SOUTH Down MP Margaret Ritchie will be part of an SDLP delegation selected to meet Welfare Minister Lord Freud in Westminster next week.
She will be pushing for assurances that flexibility will be introduced to guard against the most damaging parts of the Welfare Reform Bill:
Ms Ritchie said: “It must be recognised that we have very particular circumstances in Northern Ireland. The Troubles left a legacy of mental illness and social depravation, and many of our most vulnerable people will be cruelly exposed to the worst aspects of this Bill.
“The SDLP’s delegation will be pushing Lord Freud to address these serious concerns and examine what can be done to mitigate against the worst aspects during the implementation of the Bill in Northern Ireland. We would prefer not to be implementing this Bill at all, but Sinn Fein’s half-hearted opposition has let down the most vulnerable in our society.
“In advance of the meeting I have lodged parliamentary questions with the Department for Work and Pensions to determine just what discussions there have been with the Finance Minister and the Minister for Social Development to discuss introducing flexibilities, specifically regarding the payment intervals for benefits claimants and the arrangements for benefits paid directly to landlords.
“I will also be seeking assurances about the alarming news that the Chancellor George Osborne is to seek a further £10bn in welfare cuts, including measures such as the removal of housing benefit from those under 26. Such measures would heap misery upon misery and we must fight them from the outset.
“This government has made it hard enough for young people to leave home and find a job. Withdrawing housing benefit – much of which goes to people in work – would be yet another failure to support our young people looking for a job. ”
Ms Ritchie added: “While I was glad to hear Nick Clegg suggest that his party would not support another round of draconian welfare cuts it is shameful that people in Northern Ireland have to rely on a vague promise made by a Liberal Democrat rather than the two parties that lead the Executive.”