09/10/2012 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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$:/STARTFEED. Hello. Welcome to Stormont today. In the next 30


minutes, the biggest shake up in You have to change fast without


leaving the most vulnerable behind. We're looking for the colour of the


money. Because we have not seen one of those agreed to as of yet.


Health Minister announces major changes for the Health Service.


During the next three to five years the current number of residential


homes would be reduced by at least 50% across Northern Ireland as we


support increasing numbers of people to live in non-institutional


settings. And find out why our MLAs are fighting to hold onto their


marbles. Let's start with the big issue of


the day, welfare reform. It was trailed in advance as the biggest


set piece debate for some time. In that respect it didn't disappoint.


Our reporter, Chris Page, followed proceedings through the day and


he's with me now. Chris, it had the feeling of being a big day today?


It really did. This was one of the most important pieces of


legislation this Assembly has dealt with in recent years, Welfare


Reform Bill. It's been brought in by the Westminster Government for


England and Wales. It will generate lots of changes to the Social


Security benefits system, replacing the Disability Living Allowance


with a Personal Independence Payment. It rolls six benefits into


a universal credit payment. Something that affects tens of


thousands of households and up to MLAs whether to bring it in here.


More from you shortly. First a flavour of the debate on the floor


of the House. There are people in our society who have never worked,


who have no concept of what work means or requires of them. So we


have to change systems, behaviours and attitudes. We have to change


fast without leaving the most vulnerable behind. Breaking parity


is a choice we can make. But it will have huge costs. Those costs


will be met through less money for schools. Less money for hospitals,


less money for the police. I believe there are four principles


underpinning this legislation. To protect the vulnerable, to get


people back to work, to develop a system which is fair and to


encourage personal and social responsibility. This bill is far


from perfect. I'm not saying what will emerge from our scrutiny will


be perfect, however I do hope that as part of the scrutiny process, we


will identify changes that will not have significant costs but can


address some of the shortcomings of the bill. There has been discussion


in the media about possibly defering. The truth of the matter


is we have run out of road. We have been told at all times by the


British Government ministers that yes, your circumstances as a --


they prevail in the Northern Ireland means we should have


flexibilities in the way the system will be administered. What we're


looking for is the colour of the money. Because we have not seen one


of those flexibilities agreed to. We are -- have referred to issues


like the monthly payment. The monthly payment under universal


payment is designed to be paid to a single person in the home. We know,


we know that the big fear there is that that is a regressive step.


That mean that's for the most part a lot of women once again are going


to be brought back to the position where they're going to be dependent


on somebody for every penny they might need in their household. Is


that what we want? Maybe some people do. Some of my best friends


are men, but some men are not very fair when it comes to money in


their pocket in their household. This legislation, the biggest


reform of our Social Security system in generations, has, as has


been said, the potential to encourage thousands of our people


to move from welfare dependencey into employment, to make the


failing system fairer and to save billions of taxpayers pounds, but


it also has the potential, if implemented wrongly, to destroy


lives, to take away support from people who cannot afford to lose


anything else. Of course, you could forgive us for knowing why Sinn


Fein may have tabled this so-called reasonable amendment. The dogs in


the street have a view. They can say it. They believe it's a game of


political brinksmanship. They think by getting to this stage they can


send out hard hitting basis and their base will see welfare reform


has been. We welcome the need for a simple more accessible benefit


system, but we will not accept this bill, which as it stands, is a


shameful attack on the vulnerable our society. We will not Val low


the Tories peddling of cuts dressed as reform, nor the demonisation of


those on benefits. We are not oblivious to the implications of


breaking and the constraints of parity. We hear loudly the


threatening noises from Westminster and their echoes in this chamber


and over the air waves. But we cannot and we will not accept any


legislation that will force thousands of our citizens into


poverty. We know the place to make significant changes to the bill was


in Westminster. While that leaves us in a difficult situation, we


need to acknowledge our duty is to progress with the bill and make


changes in our power. Delaying the process is not the answer. The


costs of delay are considerable, including as the minister has


already highlighted, the risk that those Northern Ireland residents


who deliver Social Security services on a UK-wide basis could


lose their jobs. We don't have the tax base to sustain our local


system or pay for deviations from what happens in the rest of the UK.


