Minister Nelson McCausland vows to listen over benefits fears
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has revealed for the first time that he is looking at varying conditions for payment of the new universal credit benefits.
The minister also said that he shares some of the concerns raised about the new 'bedroom tax' element of the proposed welfare reforms.
Mr McCausland has written to campaigners to tell them he would consider different options in payment.
The Welfare Bill would see payments issued monthly, which campaigners said would have a major impact on families struggling to cope on breadline budgets.
In a statement, the minister's department said he was looking at different options in the face of the sweeping welfare reforms.
His department was responding to comments made in the wake of Derry City Council giving its unanimous backing to the the Empty Purse campaign this week.
The campaign's core aim is to protect women and children in Northern Ireland from some of the Government proposals.
All councillors backed a notice of motion from the SDLP's Angela Dobbins calling on Mr McCausland to allow people to choose how frequently their benefits are paid.
A DSD spokeswoman said: "Minister McCausland is very aware that some aspects of universal credit may cause difficulties and has recently written to the Empty Purse campaign to reassure them that he is committed to finding solutions to how universal credit should be paid to protect the most vulnerable.
"In order to minimise any negative impacts on vulnerable households in receipt of housing benefit, he has secured flexibilities in how universal credit is paid in Northern Ireland."
The minister has also confirmed he is continuing to raise his misgivings over the bedroom tax element of the Welfare Reform Bill with Westminster.
Londonderry has the highest unemployment rate and the north west region the highest benefit claimant rate in Northern Ireland. Recent information showed just over half of the working population of the north west (55%) was in employment, with one in three adults economically inactive. During the first two years of the recession, the number of people employed in the manufacturing sector dropped by almost 40%. Between 2006 and 2011 there were 2,925 redundancies in the north west.