Disability Benefits and Social Care

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 20th June 2012.

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Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 3:30 pm, 20th June 2012

In supporting the Opposition’s motion, I should like to bring to the debate the perspective of Northern Ireland, where there are separate but basically parallel social security systems.

Our society owes an enormous debt to individuals and organisations that care for friends, family and loved ones. That does not just make our society richer, but in Northern Ireland alone unpaid carers are worth more than £4 billion to the local economy. However, although the Government pay lip service to the work that our voluntary sector does, they are undermining it at every turn through their welfare policies, including the new work capability assessment for employment and support allowance and the move to personal independence payments from the existing disability living allowance.

In Northern Ireland, it has been estimated that some £500 million will be removed from the welfare budget as a result of the Government’s policies. That is clearly a move designed to cut expenditure rather than a constructive reform of the benefit system. By taking away financial support and introducing more stringent qualifications for personal independence payments and the work capability assessment, the Government will take a degree of freedom away from many people. That will only increase the pressure on the thousands of carers who will be left to carry the slack on top of their already demanding role.