Belfast Telegraph

Not passing Bill 'will cost lives'

A failure to implement proposed welfare reforms in Northern Ireland will ultimately cost lives, Stormont's Health Minister has warned.

Edwin Poots delivered the stark message to MLAs as Sinn Fein continued to call for a delay in passing legislation that would see the region's welfare system overhauled in line with changes being undertaken elsewhere in the UK.

Mr Poots' colleagues in the DUP have already warned that a failure to adopt so-called parity measures would see the Executive lose out on hundreds of millions of Treasury funding.

They have further cautioned that any delay to the legislative timetable would see deadlines missed.

But Sinn Fein insists that the Welfare Bill is flawed and is targeted at the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society. It links it to the "austerity policies" of the Conservative-led coalition at Westminster.

While the law changes are due to be debated in the Assembly, the republican party said more time is needed to negotiate with the London Government to secure a better deal for the region.

Key features of the legislation are a universal credit to cover a range of benefits, a personal independence payment reassessed every three years to replace disability living allowance and housing benefit reforms.

During ministerial question time at the Assembly, Sinn Fein's Maeve McLoughlin asked Mr Poots how welfare reform would impact on plans to transform the region's Health Service.

The minister answered in blunt terms. "Welfare reform does of course have an impact," he said. "Were we to do something completely daft and cost this Assembly in Northern Ireland £220 million, that would probably cost us in this department around £100 million.

"So if we don't proceed with welfare reform and stay with parity, we will actually have longer waiting lists for hip operations. We will have longer waiting lists for people requiring heart surgery. We will have people dying as a consequence of that."

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