United against welfare plans: Benefit moves spark unprecedented alliance of 10 community groups
Ten of Northern Ireland’s leading community organisations have joined together in a show of strength to voice their concerns about welfare reform.
The groups represent individuals right across society — from families to single tenants, disabled people and offenders.
Organisations speaking exclusively as an umbrella group to the Belfast Telegraph include Simon Community NI, Northern Ireland Anti Poverty Network, Mencap, Council for the Homeless NI, Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, Chartered Institute of Housing, the Law Centre, NI Federation of Housing Associations, Housing Rights Service and SmartMove.
They claim proposed welfare reform will, in practice, have a “detrimental” impact in Northern Ireland, and negatively affect “all citizens” here.
The groups cite a potentially “dramatic” rise in homelessness, a “vicious cycle of poor mental health” — and society’s most vulnerable bearing the brunt of cuts the UK government has pledged to protect them from.
They also raise concerns that around half of people in Northern Ireland who are unemployed do not have internet access in their homes ahead of the introduction of the online Universal Credit — which will replace a range of existing benefits.
“There is a genuine fear that homelessness will increase dramatically in Northern Ireland,” Ricky Rowledge from Council for the Homeless NI said.
Dr Jennifer Donald from the Chartered Institute of Housing said that around 40,000 households in the private sector face reductions in their Housing Benefit — which could spell an end to landlords “meeting housing need”.
Around 5,000 under-35s are already affected.
Paula Quigley from SmartMove said: “Last month we had to advise 35 people — the majority young single men — that they would no longer receive sufficient help with their housing costs to stay in their homes.”
Nuala Dalcz from Simon Community NI said that according to the UK government’s impact and equality assessments, around 90% of households due to lose out under Housing Benefit changes are families.
She said: “The proposed benefit cap will affect at least 6,500 children in Northern Ireland.”
Almost two-thirds will be single parent families — yet there is no local strategy to create an estimated 30,000 extra childcare places necessary to transfer lone parents targeted under the Welfare Reform Act into employment.
Proposals included in the Welfare Reform Bill include the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment, which will involve a rigorous assessment procedure. Jenny Ruddy from Mencap said that as many as 24,000 people here could lose DLA under the changes. Housing organisations have also cited concerns about the shortage of shared, rental accommodation here. It follows changes to Housing Benefit. In January last year, anyone under 35 living in the private rented sector and in receipt of Housing Benefit was no longer entitled to a high enough rate to live alone.