Right to work for asylum seekers in NI
The Detail reported on a letter the Lift the Ban group, CAJ, PPR and Unison wrote to the Health Minister asking that his department do everything in its power to allow asylum seekers and refugees with health qualifications to work during the pandemic to help alleviate pressures on health and social care. As follow up, Gerry Carroll MLA asked the Minister of Health whether he has had any discussions with the Home Office regarding the employment eligibility of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with professional medical backgrounds.
Investigations and surveillance of benefit claimants
Research by the TaxWatch group found that since 2010, the Department for Work and Pensions prosecuted 23 times more people for benefits offences than HMRC did for tax offences, despite the overall amount of money involved being many times smaller (£2.2bn compared to £20bn). The group said that the DWP employs three and a half times more staff to enforce its rules than HMRC.
Meanwhile Privacy International, reviewing the UK Department for Work and Pensions' guidance for staff working to identify cases of fraud, found that regulations permitted an excessive use of surveillance by allowing the DWP to compel information on targeted individuals from bingo clubs, the BBC, estate agents, gyms, legal aid boards, banks and the NHS counter fraud department among others. Privacy International says the DWP uses an algorithm to identify which individuals should be investigated but refused requests to provide or explain it.
Urgent calls for the £20/week increase in Universal Credit payments to be extended
A survey by researchers at five UK universities amongst people claiming Universal Credit for the first time during the pandemic found that even with the temporary £20 /week boost, two thirds suffered financial strain and many struggled to get by without borrowing from family, running up credit card debt, or using food banks. Four out of five were unaware that the £20/week uplift was about to end. The research was part of the Welfare at A Social Distance project. Similarly, as a Rowntree-funded study of destitution in London during Covid was published, London mayor Sadiq Khan repeated his calls for an extension to the £20/week uplift.
Holding NI ministers to account
MLAs asked the Minister for Communities whether legislation to extend and strengthen welfare reform mitigations will be introduced before 31 March 2021; about progress in addressing the backlog of PIP appeals; and the number of Universal Claimants to have had reductions from their award in the last year. Answers are pending.
The Minister for Communities took MLAs' questions on the impact of her department's funding cuts on the independent advice sector. She said that draft legislation to extend welfare mitigations has been prepared and will be introduced to the Assembly at the earliest opportunity.