Assembly scrutinises welfare reform

PEYE-140911KB1-114A special Assembly committee on the Welfare Reform Bill is working to a deadline of 22 January as MLAs consider how to adapt the legislation to Northern Ireland’s specific needs.

The Bill was introduced by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland on 1 October and received its second reading on 9 October.  The Bill was passed by 60 votes to 42, with unionists and the Alliance Party in favour and nationalists and the Green Party opposed.

MLAs then referred the Bill to the newly established Ad Hoc Committee on Conformity with Equality Requirements, which will then refer it to the Social Development Committee.

This committee is chaired by Alliance Party MLA Trevor Lunn and the deputy chair is UUP MLA Robin Swann.  Its sole remit is to order to report on whether the provisions of the Welfare Reform Bill conform with existing requirements for equality and the observance of human rights.

The UK Government has offered several concessions on welfare reform (see page 10) and the Assembly process may result in changes to the parity principle.  The Welfare Reform Bill in Great Britain received royal assent on 8 March this year.

As of August this year, 266,010 people in Northern Ireland were claiming working age benefits, 190,790 were on disability living allowance, 55,810 on attendance allowance and 23,810 on carer’s allowance.  A further 300,940 people were receiving the state pension.

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