The Ulster Unionist Party spokesperson for Social Development, Roy Beggs MLA, has said that a range of amendments he has tabled to the Welfare Reform Bill would have made the social security system more effective, more efficient and would have taken into account the needs of victims and survivors.
Roy Beggs said:
“The Ulster Unionist Party has proposed a series of practical and cost-effective amendments which seek to make the Welfare Reform Bill fairer for those who are vulnerable in our society and to improve the effectiveness of the roll-out of the new benefits.
“For instance, we have proposed putting in place flexibility so that in cases where a member of a family fails to sign up to a claimant commitment, the Department can look at the case and may prevent the rest of the family from being automatically penalised by having their claims withheld.
“Currently too many people – especially those with severe mental health problems – find themselves rejected at the assessment stages because they appeared to be okay on that day. This has a huge effect on the Welfare system as a third of the people rejected for Employment and Support Allowance then go on to be successful at appeal. We are seeking to make sure that all relevant medical evidence is taken account of from the earliest possible stage –something which will support those with mental health problems and cut costs by reducing the number of expensive appeals.
“Thirty years of violence has left Northern Ireland with a crippling legacy of poor mental health. In fact we have the world’s highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder and this is directly linked to the numbers of people who were either caught up in or were witnesses to acts of terrorism. Our amendments will ensure that those people are given greater support through the assessment stages.
“It is beyond belief that the DUP have tabled a petition of concern against another Party’s amendment which simply asks that the Department of Social Development to ensure future regulations are prepared with due regard for the impact on victims and survivors in consultation with the Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner.
“Other amendments proposed by the Ulster Unionists include the demand for Northern Ireland to carry out the UK’s first pilot scheme on the implementation of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This will test the effectiveness of the arrangements, including informing future roll-out plans. The failure to pilot the system in Great Britain has caused untold harm and I am glad that the Minister has already indicated his support for this particular amendment.
“How the DUP can be threatened by ensuring the right advice is available at the right stage, safeguarding the rights of victims of the troubles, and giving our independent advice centres a statutory footing is inexplicable.”