Martin McGuinness took the chair in the first Question Time of the 2014/2015 session and the future of the Victims and Survivors Service was at the forefront of Members’ concerns. Sandra Overend questioned whether the current level of funding is sufficient to allow the Service to fulfil its role. The Department “fully acknowledge that the needs of victims and survivors is an important legacy of the conflict”. £10m was set aside for the Victims and Survivors Service at the start of the year but a bid for additional funding in the October monitoring round has been placed and the deputy First Minister is optimistic that it will be increased to the £11.3m baseline set for last year. Mr McGuinness pointed to the lack of an appreciable increase in our block grant since 2009 as “placing a huge burden on the distribution of funds” but that the Victims sector is “special and important” and we have a responsibility to ensure that those who have suffered in the past are supported. The deputy First Minister also discussed the future of the Phoenix Project, set up to support former security force members who served during the ‘Troubles’, in light of the current funding issues.
Concerns around child poverty were also on the agenda as Junior Minister, Jennifer McCann, provided updates on the Child Poverty Strategy and Delivering Social Change for children and young people. Due to some stakeholders requiring more time to help develop the Child Poverty Strategy, there has been a delay in its progress with plans to lay a new version for 2014-2017 following Committee referral and Executive consideration. Similarly, Delivering Social Change has been held up by the need for more time to fully consider the strategy but Junior Minister McCann assures work will continue with stakeholders to develop a new strategy post-2016.