Parity works in our favour in that it enshurz a level of provision we


could not otherwise afford. Alliance does not believe it's


feasible we breach parity in terms of benefits and thresh hods. We can


push operational matters to fit local circumstances, this is where


our focus needs to be. That's a flavour of what MLAs had to say.


How would you sum up the tone of the debate? In the days leading up


to this debate, there had been sharp words exchanged on the air


waves between MLAs. Whenever they got into the chamber, during the


debate, the atmosphere was relatively calm, perhaps reflecting


the fact that so many people are affected by the measures under


discussion here. There were a few interinjections an the Speaker had


to call them to order a few times. That's the nature of politics here.


On the whole while speakers were passionate they listened to each


other. Sinn Fein was unhappy with aspects of the proposed legislation.


How did that play out today? Sinn Fein have reservations about


aspects of the bill. They want more flexibility on payments rather than


the payments being made once a month, as is the plan under the


reforms, they want them made more oftden. They want payments made


available to more than one member of the household. These reforms


mean one member of the household is able to pick up benefits. They


tabled an amendment that the bill should be deferred to allow more


time for the executive to negotiate with ministers in Westminster. But


they did not lay down a petition of concern, in other words demand the


issue was subject to a cross- community veto in the Assembly. The


DUP put the counterargument to that. Nelson McCausland there speaking


about breaking parity. He said if the Assembly did not keep in step


with Westminster they would lose out on millions of pounds of


funding from the Treasury. As far as what happens in e. Is concerned,


it's pretty obvious that the committee sage is going to be


critical. What can we expect? Whenever the bill goes before the


committee, MLAs will get down into the details of the bill. You can


expect lots of horse trading, discussion on really very, very key


points. Then the bill will go back before the Assembly and MLAs will


decide at the third stage when the bill will be made law. Thanks Chris.


Kevin Higgins from Advice NI also joins us. Welcome to the programme.


Thanks very much for being with us tonight. We've talked a lot already


on the programme about what politicians make of this debate.


What do you think people at home watching this are likely to be


concerned about? I think that we can't lose sight that full scrutiny


of this legislation has to take place over the next two months. I


believe that there is scope for subStan shale change. I think


people watching this, people across Northern Ireland will believe that


we Advice NI, politicians will have failed them in the legislation


which gets royal assents in March is the same as introduced today,


then we will have failed the people of Northern Ireland. The committee


stage is critical as far as you're concerned? It's critical. We


believe that the committee can influence and can change this piece


of legislation. We recognise that parity is a very serious issue.


We'll not be able to change the system of benefits and the amount


of benefits payable. But we have seen already things like monthly


payments, the inclusion of Housing Benefit can have the potential to


change. We would like to see that go further, with DLA we would like


a legislative process there that can examine and make sure the


provider does their job properly in terms of medical examinations and


also, that perhaps a statutory advice and information where people


are affected Negtively. There's no question of breaking parity with


Westminster, is there? Do you concede that? Absolutely. The


amount of money that's involved I concede that. As I said we do think


there is scope for change. In actual fact there has to be change.


We've heard a lot about Northern Ireland has a set of special


circumstances that there needs to be mitigation. Let's see the colour


of that mitigation. If this legislation means that people who


need help most get that help, if it also helps people back into work


who are currently not in work, that's what the Conservatives say


it's about, wouldn't those be good things? Wouldn't they be changes


for the good overall? Absolutely. We support the simplification. We


support changes for the good. But let's, we are also there to talk


out and speak for the vulnerable. So let's say, take the example of


Disability Living Allowance that's being replaced by Personal


Independence Payment. We had the Treasury document in June 2010 that


said that change would lead to a 20% cut in expenditure. So that


would mean there's going to be people that will miss out. People


won't get the benefit maybe that would have got it in the past.


