Covid-19 and the impact of government programmes
With the new lockdown, the Stormont Executive announced that the furlough scheme (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) was extended by a month here to end April 2021.
The Child Poverty Action Group drew attention to the over one million UK households who filed for Universal Credit due to the impact of the pandemic who are now having debt deductions taken from their benefit payments. The DWP suspended some deductions for three months from April 2020, but deductions for the repayment of UC advances were not included. Here, the Department for Communities paused reclaiming overpayments and loans during the first lockdown but began debt deductions again in July 2020. CPAG found that found that nearly two thirds (63%) of those who claimed UC between March and June are now having deductions taken from their monthly payments, compared with 41% of all UC claimants -- many of them due to needing to request an advance to get them through the 5-week wait for a first UC payment. This means they are currently living on substantially less than their assessed need, in the midst of lockdown.
Mid-December saw publication of the Second Independent Review of the (PIP) Assessment Process in NI. It highlights the need to improve claimants' accessibility through the claim process, the type of assessment carried out and the quality of further evidence used in decision making, and it includes recommendations to broaden the audit process and complaints procedure.
Lift the Ban progress
December saw several High Court rulings against the Home Office. One found that the Home Office has acted unlawfully in failing to direct staff that they have discretion to grant individual asylum seekers the right to work, for example in cases where they are trafficking victims and working would assist their recovery.