Women's Sector: Funding

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 11th May 2015.

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Photo of Karen McKevitt Karen McKevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:00 pm, 11th May 2015

1. Mrs McKevitt asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline the support they can offer to organisations in the women's sector that may be forced to close due to lack of funding. (AQO 8105/11-15)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will ask junior Minister McCann to answer the question.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

The First Minister and deputy First Minister recognise the vital role that the women's sector has in the community. Junior Minister Bell and I have been remitted by the Executive to undertake a liaison role with the Departments and NICVA to consider the unintended consequences of reductions in funding by Departments that impact on the voluntary and community groups and on Executive priorities.

We plan to meet the women's sector to get a clear understanding of the impact of the reduction in funding on its organisations. We accept that there are challenges ahead in these times of severe austerity. One impact appears to be the reduction in childcare funding. We recognise that affordable childcare is a major concern for women's groups and is essential in securing gender equality in employment and training. We plan to raise these issues with the Minister for Social Development, who has lead responsibility on behalf of the Executive for the voluntary and community sector and whose Department has historically provided funding to women's groups in particular. In addition, our officials will work closely with colleagues in the relevant Departments and with stakeholders to establish and assess the actual likely impacts of the budget cuts. We would not wish to support the expansion of childcare services in some areas while watching childcare services decrease in others.

Photo of Karen McKevitt Karen McKevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party

Given the public knowledge that it is a fact that a lot of women's organisations face closure, can the junior Minister outline a plan to meet gender obligations in light of that information for the women's sector?

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

As I said in my first answer, we have undertaken in the Executive to liaise with NICVA on the voluntary and community sector in general. The women's sector, as you say, is very much impacted by funding because it, in particular, has been impacted by the funding that has been cut in DSD, for instance, from the women's centres childcare funding; in DEL, from the European social fund; and, in Education, from early years. We are very conscious that that sector is really impacted.

I have met members of the women's sector on several occasions in recent months. Junior Minister Bell and I were to have a meeting with the women's sector today, but it has been postponed until next week at the representatives' request so that they could better prepare a presentation. I know that other MLAs will be asked to come to that. We are trying to work as closely as possible because, as I said, we are aware of the vital role that the women's sector plays in education and in all sorts of areas of work. We are keen to see that those impacts are headed off as well as possible.

Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Can the Minister outline how the new liaison role with NICVA, as remitted by the Executive, will work in practice?

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

We are currently considering how best to take that role forward, and our discussions with NICVA will help to inform that thinking. As I said, there have been a number of meetings, and I know that individual Ministers have also met NICVA. We want to work closely with all the sectors across the voluntary and community sector and ensure that good lines of communication are formed so that Departments are aware of the consequences and the impact.

As I said, the community and voluntary sector is sometimes particularly affected in that it depends on a cocktail of funding from different Departments. That can sometimes be their lifeline. We are aware of this and hope to continue to meet and communicate with the community and voluntary sector, particularly the likes of the women's sector and other groups that are responsible for suicide prevention and intervention and that. That is the way that we hope to take this forward.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

I inform Members that questions 9 and 10 have been withdrawn.