Belfast Telegraph

Plans to put an upper limit on benefits will be ‘devastating’ for thousands of Northern Ireland children

By Noel McAdam

At least 6,500 children in Northern Ireland will be left worse off by government plans to cap benefits at £26,000 per household, a high-level report warns.

Concerns have been voiced that child poverty levels in the province will increase significantly on the back of the report’s findings that sweeping welfare reforms will impact thousands of families here.

The report, called ‘Welfare Reform — Assessing the Impact on Children’ — was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) to gauge how the coalition government’s proposed changes would impact on children’s rights and best interests.

Its authors, Goretti Horgan and Marina Monteith, from the University of Ulster, looked at controversial plans to cap the total benefits paid to any single household in the UK at £26,000.

They concluded that the changes will have a “devastating” impact on youngster’s lives — affecting their ability to be happy, healthy and have an education and standard of living “adequate for their full development”.

The reason is that thousands of low income families in Northern Ireland will be hit harder by the Government’s benefits changes than any other part of the United Kingdom, outside London.

The new research reveals that “at least” 6,500 children in the province will lose out as a result of the proposed benefit cap.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Patricia Lewsley-Mooney warned child poverty levels could increase further if the national welfare reform changes are pushed through the Assembly.

The Stormont Executive has set up a special team to examine the likely out-workings of the changes in Northern Ireland, and Secretary of State Owen Paterson has said there will be some flexibility on how they are introduced here.

But today’s report indicates that with Northern Ireland the region with the highest proportion of children, and higher levels of disability, it is likely to lose more income than any other region apart from London. The co-authors state “taken together, the welfare reforms that have been introduced already together with those proposed under the Welfare Reform (NI) Bill 2012 will have a devastating effect on children’s lives”.

They state they can “predict with confidence” that at least 6,500 children in Northern Ireland will see their families lose out because of the benefit cap.

The report points out Northern Ireland is the only UK region which does not have a childcare strategy.

“The Executive has yet to produce one, despite the fact that Northern Ireland has the worst childcare provision in the UK and the increasing obligations that are placed on lone mothers by welfare reform provisions,” the report adds.

Background

Welfare reform legislation due to be debated at the Assembly in the next month will introduce ‘Universal Credit’, a cap on benefit payments, changes to tax credits benefits and housing benefits.

The aim of Universal Credit is to bring in one single benefits system to replace the six current income-related work-based benefits. It will merge income-related jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit, working tax credit, income support and income-related employment support allowance into a single universal payment.

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