The Welfare Reform Bill and the effect it will have in Northern Ireland was top of the agenda at a special conference attended by the Assembly’s Committee for Social Development and hosted by NICVA and the Law Centre (NI) on Tuesday 6 March.
Chairperson of the Committee Alex Maskey MLA was joined by fellow Committee members Mark H Durkan MLA, Judith Cochrane MLA and Paula Bradley MLA for the panel section of the event. The panel also comprised Baroness Ruth Lister whose political interests include mitigating the effects of poverty and welfare reform and Neil Couling Director of working age benefits at the Department for Work and Pensions.
It was standing room only as panellists took questions from an audience which included a wide range of community activists and representatives, all keen to put forward their concerns on the detrimental effect welfare reform could have on the most vulnerable in Northern Ireland.
Committee Chairperson Alex Maskey MLA was keen to point out that while locally we are constrained by the issue of maintaining parity in relation to the Welfare Reform Bill, his Committee is determined to examine the Bill clause by clause and will look for any way to minimise the effects on people here.
There was consensus among Committee members that the Executive must work hard to develop an innovative and holistic approach to helping those most at risk. Enhanced employment advice and support measures and initiatives to encourage and stimulate job creation, training development and general economic growth will be necessary to ensure opportunities will exist for those re-entering the job market.
Speaking after the event, Committee Chairperson Alex Maskey MLA said, “I was very pleased to be able to take part in this timely conference on welfare reform. My Committee and indeed, all MLAs, are concerned about and aware of the way that this reform will impact on local people. We are committed to mitigating, as far as is possible, the effects that this reform will have on the most vulnerable in our society. The NICVA/Law Society (NI) Conference has made a very welcome contribution to the debate as the Assembly begins to examine the proposed legislation and it is a contribution my Committee takes seriously.”