Belfast Telegraph

Reform delays 'could cost millions'

Delays to welfare reform in Northern Ireland could cost £5 million a month by early next year.

Tens of millions of pounds may need to be found from elsewhere in the Executive budget if the block grant from London which runs public services is cut to compensate for a failure to deliver savings on the cost of benefits.

The reforms are being introduced at Westminster and include a new universal credit payment to replace child tax credit and housing benefit. But the legislation is still going through the assembly at Stormont amid concerns that low paid and out of work people could lose out.

Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning said: "If this continues we are potentially talking about tens of millions of pounds more that will need to be found elsewhere by the Northern Ireland Executive."

There have been claims the financial impact is greater in Northern Ireland than other parts of the UK because of the large number of people who claim Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance.

Planned changes include sanctions for those turning down jobs and a cap on benefits paid to a single family.

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said reduced housing benefit could mean some people being forced to leave houses they had spent most of their lives in while enough smaller properties are not available.

"The British Government figures are that the welfare reform bill, if fully implemented, will take £450 million out of people's pockets here per year," he said.

"If you don't implement welfare reforms the British Government will be taking £5 million per month out of the block grant.

"Either way, people are going to be severely restricted in the amount of money available to the local economy."

The coalition government has argued that the changes will "make work pay".

It has insisted the reforms will ensure people in work are better off than the unemployed.

Mr Penning said: "While this is ultimately a devolved matter, I am concerned about the lack of progress that has been made which has already cost over £30 million in lost savings and this figure is increasing by around £5 million every month."

He is meeting Stormont Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, who is responsible for introducing welfare reform in Northern Ireland.

The Democratic Unionist MLA said: "I am acutely aware of the issues raised by the Department of Work and Pensions Minister and have continually drawn these to the attention of my Executive colleagues.

"The Treasury has been clear that unless the reforms are introduced in Northern Ireland, the block grant will be reduced in order to compensate."

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