Cuts 'to create more difficulties'
Welfare reforms in Northern Ireland may heap further difficulties on vulnerable families already struggling to make ends meet, a Stormont committee chair has warned.
Social Development Committee chairman Alex Maskey stressed the need to protect those who could be hit by the proposed changes to the benefits system in the region.
The Sinn Fein MLA's comments came after the publication of two academic reports on the potential ramifications of Stormont's Welfare Reform Bill.
The devolved administration's legislation to replicate reforms in other parts of the UK would see benefits capped at £26,000 a year for working age households in a bid to prevent people receiving more from the state than they could earn in a job.
Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, has warned of "poverty horror" facing many young people after one of the research pieces claimed the families of 6,500 children would lose out on benefits as a result of the changes.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland welcomed the reports but questioned some of the findings, claiming they had caused unnecessary concern and that the introduction of the universal credit would actually lift thousands of children out of poverty.
Mr Maskey, who co-hosted the launch of the reports with the commissioner at a seminar in Belfast, said: "The two reports released today are an important contribution to the consideration on how welfare reform will impact on children. My committee knows the pressures that many vulnerable families are already under and that the Welfare Reform Bill has the potential to exacerbate the difficulties they currently face.
"We are committed therefore to working with stakeholders and the Department for Social Development to explore how to mitigate any adverse impact arising from this Bill and protect, in particular, the most vulnerable members of our society."
Ms Lewsley-Mooney said the Assembly must make children visible as it prepared to debate the proposals.
She said: "There is a real need to improve the current benefits and social security system but I fear that many thousands of children and young people will suffer increased hardship and adverse life outcomes. Despite the claim that the Executive has little choice but to implement the same changes as in other parts of the UK, this is not necessarily the case."