Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Troubles victims facing 50% reduction in support money because of political deadlock


By John Cassidy

Victims of the Troubles are having their annual cash support payments slashed in half amid fears of Stormont budget cuts.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that a former covert member of the security forces has been told that his yearly payment of £2,250 is being cut to just £1,000 - a 55% annual fall and a reduction from £43 a week to just £19.

Up to 5,800 people could be affected by the changes, with a cost saving of between £5m and £7m for the arms-length government body set up to administer the money.

The shock news was released by the Belfast-based Victims and Survivors Service (VSS), a limited company set up by the First and Deputy First Minister in March 2012 and headed by Margaret Bateson since July 2016.

Chris Brown, a former RUC officer who worked undercover fighting the IRA in south Armagh and east Tyrone, said he was "totally appalled" by the decision by VSS to cut his money by more than half without consultation.

"The Victims and Survivors Service was set up to help those, like me, who were affected by work in the security forces and are now left to struggle through life with the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD," Mr Brown added.

"Now, by this decision, the whole system has gone full circle and I feel VSS are making me a victim again by cutting my benefit.

"I believe that, because of the political impasse at Stormont, VSS is going to have its budget cut and we are going to have to pay the price of those cuts."

The father-of-three, who was involved in a number of confrontations with IRA terrorists while on undercover duties in the 1980s and 1990s along the border, said he felt "deeply let down" by VSS.

"All VSS would tell me is that I would no longer have to provide receipts for any travel or treatment that I would receive and I would now be getting £1,000 instead of £2,250," he added.

"When I asked them what was happening to the money, I was told that the money was being re-allocated to other departments. I told VSS that this money does not belong to them - it belongs to us, those who were either victims or survivors of the Troubles."

Mr Brown stressed that, because of the cut to his annual payment, he would now have to stop his weekly treatment for PTSD.

"I have been going to a therapist twice a week on a private basis for the past year, but because my money is being cut in half I will not be able to go," he said.

"Once again, I feel VSS has made me a victim.

"What angers me even more is that I was not consulted about this. No one was, as far I can find out. It was just a fait accompli."

In a letter to Mr Brown, dated last Friday, April 28, confirming the £1,250 cut in his money, Sarah Templar, health and wellbeing programme Manager with VSS, wrote: "Under the new Individual Needs Programme (INP), you can expect to receive a Self Directed Assisted Payment (SDAP) for £1,000.

"You will also be offered the option to engage with a health and wellbeing case manager to discuss your particular needs and circumstances, and on that basis VSS will support you to access relevant services and support.

"The VSS acknowledges that the SDAP that you will receive will be of a lower cash value than the Support for the Injured and Financial Assistance awards that you received under INP 16/17.

"However, we wish to reassure you that we remain committed to supporting your access to the psychological therapies you have availed of up to now.

"VSS remains ready to assist you in any way that we can."

The Belfast Telegraph understands that letters will be sent out as early as next Monday to all those affected by the cash cut.

VSS told the Belfast Telegraph that it was "currently unable to confirm its budget for 2017/18".

It added: "We are subject to the uncertainty affecting all government departments at this time.

"Like other organisations in this position, the VSS is currently operating on the basis of an indicative cash allocation, covering the period to the end of July 2017.

"We are using this allocation to prioritise meeting the needs of individual victims and survivors registered with us.''

A VSS spokesperson added: "The new programme that will be implemented by the VSS from May 2, 2017, has been informed by comprehensive research and feedback through a collaborative design process over two years.

"Changes in how we will deliver support and services include positive changes that will ease the administrative burden on victims and survivors.

"The programme is designed to be flexible and responsive to each individual depending on his or her unique needs.

"Existing VSS clients will be able to use their annual payments as they choose to meet individual needs.

"In addition, all victims and survivors requiring support will be able to access a wide range of services available across the region.

"These services include psychological and emotional support, complementary therapies, befriending, personal development activities, welfare advice, advocacy support and opportunities to engage in remembrance and commemoration activities.

"Furthermore, the new programme will also ensure that where complex needs are identified, the VSS will support and where necessary directly fund access to relevant aids and services.

"Examples may include disability aids, specialist psychological therapies, persistent pain management and access to education and training."

Last November, the Stormont Executive issued a statement welcoming "£30m of new funding streams for victims and survivors".

The then First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the Executive was committed to doing "everything it can to provide the best possible services to victims and survivors".

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