UNIQUE benefit top-ups that only exist in the North must continue beyond the scheduled end in March 2020 in order to protect the most vulnerable, Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Karen Mullan has said.
The Foyle MLA was commenting after academics and aid groups warned that a failure to continue bespoke protections would lead to an increase in child poverty, food bank use, rent arrears and evictions.
Urging the Department for Communities to begin work to ensure the package continues, Karen Mullan also called on other political parties to back the scheme.
“In the Fresh Start Agreement Sinn Féin secured a unique £585 million package of benefit top-up to reduce the punitive effects of Tory welfare cuts.
“The department’s own review has demonstrated just how beneficial that mitigation package has been in terms of protecting the most vulnerable in this society,” she commented.
“Currently almost 40,000 tenants do not pay Bedroom Tax as a result of the mitigations funding.
“Families are protected from the Benefit cap and many others have benefited from a range of other supplementary payments, reducing the hardship caused by British Tory cuts to the Welfare system.
“The Department for Communities, the Auditor General and key organisations working on the front line of this issue have all highlighted the need to continue these protections.
“Crucially, the department also acknowledges that mitigations can be continued beyond March 2020 within the existing legislation.
“Sinn Féin has already called on the department to begin working on this basis and we have discussed the need for ongoing mitigation with the other parties.
“The department’s review now provides a firm basis for cross-party agreement on a second phase of mitigations from March 2020 onwards. That is what needs to happen.
“It is crucial that we continue to oppose the British Government policies of welfare cuts – policies which they show no sign of ending – while also providing as much help as possible for those impacted by the Tory assault on the most vulnerable,” she added.