Statement by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA - NI Executive daily Covid-19 briefing 8 April 2020

Date published: 08 April 2020

As of 11.15am today, there has sadly and regrettably been 5 deaths recorded since yesterday.

Minister Hargey
Minister Hargey at the Executive Daily Briefing

COVID-19 related deaths here now sits at 78.

On behalf of the Ministers and the Executive I offer our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those impacted at this very sad and difficult times

As we work through this crisis I and my Department are working hard, along with a range of stakeholders, to ensure that those that people most impacted  get the protections and support they need.

This week I launched a new food parcel delivery service that is being rolled out across the north which will initially see up to 10,400 food boxes being delivered to the most vulnerable in society during the lockdown.

This vital service will ensure that those most in need in our society who do not have a support network of family and friends to help them through this emergency will have access to basic food supplies.

Not only will it ensure that the most vulnerable do not go without but it will allow those at risk of social isolation to see a friendly face and know that we as a society have not forgotten about them. 

This is an example of genuine collaboration across the public, private, community and voluntary sectors.  

With social distancing and shielding measures in place for the foreseeable future to protect health, this service will be a crucial lifeline for many. 

I want to thank all our frontline social security staff for the excellent work they continue to do to ensure the most vulnerable in our society get access to the support and advice they need during this difficult time. 

We are facing unprecedented increases in our work load and our benefit phone lines have been dealing with a record number of calls. 

In the last three weeks, there have been 45,000 new claims to Universal Credit, which is a tenfold increase; and 38,000 mitigation awards and 12,500 PIP/DLA and AA review awards have been extended. 

Since the 16 of March, Jobseeker's Allowance and Employment & Support Allowance intake has doubled and the demand for Discretionary Support has tripled, with almost 10,000 calls per day. All of this demonstrates the scale of the issues people are facing during this very challenging time. 

I have continued to introduce measures to protect the most vulnerable and their families; including suspending reviews and reassessments for health and disability benefits for the next three months and I have made changes to the Discretionary Support scheme to provide further help to people who find themselves in a crisis situation as a result of COVID-19. 

The last thing anyone needs at this time is to be worrying about paying rent for their home. 

I have taken steps to address those concerns in the social and private rented sectors. 

An agreement is in place with all social housing landlords that any tenant facing difficulties paying rent during COVID-19 will not be evicted.  I have also put the Housing Executive rent increase on hold for six months. 

Private renters can also get assistance through Universal Credit and Discretionary Housing Payment. 

With support measures such as these, evictions should be avoided but I am also looking at further measures to safeguard private rented sector tenants. 

I briefed the Communities Committee on Monday on my plans to introduce legislation and I hope to announce progress on this shortly. 

For the second weekend in a row, it has been reported that there was no-one sleeping rough on the streets of Belfast and Derry.

This is very welcome news and is down to the extraordinary efforts of the Housing Executive and homeless charities and organisations. 

Finally can I again appeal to everyone in our communities to continue to adhere to the PHA advice. 

Please over the Easter Holidays, which I know for this year will be very different for us all, to stay at home which will in turn help protect our families, friends, neighbourhoods and the wider public from this terrible virus.


Notes to editors: 

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