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Pressure mounting on Margaret Ritchie to shelve Social Security Agency Centralization proposals

23 January, 2009

West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP MLA Pat Doherty has welcomed mounting pressure on DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie, this time from her own DSD Committee, to shelve proposals that would see the centralization of Social Security Agency Services away from frontline services and away from face to face contact with clients at local DHSS offices.

Pat Doherty who, along with Claire Mc Gill MLA and other local party colleagues are scheduled to meet Minister Ritchie on Monday morning as part of the ongoing lobby to get her to withdraw the proposals, said,

"I welcome this timely intervention from the DSD Committee and I believe that Minister Ritchie can no longer ignore the mounting pressure to withdraw the flawed proposals in the Social Security Agency's Strategic Business Review to centralize the functions of Social Security Offices and to move away from essential frontline services and face to face contact with the public at local DHSS offices.

"I have been continually questioning the Minister as to the 'wisdom' of these proposals through written Assembly questions and in a lengthy submission to the Departmental consultation I have questioned them in detail.

"Given the current circumstances of economic downturn to review and restructure Social Security Agency Services staff levels would have a detrimental double impact.
"It would create further levels of unemployment reducing staff levels, with up to 490 job losses. On top of this such reductions would lead to staff shortages in benefit offices, especially front line services.

"This is at a time when social security staffs are dealing with a greater demand for their services as unemployment levels rise. As a result the levels of benefit processing and payments have increased vastly with the highest recorded levels of unemployment for decades.

"The Minister now needs to take due cognisance of all the evidence that has been presented to her that these proposals are completely flawed, uncosted, and unworkable especially given the ongoing economic climate.

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