Welfare reform mitigation payments, introduced to protect the most vulnerable in society from some of the most damaging elements of UK wide welfare reforms need to be extended and strengthened to take account of new challenges people are facing or claimants will face detrimental hardship. This was the message from the Cliff Edge Coalition which is campaigning to protect impacted households in Northern Ireland.
The NI Executive, through the Fresh Start Agreement, committed £585 million over four years to a welfare mitigation package, aimed at addressing the shortfall caused by UK wide measures including bedroom tax, the benefit cap and the transition from DLA to PIP. The measures reflected the unique circumstances in NI, including unsuitable housing stock, legacy of the conflict, segregated housing and family size averages.
The Cliff Edge Coalition, a group of more than 100 organisations across NI campaigning to extend and strengthen the welfare mitigations in the face of new challenges, has called on Westminster to legislate in the absence of an NI Assembly.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) released a report over the weekend providing an update on the cliff edge in line with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 but failed to commit to introducing legislation to extend and strengthen the welfare reform mitigation payments.
Andy McClenaghan from the Cliff Edge Coalition explains why the NIO must act urgently to introduce the legislation; “We are at a critical stage in this process, we do not have the luxury of time and in the absence of a devolved government we need to see Westminster step in and legislate to ensure the most vulnerable in society are protected.
“These mitigation payments have ensured that those most in need have been protected from some of the most severe elements of welfare reform. In 2015 when the package was agreed, the immediate challenges were protecting people in NI from the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’, the benefit cap and the transition from DLA to PIP. There was widespread cross party agreement then and this commitment cannot change post March 2020.
“In the years since the mitigations package was introduced, we have had new and growing challenges such as the introduction of Universal Credit, including the two-child limit, as well as cuts to housing benefits in the private rented sector. It is vital the mitigations package is not only extended beyond March, but also strengthened, to take account of these new challenges. It is estimated that the two-child limit alone will push a further 9,000 children in Northern Ireland into poverty by the time Universal Credit is rolled out.”
In a recently published report by the Work and Pensions & NI Affairs Committees, Westminster MPs warned of the potential ‘drastic impact on vulnerable people’ in NI if these mitigations ended. In their Review of Welfare Mitigations Schemes the Department for Communities estimated that;
- Up to 1,500 families affected by the benefit cap would lose an average of £168 per month.
- Up to 34,000 households affected by the bedroom tax would lose an average of £50 per month.
Furthermore, in 2018/19, up to 29,000 disabled people received a Welfare Supplementary Payment totaling over £34 million.
Andy McClenaghan from the Cliff Edge Coalition continued;
“The hardship caused by the end of mitigations would be exacerbated by the fact that many people are unaware of the approaching Cliff Edge. Indeed, earlier this year a Department for Communities survey found that 69% of respondents were unaware that their bedroom tax Welfare Supplementary Payments would end next March.
“In less than four months’ time these vital protections are due to end. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
For further information or to request an interview please contact Weber Shandwick who are coordinating the campaign:
Annie Shivers AShivers@webershandwick.com/ (02890 347 300)
Johnny Stewart JStewart@webershandwick.com/ (02890 347 301 / 07785458136)
Notes to Editors:
About Cliff Edge Coalition
- Group of more than 100 organisations campaigning on the potential impact of the cessation of the existing welfare reform mitigations at the end of March 2020
- The Coalition provided written evidence in response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and Work and Pensions Committee Joint Inquiry into Welfare Policy in NI – Report Here
- The Committee’s report is available here
- The NIO’s report is available here