Council backs call for ‘essential changes’ to benefits system

SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell has gained unanimous support from Derry City & Strabane District Council to lobby for essential changes to the North’s benefits system.

Friday, 7th February 2020, 2:42 pm
SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell.
SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell.

The Ballyarnett representative labelled the current regime as “fundamentally unfair”, while calling on the Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey to overhaul existing procedures.

The successful Council motion addressed concerns around Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) and the serious consequences of an individual appealing against an unfavourable decision, 60 per cent of which in Derry & Strabane were overturned last year.

Speaking in the Guildhall, Colr. Farrell said: “ESA is a sickness benefit paid to people who are not fit to work. Existing claimants are subject to periodic medical assessments and if they fail the assessment the situation is dire. If they are unhappy with the decision they can lodge an appeal.

“Failing the medical assessment results in people applying for Universal Credit for a source of income while the appeal is ongoing. And if they win the appeal, they stay on Universal Credit with no opportunity of returning to Employment & Support Allowance.

“Prior to the introduction of Universal Credit people were allowed to claim Jobseekers Allowance while their appeal was ongoing, and if successful were allowed to return to ESA. That has stopped and people are now faced with the difficult dilemma of claiming the dreaded Universal Credit or going without money for upwards of six months while the appeal is ongoing.”

Councillor Farrell continued: “It is fundamentally unfair that people are forced onto Universal Credit, while an appeal that they are statistically likely to win is ongoing, only for them to remain on Universal Credit if successful.

“All parties and independents on our council oppose Universal Credit. All parties and independents on our council oppose people moving to Universal Credit. And the logical outworking of that is that everyone in this chamber should support proposals to prevent people moving to Universal Credit.”

The motion, asking the Minister for Communities to introduce a system which prevents people moving to Universal Credit while an ESA appeal is ongoing, passed unanimously and Council will now write to the minister requesting action.

Councillor Farrell concluded,

“Our proposal is fair. Our proposal is reasonable and it is a positive step in protecting the most vulnerable in society from the onslaught of welfare cuts.”