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Troubles victims 'fear being left traumatised by welfare benefits means testing'

By noel Mcadam

Victims of the Troubles fear being traumatised as they are assessed for new benefits, the Stormont minister in charge of welfare reform has warned.

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey insisted he was determined to help avoid any adverse impact on people left seriously injured and with mental health issues for decades.

Victims and campaign groups have sounded alarm bells about the impact of procedures of being assessed for the Personal Independence Payments (Pips), which are replacing Disability Living Allowance.

After meeting victims, Mr Storey told MLAs: "It was a reminder there are those in our society who still, to this day, bear scars that none of us can begin to comprehend. There is a sense amongst that group that they have been forgotten; I want to ensure that they are not forgotten."

His comments came as the Assembly finally took the next step towards the implementation of the national reforms - with built-in safeguards involving five separate funds.

During a two-day debate - one of the longest ever held in the Stormont chamber - the DUP minister also warned politicians must avoid a repeat of the orange and green fight over benefits.

He said it had seemed at times as if MLAs wanted to repeat that Protestants/unionists do better in getting welfare than Catholics/nationalists, and vice versa, which would be "an awful disservice", he added.

"We sometimes do ourselves a disservice by the cheap, trivial way that we approach problems faced by families, individuals, lone parents and a whole variety of people such as disabled people and people who have other challenges and difficulties," he said.

Sinn Fein claimed the other parties who signed the Stormont House Agreement including welfare reform - DUP, SDLP, UUP and Alliance - had been prepared to sign up to a separate deal on December 17 six days earlier.

Alex Maskey, chair of the committee which monitored the reforms, argued: "We tried to extract money from the British Government, which had no intention of ever giving us any money. Therefore, we had to make choices. The welfare legislation is going through and will take some time, not only for the completion of this Bill but also for the secondary legislation to be processed and the various schemes to be devised."

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, whose amendments were blocked by DUP petitions of concern, suggested using block grant money for health and schools to pay for welfare reform negated its effect.

Background

Officials are working on five new "mitigation schemes", all of which will be subject to public consultation, to lessen the impact of the new Universal Credit. Including people who lose out from the so-called 'spare room' subsidy, discretionary support similar to emergency payments, a disability protection scheme and one for supplementary payments.

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