The Department for Communities (“the Department”) currently administers a number of Executive approved welfare mitigation schemes, which are designed to alleviate the impact of specific changes to the social security system. As the mitigation schemes are Northern Ireland specific, the Department has sole responsibility for the development and implementation of the policy and operational delivery. The supporting IT infrastructure is also the responsibility of the Department.
The welfare mitigation schemes have been operational from 2016 and were initially funded for a four year period ending on 31 March 2020 when, in accordance with the relevant legislation, the schemes came to a statutory end.
As agreed in the Fresh Start Agreement of 2015, the Department completed a review of the existing mitigation package in March 2019. This review was completed during the interregnum after the Assembly fell in 2017. It specifically considered the progress made in delivering the recommended welfare mitigations, details of expenditure for each scheme and, importantly, an analysis of the evidence to determine the need for a continuation of the mitigation package.
The extension of the welfare mitigation schemes beyond 31 March 2020 was included in the New Decade, New Approach Deal as a commitment of the Executive. The Department subsequently received an allocation of £40.3 million from the Executive to continue with the existing mitigations in 2020/21. This was followed by an allocation of £42.8 million for the 2021/22 financial year. The statutory extension of the existing welfare mitigation schemes is currently being taken forward by the Department.
Welfare Mitigations Review
The New Decade New Approach Deal included a commitment for a priority review of welfare mitigation measures. The Department has determined that this review should be taken forward by an independent Advisory Panel and these Terms of Reference establish the parameters for the review.
It is proposed that this review will build on the outcome of the Department’s previous review by considering the continued need for the existing mitigation schemes. In addition the review will consider the need for new mitigation measures to be introduced.
Scope of the Advisory Panel
The purpose of the Advisory Panel will be to complete a comprehensive review of existing welfare mitigation measures and consider a future mitigation package, which would be costed and assessed for affordability, making recommendations to the Department by 4 February 2022, to cover the period through the 2024/25 financial year. Future funding allocations will be a matter for the Executive.
The proposed structure of the review is as follows:
- An analysis of the operation of the individual mitigation measures to ensure they are operating effectively and are delivering the planned objectives.
- A review of the evidence supporting the introduction of each welfare mitigation measure and an analysis of continued need going forward.
- Consideration of the delivery of the mitigation package to identify any Human Rights, Equality, Rural Needs or other relevant concerns. This will include an assessment of the Department’s response to any issues identified.
- Specific consideration of the gender-related impact of welfare reforms and the need for associated mitigation measures.
- Specific consideration of the impact of welfare reforms on people with a disability and the need for associated mitigation measures.
- Specific considerations of the impact of welfare reforms on household income, including on children, and other relevant matters to identify the need for associated mitigation measures.
- An analysis of the costs of both the existing and any proposed new mitigation measures. This will include consideration of the number of people directly benefitting (or estimated to benefit from) each of the mitigation measures.
- Recommendations for welfare mitigation measures will take into account the estimated financial cost and the benefits expected to accrue from each measure (e.g. the number and circumstances of people likely to receive support).
- Have regard to Ministerial commitments on specific benefits and research/reports to be included in the review (listed at Appendix A). (The benefits and/or research reports that can be considered by the Advisory Panel are not limited to those listed.)
- The taking into account of any other specific issues or areas relevant to the above considerations.
The Advisory Panel will be expected to develop a plan for early and meaningful engagement with a range of people who access the social security system to help identify those in greatest need. There should also be engagement with key stakeholders at an early stage of the review to provide an informed analysis of the benefits of a future mitigation package. Details of the planned engagement will be shared with the Department.
The Department will provide appropriate support to facilitate the Advisory Panel’s work on the review. This may include, administrative support, advice on policy, legislation and operational issues and the provision of analytical data. The Department will appoint a named official to co-ordinate any requests for information or support, which will normally be made by the Chairperson of the Advisory Panel.
The Advisory Panel will produce a report, including recommendations for a future mitigation package, for consideration by the Department. The implementation of any recommendations will be a matter for the Minister for Communities after considering the budgetary, legislative and operational impact of each specific recommendation.
Membership of the Advisory Panel
It is proposed that the Advisory Panel will have an independent chairperson with a further up to eight independent members, all with expertise in the field of social security or experience of dealing with people who access social security benefits. The Department will provide officials with relevant expertise in an advisory capacity to support the review. The confirmed membership is:
- Les Allamby, former Chief Commissioner, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (chairperson)
- Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People
- Kerry Logan, Cliff Edge NI Coalition
- Liam Devine, Clanrye
- Mark Simpson, UC:Us
- Louise Coyle, Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network
- Craig Harrison, Marie Curie
- Sinead McKinley, North Belfast Advice Partnership
- Jonathan Portes, King’s College London
- Anne McCleary –Social Security Policy and Legislation
- David Tarr – Social Security Policy and Legislation
- Mickey Kelly – Welfare Mitigations Operational Delivery
Meetings and Reporting Arrangements
Meetings of the group will be convened as required over the 16 week period of the review.
The Advisory Panel will be administratively supported by the Department for Communities.
A final report providing recommendations to the Minister for Communities will be provided by 4 February 2022.
All information including personal and professional information entrusted in the course of this work will be treated in strictest confidence and be used only for the purposes of this appointment. Confidential information will be held securely and not divulged to any unauthorised person.
Welfare Mitigations Review - Issues to be Considered
- Two Child Policy
- Loopholes- Benefit Cap and SSSC
- Universal Credit Contingency Fund
- Removal of £20.00 uplift from Universal Credit
- Review of Carers' Allowance with a view to increasing the allowance and amending entry criteria to allow carers who are in employment the ability to access support
- First Joint Report of the Work and Pensions and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
- Human Rights Commission report “Cumulative Impact Assessment of tax and social security reforms” and the NIHRC Annual Statement 2020
- The UN Concluding Observations from their Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Advice from the Independent Scientific Advisory Group
- Cliff Edge Coalition report “Welfare Reform: Mitigations on a Cliff Edge”
- NI Audit Office Personal Independence Payment Review
- Advice NI Briefing Paper – Safeguarding Vulnerable Social Security Benefit Claimants
- Women’s Support Network report entitled Consortium for the Regional Support for Women in Disadvantaged and Rural Areas