West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

'Useful' Meeting with DSD regarding Welfare Reform

Published: 9 September, 2013

Sinn Féin councillors Anne Marie Fitzgerald and Marty McColgan have described as 'useful' a meeting with Brian Doherty, a senior official within the Department of Social Development, regarding Welfare Reform. Both Councillors were part of a cross party delegation to meet Mr Doherty on Monday.

The council had initially asked to meet with the minister responsible for Welfare reform, Nelson McCausland, but he said this couldn't be facilitated due to diary commitments.

The councillors were informed that Dr Paul Litchfield is currently conducting a review of Welfare Reform in particular the work capability assessment, which is caused huge distress amongst those in receipt of their rightful entitlements. The councillors said that whilst this review is ongoing there were still many aspects of the welfare reform process which were of concern to them.

During the course of the meeting Councillor Fitzgerald said:

"The Council is deeply concerned about the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill; and we have passed several motions in the council highlighting our concerns regarding many aspects of it. As well as being the subject of several debates at Council meetings, we have also sent correspondence since early 2012 to the Minister for Social Development , the First and Deputy First Ministers, the Secretary of State, umbrella groups NICCY - the Commissioner for Children and Young People in the North. We believe that the Welfare reform bill and its implementation will target the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society.

"To this end we requested to meet the minister responsible, Nelson McCausland, who said due to diary commitments this could not be arranged. Therefore we met with Brian Doherty of the Social Security Agency, which proved to be a useful meeting for the cross party delegation to make their concerns known.

Also on the delegation was local Sinn Féin councillor Marty McColgan. He added:

"We are seeking amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill consistent with specific circumstances and needs of people living in the North of Ireland. During the course of the meeting I pressed Mr Doherty if the assessment process be revisited and streamlined. I furthermore asked him what is the percentage of assessments that fail at the first stage of assessment and how many on appeal are successful? Going on personal experience a lot of people initially refused benefits at the first stage of their assessment have their decision overturned on appeal. This is something which is hugely concerning. We also highlighted a number of issues of concern regarding the assessment process and how these are carried out. I also raised an issue which I had previously brought to the ministers attention that was the practice of hearing appeals in courthouses, which is completely unacceptable. I put forward the view that less formal and more appropriate venues should be considered.

Before the conclusion meeting Mr Doherty had assured the delegation that he had taken note of their concerns and these would be factored into the review being currently undertaken by Dr. Paul Litchfield.