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Welfare Reform should protect the most vulnerable not abandon them

18 June, 2007


Sinn Féin Welfare Rights Spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Mickey Brady speaking after the party tabled a number of amendments to the flawed Welfare Reform Bill being bright forward by SDLP Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie has said that Welfare Reform should protect the most vulnerable not abandon them.

Mr Brady said:

"The Welfare Reform Bill as it stands, will effectively reinforce the sense of isolation felt by the most vulnerable in our society, and will also ensure that many of those presently caught in the poverty trap have little or no chance of escape. Indeed there is little doubt that there will be a marked increase in the numbers of people who will find themselves struggling to cope to maintain even the most basic standard of living."

Mickey Brady, as he outlined his Party's proposed amendments to the Bill, explained that all the amendments tabled by Sinn Fein were designed to alleviate the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill on those most vulnerable groups which it would affect the most.

"One of the groups most affected will be people who have particular types and degrees of mental illness. One of the proposed Sinn Féin Amendments is to ensure that examinations will be carried out on people with mental health problems by medically qualified practitioners who have particular insight into their problems."

Outlining the other proposed amendments Mickey said that they would ensure that concerns expressed by many about the proposed direct payments of Housing Benefits to landlords; about the potential for debt and poverty problems; and would alleviate the risk of such problems, rather than wait until they happened.

"Sinn Fein believes that the issue of interviewing and dealing with clients should not contacted out to the private sector. If this were to happen, then the whole issues of confidentiality, sensitivity and indeed accountability would be brought into question. These matters should be kept in-house where the levels of training and implementation etc, could be carefully maintained.

"Whilst the Bill had been given accelerated passage through the social development committee, the bill itself by no means had the full support of the committee." ENDS

Notes to Editors

Sinn Féin Amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill

All the amendments tabled are designed to alleviate the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill on those vulnerable groups, which it will affect the most.

Amendment 1

One of the groups most affected will be people who have particular types and degrees of mental illness. Amendment 1 is to ensure that examinations will be carried out on people with mental health problems by medically qualified practitioners who have particular insight into their problems.

Amendment 2

This is designed to ensure that people with mental health problems are interviewed in a manner and in a location that is conducive to dealing with their particular needs. They should not be interviewed in a busy public office, for instance, where sensitivity and confidentiality may not be part of the process.

Amendment 3

This is to ensure that Housing Benefit is paid only directly to those clients who request it and may be able to manage their budget adequately, otherwise it should be paid directly to the landlord in order to ensure that no debt is accrued.

Amendment 4

This amendment is designed to ensure that if people do get into debt as a result of the changes to paying Housing Benefit then it should become incumbent upon the Housing Executive or the Department of Finance and Personnel to provide debt counselling for these people to help them through.

Amendment 5

As in Amendment 1, to ensure that examinations are carried out by those medical practitioners, best qualified.

Clause 16

The reason for deletion of this clause is to ensure that the issue of interviewing and dealing with clients is not contracted out to the private sector. If this were to happen, then the whole issues of confidentiality, sensitivity and indeed accountability would be brought into question. These matters should be kept in-house where the levels of training and implementation etc, could be carefully maintained.

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