‘Discretionary welfare funds remain in place’ - McCartney

Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney.

Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney.

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Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle, Raymond McCartney, has said recent claims that discretionary welfare funds will be cut or subsumed into the new welfare mitigation package are baseless scaremongering.

Mr. McCartney said the Executive would dedicate almost £600m to the most vulnerable in society over the next four years.

“The ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement makes clear that the Executive will allocate from its own funds £585m over four years to support those most in need.

“This includes approximately £15m per year from existing mitigation measures known as discretionary funds - again committed by the Executive out of its own resources - to support those impacted by previous cuts,” said Mr. McCartney.

Mr. McCartney moved to discredit claims that money needed for discretionary funds would we be drawn down from the new welfare mitigation package.

“Contrary to recent reports, it does not include the entire £80 million budget used for discretionary measures such as crisis loans etc. The majority of this money - £65 million per year - comes directly from the British government and will continue to do so under the new Universal Credit arrangements.

“Let me be absolutely clear, these discretionary facilities and supports remain in place. They are not being cut and will be financed entirely separate from the £585 million welfare package in the agreement.”

Mr. McCartney added: “The distribution of this fund will be based on the recommendations of Prof. Eileen Evason and her panel to ensure those in greatest need are protected.

“Unfortunately, it would seem that some political parties have sought to exploit the genuine concerns of those people by indulging in baseless scaremongering in order to score political points.

“Perhaps the parties involved simply got their sums wrong but I would be very concerned if the SDLP - having held the DSD ministry on two occasions in the past - do not know how the department’s budget works.”