26/04/2012

'Poverty Horror' For Children Claim Causes Unnecessary Concern

Social Development Minister, Nelson McCausland, today welcomed reports on the impact of welfare reform, but raised concerns that some of the conclusions may cause unnecessary concern for local families.

Commenting on reports published today by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), Minister McCausland said that while the findings presented a welcome contribution to the debate on welfare reform, some of the conclusions were incomplete and presented an inaccurate and worrying prediction for the future.

Minister McCausland said: "Whilst the impact assessment report from NICCY makes a welcome contribution to the debate on welfare reform, it is primarily based on research completed in 2011 and therefore takes no account of the importance of the introduction of Universal Credit in helping children out of poverty.

"In fact, the report fails to acknowledge the early estimates from my Department that the impact of introducing Universal Credit will result in over 10,000 children being lifted out of poverty in Northern Ireland."

Adding that he is committed to giving serious consideration to the recommendations made in the reports to the Children’s Commissioner, Minister McCausland said that he has particular concerns around some of the conclusions drawn.
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The Minister said: "I do not accept that evidence exists to support the Commissioner’s claims that the Northern Ireland Executive is failing to protect children, or that it will fail to meet its targets to tackle child poverty. These statements will cause unnecessary concern and indeed, many of the recommendations within the report focus on reforms to the Child Benefit and Tax Credits system, for which the Northern Ireland Executive has no legislative responsibility.

"I feel strongly that the NICCY reports ignore the many positive benefits for children that Universal Credit will bring in helping parents move back into employment. There is clear evidence to show that children who grow up in homes that have inter-generational unemployment or benefit dependency have reduced lifetime opportunities in comparison to children where one or both parents are working.

"The introduction of Universal Credit will bring a stronger focus on helping people back into work and the NICCY reports fail to recognise the contribution this will make to the lives of children in Northern Ireland."

On the issue of parity raised by NICCY in their report, Minister McCausland added: “It appears that the Children’s Commissioner is confusing financial parity with operational flexibility which Northern Ireland has always sought to apply in how we administer Social Security benefits to meet the needs of Northern Ireland.

"I want to make it clear that my Department will not be breaking parity with the rest of the UK. That is not an option.

"However, as chair of the Executive Sub-Committee on welfare reform I, along with my Ministerial colleagues, have already been giving serious consideration to the flexibilities that might exist for Northern Ireland."

(CD/GK)

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