The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee have launched a joint inquiry to examine the impact of welfare policy in Northern Ireland, with a focus on policies such as Universal Credit and the two-child limit.
As Northern Ireland's budget for 2019-20 was set in Westminster due to the collapse of devolution in Stormont, the two Committees are joining together to look at how Northern Ireland's welfare policy and funding is serving the people of Northern Ireland.
Social security 'mitigation'
In 2016, the Northern Ireland Executive established a social security 'mitigation' package – a pot of £585 million of welfare funding to alleviate the impact of policies such as the bedroom tax and the benefit cap. However, in 2020, this funding deal is due to end and there is no Northern Ireland Executive in place to secure any future welfare funding settlement. The joint inquiry will examine the potential impact of the spending ending in 2020.
The inquiry will also examine the impact in Northern Ireland of the roll-out of Universal Credit – the new welfare system designed to combine benefits into a single payment. The inquiry will draw on the Work and Pensions Committee's previous work on the operation of Universal Credit in the UK, which includes several reports on concerns such as the impact of policy on victims of domestic abuse and disabled people. The inquiry will focus on the effectiveness of 'alternative payment arrangements' which enable claimants to spread payments throughout the month, or get payments split between members of their household.
The inquiry will also consider the impact of the two-child limit in Northern Ireland. The Government's two-child limit policy dictates that families can't claim child benefits for any third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017. The Work and Pensions Committee previously found that Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of families who would be affected by the two-child limit, with over half of benefit-claiming families in NI having two or more children.
Nigel Mills MP, who will be chairing the joint inquiry, commented on the launch: "Without a government in Northern Ireland, serious questions about the impact of welfare policies remain unanswered and important concerns risk being ignored. The Northern Ireland Affairs and Work and Pensions Committees will share expertise to examine how the people of Northern Ireland are being affected by policies such as Universal Credit and the two-child limit.
"We will also explore how everyday lives might change when social security 'mitigation' payments stop in 2020, and what the UK Government can do to support an effective welfare system in Northern Ireland in the absence of devolved powers."
Terms of reference
The Committee is inviting written evidence on the following questions:
What has been the impact of the NI Executive social security 'mitigation package'?
What would be the likely effects of the mitigation package coming to an end in 2020?
What, if anything, should replace the mitigation package from 2020?
What are the effects of having higher levels of welfare entitlement in Northern Ireland? Is it feasible for Northern Ireland to have differing levels of welfare entitlement in the long term?
How well is Universal Credit working in Northern Ireland? Are there issues with Universal Credit that are specific to Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK?
Do people in Northern Ireland benefit from the flexibility to have Universal Credit paid at a different frequency or with split payments?
What is the impact of the two-child limit on families in Northern Ireland?
Do social housing tenants in Northern Ireland (including NIHE tenants) regularly experience rent arrears? What are the reasons for this? What level of deductions do tenants face to pay back arrears?
Anyone can submit written evidence to the inquiry. It should be clear, concise, address the terms of reference, and not be already published elsewhere. Evidence can be submitted by an individual, a group or an organisation. Any or all of the questions may be answered.
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