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Thank you for the opportunity to speak in the Budget debate today. First, I congratulate Minister Storey on his new position. I am sure that he can think of nothing better to be doing on a Tuesday afternoon than being here for the Budget debate.
There is an old saying that my family quotes, and I have heard a few Members do so in the Chamber as well. Sometimes, when I get a wee bit above myself, my mother will say, "Don't forget where you come from". That is what I am telling you as I talk today about the Department for Communities and DSD, because I do not want you to forget where you have come from. When you were Minister for Social Development — the Chair of the Committee has already commented on it — you worked very well with the Committee and had a very good understanding of the needs in that Department.
I have to get away from saying "DSD", so I will address my comments today to the Department for Communities, which is a really exciting new Department that we in the Assembly have ahead of us. I said that my comments will be specific to the Department for Communities, but we know that many issues in that Department will have an adverse, knock-on effect on many other things. The Department for Communities encompasses so many social issues to do with housing, housing conditions, Supporting People, welfare reform, funding for advice, neighbourhood renewal and the social fund. We know that a lot of those have a knock-on effect on health, employment and education. That is why I would like to see an indication within the Budget that the Minister is most definitely supporting the most vulnerable within our community.
The first item that I turn to is housing. Much has been done in this mandate to look at what was a clear neglect of social and affordable housing in previous years. We have come some way, but we really have not come far enough. This morning, the Social Development Minister, Lord Morrow, made a statement to the House. He was asked a question about housing need by a Member who represents Strabane and, in his answer, he mentioned that there are 40,000 people on the waiting list, with half of those in housing stress. That is absolutely diabolical. I am an MLA for North Belfast, which is one of the areas that is in need of housing investment, and probably 70% of the work that comes through my office is from people who are looking for rehousing or who are homeless.
There is also the issue of housing conditions. That has been a major issue in many of our estates, especially in the estates beside me in Rathcoole and Queens Park. There has been neglect there, and those people are in need of input to make their houses fit to live in. I hope that the Minister will address that issue when we look at housing. The area that I grew up in, that I live in and that I represent in North Belfast has seen no affordable homes being built since 1972. That is such a long time for the people of Glengormley. They have had a waiting list for all those years, but that has not been addressed. I hope that the Minister will address and look at that.
The next issue that I want to talk about is Supporting People. From sitting on the Committee, I know that the Supporting People funding was protected up until now. Minister, when you came into the Department for Social Development — this is all getting very confusing, with you being our past Minister for Social Development — you made a commitment to the House to be a champion for Supporting People, and I have to say that you have fulfilled that.
You will remember that, just before Christmas, you and I attended an event in Belfast City Council that was run by the Patient Client Council and that looked at homelessness and access to health in homelessness, among other things. You and I both spoke at that event, and we heard the real-life, brutal truth of what it was like to be homeless in Northern Ireland and the effects that that has on many of our citizens. We heard about the neglect of health and about prostitution. There are so many facets when it comes to homelessness. I am glad that, in your position as Social Development Minister, you undertook to endeavour to make a difference with that. I hope that that will continue in your new position as Finance Minister.