SDLP MLA for Mid Ulster, Patsy McGlone, met with Department for Communities officials in Dungannon on Thursday to discuss the operation of the Discretionary Support scheme. Along with Mr McGlone, the SDLP delegation included Mid Ulster Councillors Christine McFlynn and Martin Kearney, and representatives from other areas. Discretionary Support replaced the Social Fund Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans in November 2016. It is part of the current Welfare Reform mitigation measures that will end in March 2020.
Speaking after the meeting Mr McGlone said, “Financial support from the Department for Communities in the form of Discretionary Support scheme is intended to protect those who are most disadvantaged in our society.
“By the end of last year, a total of 58,000 claimants had received £6.8 million in the form of a Discretionary Support Grant and £3 million as a Discretionary Support Loan.
“These represent extreme, exceptional or crisis situations in which a claimant’s or their immediate family’s health, safety or well-being is at significant risk. As representatives providing help and support to the public, we did learn a lot from our meeting with the departmental officials.
“This financial support scheme is a vital safety net when other mechanisms fail or move too slowly to be effective. It will also come to an end in March 2020.
“The recent warnings from the Auditor General of greater hardship to come for claimants, as more changes in the welfare system are rolled out here, emphasises the need for new protections to be in place by the current deadline of March 2020.
“The continued absence of a functioning Executive cannot be used as an excuse for allowing these important financial safeguards to fall away at that time.
“That requires the building of political consensus on the need for and the detail of those new protections as a priority now.
“The SDLP is ready to work with all parties to achieve this. But we will also continue to highlight the impact on the most vulnerable in our society of those parties’ failure to restore the Executive.”