25 Oct 2012

THE Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, today warned children must be a priority as the Welfare Reform Bill is debated by MLAs.

Speaking after giving evidence to the Committee for Social Development, the Commissionersaid that while she welcomed concessions the Minister for Social Development negotiated,more needs to be changed to protect the most vulnerable in Northern Ireland.

“It is clear that the Minister has listened to the concerns I raised in April, and he has to becommended for that,” said Ms Lewsley-Mooney.

“But I believe that more needs to be done to make sure vulnerable families are not punishedwhen these reforms come into force in 18 months time.”

“The option for families to receive benefits fortnightly is a welcome move from the Minister,but it must be made an easy process, not a tortuous maze of forms.”

The Commissioner also welcomed changes that will see housing benefit continuing to be paid directly to landlords.

But many concerns remain with the Welfare Reform Bill, said Ms Lewsley-Mooney.

“The Assembly created the post of Children’s Commissioner to make sure children’s rightsare protected.

“I fear that the rights of a disabled child will not be protected with the changes within this Bill.

“I fear that the rights of a child whose family has their benefits reduced because of sanction or a benefits cap will not be protected.

“I fear that the rights of a child to childcare, as their family tries to get back into work will notbe protected.

“I hope that the Committee and the Minister will acknowledge that rights are not just words –they are there to protect your child, my child and every child in Northern Ireland.”

The Commissioner urged Committee members to act now to make the Welfare Reform Billwork in the best interests of every child and every young person in Northern Ireland.

“I know that in 18 months time these changes will come into effect,” she said. “I know thatevery advice centre and every MLA’s constituency office will be inundated with families trying to understand and cope with the changes.

“I know that in all reform there are winners and losers.

“I fear that the real losers will be the most vulnerable in society.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

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