reform

The Government’s reform of the benefits system will punish the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland, charities have warned.

In letters to a Parliamentary committee, three groups warn that the single universal credit will hit low-income households, vulnerable tenants and elderly people without access to the internet.

Trade unions NIPSA, UNISON and ICTU braved the rain on the steps of Stormont on Tuesday to protest against the proposed welfare changes.

The Government wants to sweep away the system of tax credits into a single payment, which it claims would ensure no claimant was better off on benefits if they were able to work.

The project is to be piloted in England and is expected to be replicated in Northern Ireland by the Department for Social Development.

One report has already warned that 6,500 children in Northern Ireland will be affected. Concerns have been raised by leading homeless charity the Simon Community, the Law Centre NI, and the Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Group, on behalf of 14 organisations.

People in Northern Ireland are less likely to have internet access, and more likely to be receiving incapacity benefit and disability living allowance, they warn, making the effects of the changes more acute.

The decision to pay the new allowance every month, rather than weekly was also criticised, with the NI Welfare Reform Group warning that “stretching low income budgets over four weeks could exacerbate budgeting problems”.

Scaled back housing benefit will be paid directly to tenants, making it harder for the authorities to protect the vulnerable from eviction, the charities have also warned.

Factfile

The move to merge different benefits into a single payment is proving contentious within the coalition government. In last week’s reshuffle it was reported that Chancellor George Osborne had wanted to move Iain Duncan Smith from his job because of fears that the project was proving too expensive.

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