Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín pays tribute to the essential role her front-line social security staff have played in supporting the vulnerable and continue to play during the COVID-19 crisis.
“No social security system could be designed to cope with such an unprecedented emergency, but my Department’s frontline staff moved quickly and efficiently to ensure that those in greatest need would not suffer. My teams worked vigorously to support some of the most vulnerable in our society and I praise them for their dedication and commitment, which is often overlooked. Many of them had to come into work throughout this crisis as we could not deliver all our services remotely. There was a remarkable amount of work undertaken behind the scenes to make sure we protected our staff, whilst making sure the public had access to the right support at the right time.
“From the very beginning emergency plans were activated, staff were redeployed, interventions were implemented and measures put in place to ensure the continued delivery of important social security services.
“At the start of March the number of new claims to Universal Credit increased some weeks by tenfold – as a result the caseload has virtually doubled in just 3 months from 70,000 people claiming UC at the start of March, to 134,000 people by the end of May. Despite this seismic increase, I am really proud that the arrangements we put in place to protect payments saw 99% of all UC payments made on time.
“Our Discretionary Support service which provides vital support to vulnerable people on low incomes, received 5,200 applications per week –almost three times the number normally received in one week.
“A total of £4million in Discretionary Support payments has been paid to 24,400 people since the middle of March. Job Seekers Allowance has received 55% more claims than normal and along with other working age benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance and Social Fund have dealt with an overall increase of 34% in their daily telephone calls. Our Disability, Pensions and Child Maintenance Services, who deal with some of our most vulnerable customers, handled over 200,000 calls since the start of the pandemic.
“The Department’s Make the Call Wraparound Service, which helps the most vulnerable access all the support and services they are entitled to, have dealt with 10,584 calls since the end of March.
“All of this is unprecedented and demonstrates the scale of the issues our society faced and the incredible response from our staff who continued to work throughout this period despite concerns and worries of their own.
“Despite the pain and hardship we have all endured, there are always positives. I firmly believe that every team in our department, including those who were not on the front line but provided vitally important back up services, has shown incredible resilience, skill and ability to adapt and provide vital support to those that most need it. They have proven beyond doubt they are equipped to face any new challenge that comes their way and that fills me full of confidence as we enter into the next phase of recovery and revitalisation.
“To all of you I want to say again thank you; I am proud of your commitment, your dedication, your tireless work and your patience - this is an exceptional public service that you are continuing to provide during this most challenging of times.”
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