Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 12:45 pm, 16th January 2017

Before I make my remarks on the regulations before us, I want to make it clear that the only interest in our mind in coming to the issue is to ensure that, for those who are uncertain and are concerned by what they have seen in the media over the past number of days, with two Ministers who are in the same Government disputing each other's position on this and raising concerns in the minds of vulnerable people about their future, that is put to bed and they can go forward with some degree of certainty and reassurance. We see people in our constituency offices who are struggling to make ends meet. They come to us genuinely afraid for their future, because they know that they would not find suitable accommodation to live in, were the bedroom tax to be introduced, and, more than that, would not be able to pay the bills in the interim, were they not covered by the mitigation measures in legislation here. When you see those people come to your office with those concerns, it is absolutely beyond me how you can continue to bluster around the issue, as though it is an issue only of party politics between two competing forces in here. It is scandalous.

I am still concerned, because we have not had an opportunity to scrutinise properly the regulations before us. The Committee has not had an opportunity to hear the Minister in detail, to hear the legal advice that he has received and to scrutinise that advice in a robust and proper way. That is due in part to the collapse of the institutions, but the Minister has been rather tardy in bringing the regulations forward. The deadline, regardless of the collapse of the institutions, is 20 February. We knew that this needed to be done from when we were elected last May. There was every opportunity for due process and scrutiny to take place, but it seems that everything in this place has to be subject to last-minute rush and back-of-the-envelope calculations. Perhaps we would not be where we are today if that culture were to end. It seems that the Minister has been too busy treating his Department as his personal fiefdom and running round finding lost cash down the back of magic sofas over recent days to be able to direct his attention to the business of his Department. There is a serious disconnect between the concerns that his Department has responsibility for and the interest that he has shown over the past eight months in those responsibilities. I think that the public will see that clearly in how late we are in coming to such a serious issue.

I am also concerned by what Carál Ní Chuilín said here today. It raises serious issues about what weight we can give to what the Finance Minister has said on the air waves and in personal reassurances to those of us who raised concerns about access to funding during this period.

It is our understanding that there is the power in the current regulations for civil servants to deal with an emergency Budget that is 75% of what it was last year. You can imagine the impact that that could have. What is not clear is whether accruing resources are subject to the same access. Those accruing resources cover issues like pensions, which are a matter for —