A motion calling for proposed cuts to Advisory Services and welfare support for terminally ill patients to be scrapped has been passed at Monday's monthly meeting of Newry Mourne and Down Council.

Councillor Michael Savage who proposed the motion said: “These cuts proposed in the latest Department for Communities budget could see work on fast tracking payments for the terminally ill dumped and vital advice and support services stripped from the most vulnerable. 

"The Department for Communities draft budget reported over the last number of days in the media would be a shocking indictment of how the Department and Minister seek to support some of those most in need in our society and tonight we urge her to work with the Finance Minister and indeed all her Executive colleagues to ensure measures are taken to address this potential shortfall."

Photo by Debbie Schiel from FreeImages

Mr Savage continued “An equality impact assessment on the Executive’s Draft Budget for 2021-22 reveals that none of the £57.7m DfC requested to meet commitments in the New Decade New Approach deal has been provided. This money was intended to fund a range of mitigations recommended by the NI Human Rights Commission.

“They included additional support for people impacted by Welfare Reform, progressing a change to welfare rules to allow terminally ill people to apply for benefits 12 months before they might die, rather than six months, and £28.8m requested to offset the two-child policy."

Cllr Savage is also concerned the plans could also see 45 advice jobs slashed amid a £1.5m cut and youth unemployment programmes postponed.

Cllr Michael Savage

“Chair If the budgetary allocations go ahead as outlined leading to de facto cuts to vital support sectors, it will have a harrowing impact on people already disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“It is shocking that in the middle of an unemployment crisis, growing health crisis where cancer surgeries are being cancelled and the chances of the numbers of terminally ill patients growing not mention a looming potential mental health crisis that we are looking at what represents a £1.5m cut to advice for people who, many for the first time, find themselves in need of welfare support as a result of the pandemic.

“As someone who deals with cases like this on a daily basis I would not want to contemplate the workload that would fall on already stretched constituency offices if these advice services such as Citizens Advice were not there for people. 

“The Citizens Advice offices across Newry Mourne and Down are a lifeline for so many people who are struggling. The empathy and professionalism of the CAB staff is second to none and they are the foundation upon which many individuals and families are able to live their lives stress free and with dignity."

Adding that we will be dealing with a very broken  society when this pandemic finally ends Cllr Savage said “It is vital that we budget to put the support mechanisms in place that help us rebuild our society and lifts all our people including the thousands of families tragically impacted by the pandemic. We should not and must not cut those services."

The motion

This council notes with concern reports that the Department for Communities 2021-22 draft budget includes no allocation for the independent advice sector to support welfare change which equates to a £1.5 million reduction. The independent Advice Sector supports some of the most vulnerable in our council area and whilst we are in the grips of a pandemic that is creating further hardships a reduction in the budget will hamper the ability of this sector to continue providing much needed support. 

Council calls on the minister for Communities and Minister for Finance to work proactively to ensure that funding can be allocated appropriately for the independent Advice sector within the budget for 2021-22.


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