The poorest children in Derry could be left with bare feet if the British government’s welfare reform plans are implemented in the North, a public meeting in the city has been told.
The comment was made by Raymond Cassidy from the Citizens Advice Bureau at a public event organised by Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin at her party’s constituency office at Rathmor Business Park on Friday.
The meeting was addressed by Sinn Fein MLA Mickey Brady and welfare rights worker Maureen Collins from Dove House.
It was attended by representatives from various community groups from across the city, as well as representatives from statutory organisations.
The issue is due to be debated at the Assembly on Tuesday.
At the meeting, Mr Brady outlined Sinn Fein’s opposition to the extension of welfare reform to the north and gave details of an amendment which will be tabled by his party in the Assembly ahead of Tuesday’s debate.
“What we are trying to do in putting the amendment forward is flag up the difficulties of this so-called reform. Reform is making something better but this will make things a whole lot worse,” he said.
Mr Brady said welfare reform was drawn up at Westminster and does not take into account the unique circumstances of the North.
“All of this is predicated on what happens in the south east of England. It has absolutely no relevance to what happens in Derry, Newry, Strabane or anywhere else in the six counties,” he stated.
The Assemblyman also said welfare reform would drive more people into poverty.
“Benefits are at subsistence level so if you take anything away from it, it will send people below subsistence level, below what is needed to live,” he added.
Mr Cassidy from the Citizens Advice Bureau said many people are unaware of the impact welfare reform will have on the most vulnerable.
“People are in a trance about this. I can see children with bare feet if this goes through. It is not reform at all. It is going to affect people really badly. Things are going to get really bad and it is going to hit people in the face,” he told the public meeting.
Kathleen Bradley from Dove House called on community groups from across the city to unit e to oppose the implementation of welfare reform. “Collectively, community groups need to get together and protest every week. Community groups need to leave politics to the politicians and need to get communities out on the streets. That is the only way to make a difference,” she said.
Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney said all political parties need to realise there is a difference between England and the North. “We have to make it practical so that people don’t think that we are making a political point, as legitimate as that is, when we make the case to break parity.”
Maureen Collins, who co-chaired the meting, said local people should follow the example of the Pink Ladies who challenged ministerial decisions and won when they campaigned for the radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin.