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Welfare of people replaced by operational performance on benefits, says Armstrong

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong has said welfare of people has been replaced by operational performance, following a meeting with the Department for Communities.

The Strangford MLA was speaking after meeting with the Permanent Secretary and senior members of the Department for Communities about both PIP and Universal Credit. She said she was disappointed the Civil Service spoke more about their processes than understanding the impact the new reforms were having on people, particularly those with learning disabilities or mental ill health.

"This was an important meeting to have with the Department to put across the welfare reform issues being experienced by our constituents. But I was disappointed to hear the Department discuss operational procedures, which have clearly taken priority over real people and the effect welfare reform has had on them. Officials were content around half of PIP applicants had to go through an appeal before being awarded support but they had no concept of how this is impacting the person," she said.

"Universal Credit is forcing more people to have to use foodbanks, yet the Department is focusing on how many applications have been successfully completed online. Indeed, one official commented we may not like the policy but the process was rolled out properly.

"It is important to not forget there are real people affected behind the numbers. With current mitigation payments due to end in March 2020, it was important to put across the fact for many people time is running out and they will be severely financially impacted.

"Unless we have a restored Assembly, we are going to soon be faced with a cliff edge thanks to welfare reform. While the DUP and Sinn Féin continue to refuse to form a Government, people are going to suffer and continue to be failed by those two parties."