Victims’ Pension: Health Budget

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 26th April 2021.

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Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP 2:30 pm, 26th April 2021

T3. Mr Chambers asked the Minister of Health to confirm that his budget is under threat of being top-sliced by the Finance Minister in an effort to fund the Northern Ireland victims’ pension. (AQT 1223/17-22)

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for his question. I very much welcome the announcement of the Troubles permanent disablement payment scheme, or the victims' pension, as it was previously known. TEO and the Department of Justice are leading on the design and administrative functions of the scheme, and there will be a cost associated with it. I am deeply concerned that it has been suggested, even by the Finance Minister in the House, that the associated costs could come from reductions to Departments' resource budgets simply on a pro rata basis and that that may be required to fund the payments. There is no doubt that the payments need to be made, but I hope that all Members agree that top-slicing a health service that has never been as stretched as it currently is would be deeply damaging and a detrimental step.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Minister, I, like you, certainly welcome the pension, not least because it is so long overdue. People will be deeply concerned if the Finance Minister is simply going to cut the budgets of some of the most important services in order to pay for it. What level of cut is the Minister's Department potentially facing, and what impact will that have on key health and social care services and, in particular, his recovery programme?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member. Although the costs are still to be determined, on a pro rata basis, my Department could be facing a cut of many tens of millions of pounds each and every year. Needless to say, a budget reduction of that magnitude would seriously undermine our ability to fund all our most fundamental health and social care services. After a decade of underinvestment and a desperate need to rebuild after COVID, the last thing that our health service needs is such a deep cut to its annual budget. I sincerely hope that the Finance Minister will find an alternative way forward for what was, as I said, a welcome announcement about the payment of the victims' pension, or the Troubles permanent disablement payment scheme, as it is properly known.