What Now For Social Security? This was the question asked in a seminar run by Law Centre NI after this morning’s AGM. You can listen back to the four presentations.
Alison Garnham of Child Poverty Action Group delivered the keynote address, looking back at the developments that led to the introduction of the Universal Credit and the UK-wide impact of government policies. Charts showed the massive increase in sanctions and foodbanks as out of work benefits were being cut. She also looked at some of the upcoming challenges.
Eileen Evason is a very familiar voice from Radio Ulster’s On Your Behalf. The professor chairs the Joint Standards Committee and the welfare reform Mitigations Group. (Alex Kane’s recent profile of Eileen is worth a read.) She spoke about the Northern Ireland situation, the measures her panel agreed and have now passed to the civil service to be implemented. Disabled people and families in Northern Ireland will have transition protections not available to people across Great Britain. Universal Credit in NI will support fortnightly payments and will compensate low income families.
Towards the end of she was critical of media coverage around the underspend in the panel’s proposals, explaining the in-year pots of money and public finance rules they were bound by, and the impossibility of compensating people for the loss of benefits until they’ve actually been lost. (Appropriately, the underspend has been earmarked for the health budget.)
Les Allamby is chief commissioner at the NI Human Rights Commission (and former Law Centre NI director) spoke briefly about the role of human rights arguments in the field of social security before commenting on the work of Eileen’s panel (mostly positive, though highlighted some possible gaps), and finished with observations in Universal Credit.
Finally Dr Gráinne McKeever – Reader in Law at Ulster University and the NI member of the Social Security Advisory Committee) spoke about the scrutinising of social security developments. SSAC can’t change policy, but can challenge government with wider evidence and analyse the cumulative effect of multiple welfare regulations. With the NI Mitigations Group standing down after the delivery of their report earlier in January, the SSAC will have an important role.