The Equality Commission has set out its recommendations in relation to the next Programme for Government and Budget of the NI Executive. These include actions relating to access to social protection, namely to:
protect the most vulnerable from the adverse impact of welfare reform, particularly mindful of impact on people with disabilities and women, and the barriers experienced by minority ethnic communities (including asylum seekers and refugees)
identify and commit to specific measures which will mitigate the adverse impact of welfare reform on the promotion of equality of opportunity, or any alternate policies which might.
Commission response to PfG proposed delivery plans:
Further information is available on the Programme for Government section of our website www.equalityni.org/pfg
We recommend that payment is made to the primary carer, which is usually the mother of the children. We are concerned that the proposal of paying universal credit to the main earner will leave many women without income.
We recommend the eligibility condition for universal credit payment is flexible to enable lone parents to qualify. The lack of affordable childcare remains a key barrier and requiring a lone parent to meet the eligibility condition of being available for work and to spend time actively seeking work could be unrealistic.
Northern Ireland, unlike England and Wales, does not have legislation on the provision of childcare and is recognised as providing the worst childcare facilities in the UK, in terms of affordability and availability. 1
1 Employers for Childcare Charitable Group (2011): Northern Ireland Childcare Cost Survey 2011 (pdf)
Safeguards should be put in place to ensure accurate information is conveyed to claimants in a timely manner. The proposal of moving the payment of benefits to online may have an adverse impact on claimants if information is wrongly calculated or recorded.
Payments received online will be outside the control of the claimant and therefore it is necessary to ensure a safeguard is put in place. All information relating to a claimant’s entitlement needs to be conveyed to the claimant in a timely manner.
Housing benefit assessment needs to ensure that some tenants do not face a reduction of benefits due to under-occupancy. The ‘under-occupancy’ criteria in the social housing sector may have an adverse impact on:
Disabled people: Who do not require continuous care but may have a requirement for a reasonable adjustment of a spare room for equipment or overnight support for a short period of time. If moved to single occupancy accommodation they would be unable to meet this requirement.
Non-primary carer: If a non-primary carer who is divorced/separated from their partner/spouse has to move to a single room accommodation they would be unable to exercise their right of access to family and be unable to accommodate their children overnight.
Social protection and an adequate standard of living are some of the issues that need addressed. To ensure disabled people are able to live independently, have an adequate standard of living and social protection we have a number of concerns in this area:
The higher qualification criteria for the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the equivalent Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
The assessment process and the very high percentage rate of successful appeals for those refused Disability Living Allowance
We note there will only be two components under Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in relation to daily living. We believe that people who are currently in receipt of the DLA care component will lose out given the strict and objective criteria laid out in the proposed new test which determines whether or not a person receives support under PIP.
Further information about the areas that need to be addressed (as identified by the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland) can be found in the UNCRPD section
of our website.