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Welfare Reform Bill

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2012

5. What discussions he has had with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive on the Welfare Reform Bill. (90826)

I discuss welfare reform regularly with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform the welfare system and to tackle the problems of poverty and welfare dependency by ensuring that work pays, and is seen to pay.

I am sure that the Secretary of State understands the concerns and fears being expressed by many in Northern Ireland, given that the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that, after London, Northern Ireland will be hardest hit by the proposals in the Bill. There is a suggestion that some £600 million will be lost. Does he find it surprising that civil society and Church organisations across Northern Ireland—and, indeed, the UK generally—oppose the Bill? Will he also give me an undertaking that no one will be left homeless as a result of the reforms?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The four Church leaders came to London to meet the Minister responsible for welfare reform, my noble Friend Lord Freud, who is taking the Bill through the Lords. He explained many of the details of the Bill, which, sadly, is not well understood in Northern Ireland. I see great benefits in making work pay, and we will ensure that every person, regardless of their opportunities, will be better off if they work one hour longer.