Belfast Telegraph

Any delay of measures by Assembly 'will impact on the vulnerable'

By Noel McAdam

A new fund aimed at helping crisis-hit families and individuals could be at risk if the Assembly delays implementation of the welfare system shake-up, it has been warned.

The DUP sounded alarm bells after Sinn Fein announced it will seek to defer the benefits reform legislation which is tabled for debate at Stormont today.

The Executive has already agreed a new discretionary payments scheme designed to replace the existing Social Fund, which was set up in the late 1980s, and makes crisis loans for people for living costs, essential household items and special stopgap payments. The SDLP is due to decide today whether it will support Sinn Fein’s delay call but the party’s former leader Mark Durkan said on Sunday: “Sinn Fein are a wee bit late waking up to these issues.”

Speaking on the BBC Politics Show, he said his party’s demand earlier in the year for pre-legislative scrutiny of the reform measures by a special committee should have been accepted.

“Sinn Fein seems to think delay will let somebody else make changes. The Assembly is still not acting as the legislative chamber it should be.”

And Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland argued that while the current Bill is “not fit for purpose” it could be amended through ordinary procedures in the Assembly.

“The present system is too complex so to do nothing is not an option but there is a danger that if the reform is implemented wrongly it has the potential to take away support from people who simply can’t afford to lose anything more and leave vulnerable people facing even greater challenges,” he said.

“Further delay is not the answer. Every week that the Bill is delayed, it means a week less to adequately scrutinise it.”

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