Concerns over Welfare Reform dominated Question Time to the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland. On Monday, the Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton, told the Assembly that the delay in implementing Welfare Reform is costing the treasury £5-6m a month and that, if the Welfare Reform Bill is not passed by January 2014, the accumulated costs will be removed from the budget. John McCallister pressed the Minister on how imperative it is that things move forward quickly. Mr McCausland agreed, saying that it is a matter for the entire Executive. In answer to an earlier question from Jimmy Spratt, the Minister also revealed that a tailored Welfare Reform package for Northern Ireland was agreed in June and “it is important that we get that information out as quickly as possible to allay fears, provide assurance for people and avoid confusion”. The Bill is currently being held up by controversial aspects such as the proposed ‘bedroom tax’.
In relation to Welfare Reform, the Minister also provided an update on the consultation on flexible payment arrangements for universal credit. Mr McCausland said that consultations with public forums, the Executive subcommittee on welfare reform and the Social Development committee have seen the development of a package that “will enable us to implement welfare reform in a way that will meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland and produce the best possible outcome”. The Minister reiterated his frustration at the lack of progress so far while also revealing his belief that the introduction of universal credit will encourage people back into employment by removing the disincentives that sometimes exist in getting people back into work.