Removal of the £20/week Universal Credit Uplift
On 2 October First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill joined the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales in urging the government to keep the £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit. The government cut the programme regardless, as announced, on 6 October. Save the Children NI said that the roughly 44,000 NI households affected include 83,000 children, 11,000 of whom have been pushed into poverty by the cut; half of these NI households have children under 5 and three quarters are single parent families. As NI foodbanks prepared for an upsurge in demand, PPR called for local action from local politicians to protect the people living here.
Elsewhere, CPAG Scotland discussed the impacts of what the Rowntree Foundation, for its part, described as "the biggest ever overnight cut to social security". The New Scientist -- noting that the government had failed to carry out any risk assessment of the impact of removing the uplift -- reported research estimates that the cut meant 290,000 more UK children falling below the poverty line in addition to the 3.2m already there. They said that the resulting impacts on nutrition, stress levels and development will have wide-ranging effects on these children's long term health. Parallel analyses looked at the impact of the cut on household types including single adults, and on claimants' mental health.
Benefits Assessments and Awards and Capita
In a special council meeting, Derry and Strabane District councillors highlighted the issues their constituents have faced with the benefits assessment system run since 2016 by private firm Capita under the remit of the Department for Communities. A Capita spokesperson apologised. Campaigners and some councillors called on the DFC to remove the contract from Capita and to implement the 'People's Proposal' to guarantee dignified treatment for everyone seeking access to benefits. In June the NI Public Service Ombudsman had found "systematic maladministration" in Capita's running of the DFC's Personal Independence Payment assessment and award scheme.
On the same issues, PPR published more analysis of the results from the Sounding the Alarm report, based on surveys of over one hundred advice workers supporting people in need to make a claim for benefits. Their testimony revealed fundamental issues around people's awareness and understanding of the process, the evidence base, criteria and process for decision-making and treatment of vulnerable people, underlining the case for the People's Proposal.
Access to Support
The Communities Minister said that her welfare mitigations bill has been repeatedly blocked from inclusion on the Assembly's agenda. The draft legislation her department is seeking to present to lawmakers would extend mitigations of the bedroom tax indefinitely and ensure they are open to some people who are currently excluded. DUP opponents of the bill want to see a 3-year time limit placed on the mitigations.
CPAG Scotland issued an Early Warning Report about barriers faced by refugees in gaining access to Universal Credit, including delays around allocating National Insurance Numbers, inappropriate evidence requirements for the child element of payments and language barriers and other issues contributing to UC requests being incorrectly refused. The report also addresses hardship suffered by refugee families under the two-child limit and benefit cap.