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Alex Attwood seeks ‘time out’ over plan to slice benefits by £4bn

Social Development Minister Alex Attwood is seeking an urgent meeting with Chancellor George Osborne over plans to cut the welfare budget by £4bn.

The SDLP man has warned Northern Ireland cannot be treated in the same way as the rest of the UK on welfare reform and — as the Assembly begins its new term today — wants more power in Stormont on the issue.

After earlier meetings with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud, Mr Attwood said Northern Ireland should be given a “time-out” facility because of the prevailing economic circumstances and the legacy of the Troubles.

While his department administers benefit payments in Northern Ireland, social security funding and policy is still set at Westminster.

Mr Attwood voiced concern over weekend reports that Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr Osborne envisages reductions on benefit entitlement of a further £4bn which would impact on recipients of Incapacity Benefit in this autumn’s spending review.

“There is now a growing danger that the Treasury are in the driving seat when it comes to welfare and benefit changes and that the Department of Work and Pensions may be losing authority in the welfare debate. This is precisely what I have been warning about,” he said last night.

“I will keep pressing London ministers on all of this and negotiate hard for Northern Ireland to make it absolutely clear that treasury proposals are unjust, wrong and destabilising.

“I shall now be writing to the Chancellor to confirm in blunt terms my concerns, the risks and urging him to meet with me to have the type of conversation I had with Iain Duncan Smith last week.”

He has also pointed to concerns over the introduction of the new employment and support allowance in October.

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