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War of words erupts over welfare plan

By Noel McAdam

A Stormont Minister has clashed sharply with the Commissioner for Children over fears welfare reforms could force more children into poverty.

Commissioner Patricia Lewsley-Mooney defended two reports which concluded the benefits shake-up could have a “devastating” impact on thousands of families in the province.

She said that the double-dip recession facing the economy meant there is no guarantee the Government’s new ‘Universal Credit’ will lift 10,000 children here above the poverty line.

But Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland warned the reports would cause unnecessary concern and that the commissioner had failed to understand how the shake-up could be implemented.

One of the reports he said “fails to acknowledge the early estimates from my department that the impact of introducing Universal Credit will result in over 10,000 children being lifted out of poverty in Northern Ireland.”

His attack came, however, as the chair of the Assembly committee which monitors his department appeared to back the commissioner.

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said: “My committee knows the pressures that many vulnerable families are already under and that the Welfare Reform Bill has the potential to exacerbate the difficulties they currently face.”

As the Belfast Telegraph reported yesterday, the new research concludes “at least” 6,500 children in the province will lose out as a result of the proposed benefit cap of £26,000.

Minister McCausland said that the reports “ignore the many positive benefits for children that Universal Credit will bring.”

The idea is to merge current allowance payments into a single universal one.

background

Welfare Reform legislation was passed in Westminster in March and is due to be debated here next month. Two reports on the potential impact of the changes were commissioned by Childrens’ Commissioner Patricia Lewsley-Mooney. The first said Northern Ireland will be the worst hit region of the UK apart from London. The second urged MLAs not to fast-track the Bill.

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