NI Secretary of State ‘must act now to avoid crisis of destitution and homelessness’

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By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

A leading welfare rights advisor has urged the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith to introduce urgent legislation to avoid a looming crisis of child poverty, hunger and mass evictions.

Kevin Higgins, Advice NI and member of the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group, added: “We have a mitigation package which has sheltered people from the harshest impacts of welfare reform, impacts that are disproportionately greater in Northern Ireland than anywhere else as evidenced by the recent Commons Joint Committee report.

Kevin Higgins

“We have inadequate, segregated social housing; we have higher rates of disability; we have larger family sizes; all of which places our most vulnerable low income families at grave risk of destitution and homelessness when the payments they rely upon end in March 31, 2020.

“In the absence of an Assembly we need the NI Secretary of State Julian Smith to pass the necessary legislation at Westminster to extend the mitigations. There is no other way to avoid this looming crisis,” added Mr Higgins.

“It is in the gift of the Secretary of State to introduce the necessary legislation. He doesn’t need to speak to the head of the Civil Service. He doesn’t need to speak to the head of the Department of Communities. In the absence of an Assembly, we believe that he has to do this. He must not abdicate his responsibility. The only person who can solve this crisis is him.”

Professor Eileen Evason, who was the chair of the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group established in November 2015, said: “I think we need to be honest with the people of Northern Ireland; as things stand everything stops in March,31, 2020. The payments that protect people from the bedroom tax will end, the payments that protect children from the benefit cap will end. I am extremely concerned about the impact of all of this. Amongst other things, the loss of protection against bedroom tax will cause considerable hardship. Those who think they may be affected should urgently contact their MLAs and MPs.”

• If you are worried about the mitigations cliff edge or want help with your social security benefits, please call the independent welfare changes helpline – 0808 802 0020.

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