16 June 2015
Question Time: Social Development Monday 15 June 2015
Social housing provision in the last four years exceeded Programme for Government targets. 6,100 high-quality, energy-efficient social homes were provided to the areas in most need across Northern Ireland, exceeding the Executive’s target of 6,000. It is planned that at least 1,500 more new homes will be delivered in the coming year. The Minister commended the work of the Housing Association including the £315m of private finance used to part fund the building programme. This work has helped Northern Ireland secure the best output of houses per applicants in the UK. Northern Ireland has delivered one home per 30 applicants which compares favourably to England where one new home is provided per 60 applicants. Social Development Minister, Mervyn Storey, described the situation as encouraging saying, “It is a good news story, particularly for those who are now in receipt of good homes. I look forward to ensuring that we continue to do the same in the future.” The Minister did concede that budget cuts will have an impact on waiting lists but was bullish that the best will be done with the money available while the gradual recovery of house-building in the private sector will aid the situation.
During topical questions, John McCallister asked the Minister when the current difficulties surrounding Welfare Reform will translate into the inability to pay benefits and maintain IT provision for the current situation. Mr Storey explained that the previous Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned that a decision on how to provide social security would need to be made by mid-2016 when the Department for Work and Pensions will start to withdraw from its IT contracts. In terms of benefit payments, if Welfare Reform and a Budget are not agreed, certain payments could be in jeopardy by mid-August of this year. If Welfare Reform is not resolved “we are ratcheting up problems that affect everybody in Northern Ireland.” The Minister pleaded “let us implement the agreement that we made; let us ensure that we do not create any more vulnerable people; and let us deal with the issues that will give to the people of Northern Ireland clarity and certainty in a way that does not create more vulnerability for those saying that they have lost all confidence in the House.”
During Question Time the Minister also fielded Members queries on urban regeneration projects, Lagan footbridge, the environmental improvement scheme and benefits uptake programme.