Cuts For North's Job Seekers Opposed

There's trouble brewing at the Stormont Assembly with an Executive Minister telling MLAs that he intends to oppose a reduction in housing benefit for those people who are on job seeker's allowance.

The measure was announced by the UK Government as part of its £18bn in welfare cuts.

Now, the SDLP's Alex Attwood has said that he would oppose the plans that would leave more than 22,000 people in NI on reduced housing benefit.

However, a DUP MLA has already warned members about the proposal from Mr Attwood who told the Assembly that he was resolutely opposed to the 10% cut in housing benefit.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, Minister Attwood outlined the welfare reforms being proposed by the Coalition Government and his plans to ensure that Northern Ireland's "most in need" do not suffer greater need.

"There are certain proposed changes, such as 10% cut in Housing Benefit for those on Jobseekers Allowance for more than 12 months that I will want to resolutely oppose, identify how to offset the damage and, indeed, determine if there are ways to avoid implementation here," he said.

Minister Attwood added that he would again be meeting the Coalition Government's Welfare Minister, Lord Freud next Monday to seek more freedom, resources and independence for Northern Ireland's welfare system.

Minister Attwood added: "While Social Security is a devolved matter, we are constrained by funding issues and the principle of parity, which sees an annual net flow of money into Northern Ireland measured in millions of pounds.

"It would be thoughtless folly if I, as the Social Development Minister, took action that put in greater need those already in need.

"I believe parity is an issue to consider and to scope out, but to do so in a rush would hurt those who we most need to protect," he continued.

"However, beyond negotiating with London, I will identify how the Department for Social Development and the Executive can help further."

Just hours later, the DUP MLA Simon Hamilton said that Northern Ireland "cannot afford to jeopardise social security subvention by recklessly opposing proposed welfare reforms".

Mr Hamilton - who is Chair of the Assembly's Social Development Committee - said that Northern Ireland annually receives in excess of £3bn from HM Treasury to pay welfare bills, and noted that this subvention is "constructed upon the foundation of maintaining parity with the rest of the United Kingdom on all matters relating to social security".

"I urge caution when it comes to playing fast and loose with that £3bn," he said.

"A breach of the parity principle could result in Northern Ireland having to pick up the tab itself for the cost of the specific breach or even the entire social security bill.

"We should by all means discuss with the Department of Work and Pensions and Treasury what flexibility there is in the system for Northern Ireland, but any move that puts that £3bn in jeopardy would be a step too far."


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