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Announcement on benefits shake-up expected today

20 April, 2009 - by Maeve McLaughlin

The Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie has again been urged to scrap a shake-up of the benefits services amid speculation that she is to make an announcement on the controversial plans today (Monday).   Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson said: “I am aware that staff within benefits offices in Derry have been informed that the Minister plans to make a statement on the Social Security Agency's Strategic Business Review later today.   “This review would see the centralization of the benefits system away from frontline services and away from face to face contact with clients at local DHSS offices.   “Staff levels would also be reviewed and restructured and there are fears that up to 490 jobs could be lost.   “Given the current economic situation, such a move would have a devastating double impact.   “It would create further levels of unemployment and lead to staff shortages in benefit offices, especially front line services.   “This is at a time when social security staff 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.   “Sinn Féin have consistently demanded the scrapping of these flawed proposals but, to date, the Minister has refused to do so.    “I hope that today’s expected statement will clarify the Minister’s intentions and I again call on her to do the right thing by halting this review.”

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