Report calls for action to help families cope with welfare reforms
Thousands of households in Northern Ireland face misery and hardship if measures introduced to help people cope with welfare reforms are allowed to "fall off a cliff" in 2020, according to the authors of a report published today.
The report, called Welfare Reform: Mitigations on a Cliff Edge looks at how specific measures to help Northern Ireland people cope have been implemented since 2015.
It calls on Government decision-makers to take action now to ensure that people who need it continue to receive the help they need.
The report has been compiled by Advice NI, the Law Centre NI, and Housing Rights.
Kevin Higgins, head of policy at Advice NI, and one of the report's three authors, said: "We are hoping this report will initiate conversations across the sector and with political and government representatives about the approaching mitigations 'cliff edge'.
"It is critical that urgent attention is brought to bear on these issues.
"There are huge implications if these mitigation measures simply stop in March 2020."
The problems they were designed to help people cope with are still there, according to Mr Higgins.
"In our view the rationale for having the mitigation still exists today," he said.
"And in some senses, the need for them is more acute with the rollout of Universal Credit.
"We're dreading next year, when everyone will be shifted from legacy benefits onto Universal Credit.
"You'll have a double whammy of Universal Credit hitting 300,000 households in Northern Ireland just as the rug is pulled out from under people by the ending of the mitigation measures that currently exist."
Co-author Kate McCauley at Housing Rights said that there was actually an underspend in the previous mitigation arrangements.
"We are calling for this money to be redirected to address the future impact of Universal Credit and measures such as the two-child tax credit policy," she added.
"Additionally, government support is required for people on low incomes who are renting privately and who have been impacted by welfare reform."
A third author - Ciara Fitzpatrick at the Law Centre NI - said that the implementation of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland would be a significant challenge to many local households.
"As advice organisations our work shows us the continuing need for protection from the harshest elements of welfare reform," she said.
The report is being launched this morning at the Skainos Centre in east Belfast with a panel of politicians representing the Northern Ireland political parties.