Health Minister Nelson McCausland has responded to the NICVA report on the impact of welfare reform on Northern Ireland.
Welcoming the report, Minister McCausland said: “I welcome any report which contributes to our understanding of the impact of Welfare Reform on Northern Ireland. It is important however that we do not cause concern amongst benefit claimants by reports suggesting that their benefits are going to be cut. Social security spending in Northern Ireland is projected to increase from £5.5 billion in 2012 to £6.3 billion by 2018 and it is inaccurate to say that social security spending in Northern Ireland is going to be reduced by £750 million.
“A large element of this £750million relates to controls in future uplifts of individual benefits. These measures are already in place. This money has never been in the pockets of individual claimants in Northern Ireland.
“It is important that people understand that this report is not about the Welfare Reform Bill and the changes that are currently being considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is about how the coalition government is managing the increase in the UK’s benefit expenditure. Managing the increase in benefits expenditure reflects what many working families have had to deal with during the recession.
“I am very much aware of the issues and concerns of people about the changes to the benefit and tax credit systems but we to need to change the incentives in the welfare system so that they act as a springboard rather than a trap, rewarding those who move into work and redesigning the system in a way that restores fiscal stability while restoring lives at the same time.
Minister McCausland added: “I have now developed a package of measures which I believe should enable us to move forward with the Welfare Reform Bill which need to be signed off by the Executive. I do believe it is time we addressed the issue of how we reform the Welfare system rather than if we reform it. Northern Ireland needs not only to avoid the potential financial penalties which could be imposed by HM Treasury but more importantly start to tackle the real issues of helping people into work.”