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Council gives unanimous support to right to work motion

Dessie Blackadder

Reporter:

Dessie Blackadder

A motion supporting the right to work has received unanimous support by Council.

Sinn Fein Councillor Patrice Hardy brought forward a motion as last week's full council meeting, which stated: "This Council supports the Right to Work: Right to Welfare group's 'People's Proposal' aimed at introducing a simple but vital checklist for social security decision makers.

‘This Council supports the aim and will write to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Communities for the issuance of guidance to all Decision Makers, requiring them to ensure that both due process and impact assessments are undertaken and fully compiled with in the decision making process."

Speaking in support of the motion, Councillor Hardy said: "For me this is about protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

“It is about building protections for the many citizens in the Mid and East Antrim Council district who are in the receipt of benefits.

"The Right to Welfare Group are calling for a risk assessment to be carried out by social security decision makers and have developed the People's Proposal which is a human rights checklist.

“The checklist includes the right to due process, including the right to information and representation, presumption of innocence and transparent decision making prior to the appeal stage.”

Councillor Hardy spoke passionate about the People's Proposal and about the recent benefit changes.

She said it is needed because: "On average over 800 financial sanction are issued against unemployed people every month, while 700 decisions are made on a monthly basis to stop sickness benefits.

"People are being financially sanctioned first and then appealed afterwards while suffering forced poverty."

She gave figures, saying that: "32,700 people were forced to use food banks last year, including 13,717 children. This isn't good enough."

Speaking about children, she said levels of child poverty have continued to increase here.

"Over a quarter of all children are living in poverty. This is not just a statistic, this is a sad reality. Many children are arriving to school hungry. Every child should have the right to food and every child should be free from poverty."

Seconding the motion, fellow Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown, said: "This highlights the disaster that is austerity and changes in the welfare system have brought upon people in our society."

He also added: "We need a fairer and more professional approach to benefits."

UUP Councillor Stephen Nicholl, said: "The substance of the motion is absolutely correct.

"The impact of the changes in welfare delivery are causing a significant impact in society, especially on those who are the poorest in society."

He added: "The increasing use of food banks in areas where universal credit has been ruled out, the use of food banks have increased by 52%.

"I have seen some horrendous decisions going through. So I think anything that introduces greater clarity and greater consideration of the actual

conditions is to be welcomed to try and make this a fairer system."

DUP Councillor Billy Ashe said this affected everyone.

He commented: "We would support this motion. The benefit system is not working for the most vulnerable."

He added that the community planning directorate compile a report on this subject that Council can use to influence decision making at a higher level in the future.

Council unanimously voted in support of the motion.

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