People will be put off it that are getting it at the moment. That can


have a huge impact on household impact. What are the implications


for the people who won't meet more stringent criteria when the new


legislation is on the books? Clearly you think that's going to


be a problem. I think it has to be a problem. If we learn the lesson


of incapacity benefit reassessment where people are being reassessed


onto ESA. Not everybody is making the journey successfully. We fear


the same thing might happen with DLA to PIP. It underscores the idea


how populations engage with the committee stage. It's very


important for what happens next and what the legislation will look at


in six months' time. It's worth making the point that all the


parties actually involved in the debate had reservations about the


bill. Even the DUP said some aspects were unpalatable. But they


thought nonetheless the bill should be allowed to go to the committee


stage and that's the place where detailed cfrgs should take place.


- consideration should take place. Do you share the thought by Mark


Durkin that this could lead to the demonisation of the people who are


on benefits, is that a real dainksner We will pay careful


attention to the language that is used. We don't want to see


demonisation. Any of us could be made redundant, lose our jobs,


suffer ill health and Social Security is something to be lauded.


It is a great thing to have. We would stand up against demonising


anybody that relies on the Social Security system. We'll leave it


there for now. Thank you both. Now the Health Minister has told


the Assembly that the number of publicly owned residential homes


would be cut by half under the transforming your care health


proposals. Edwin Poots was launching a public consultation


which will run until January next year. Our society is changing. We


have a growing and ageing population with people living


longer. This is of course something to celebrate that the population is


living longer, but it also means that there are more people with


long-term conditions and inevitably places more demands on the health


and social care services including hospitals and other resources. The


treatment and care of sit zepbsz is changing. We have increasingly


specialised service was technology driving improvements and how we --


can design and provide care. Transforming care indicated that


services could rise in demand by 4%. We need to improve services but in


a way that secures, improves productist and value for money.


What has not chainked is a belief in the core principles of the NHS.


These principles are that Health Services are generally free at the


point of delivery, based on individual need not ability to pay.


The new model of care is focused on ensuring that more services are


provided in the community, closer to people's homes, where that's


possible. During the next three to five years, the current number of


statutory residential homes would be reduced by at least 50% across


Northern Ireland. As we support increasing numbers of people to


live in non-institutional settings. This does not necessarily mean a


reduction in residential homes provided bit independent sector,


where there continues to be a demand for these services, they


will continue to be provided. Prot posal for mental health include six


in-patient mental health units for those aged 18 and over, to reduce


stigma and provide access. It is desirable to locate mental health


hospitals close to acute hospital provision. We cannot ignore that


significance savings would need to occur to causeway Hospital. The


community in that area need quality services over the coming years.


It's important we plan carefully to deliver that objective. This is not


a cost-cutting exercise, but about improving service delivery and


making better use of the available resources. It is also anticipated


there would be reductions in our overall workforce of around 3% over


the next three to five years. The change is proposed with a shift in


services into the community may mean some staff working in a


different way or in a different place. Some staff may choose not to


make the change and they will be supported in their decisions.


state in the statement about the proposal to close at least 50% of


the statutory residential homes. But that doesn't necessarily mean a


reduction in the private residential homes. Can you provide


assurances that this doesn't represent a privatisation of


elderly care through the tapbs forming your care strategy. First


of all, there is a lesser demand for residential care and throughout


the transforming your care process we have identified that amongst the


public there is a greater desire to spend their later years or indeed


younger people who become incapacitated to spend that in a


real home, the home of their choice as opposed to a residential home.


In that respect, we need to observe and honour the wishes of the public


and seek to do that. Second aspect of it is that many of our


residential care homes were built in the quite distant past. Many of


them do not meet the standards in terms of room sizes, in terms of


overhead hoists and so forth. That would be available in many other


facilities. I can't ask members of the public to use a facility owned


bit public, which is not as good as perhaps a facility available within


the private sector. Therefore, if the private sector are doing their


job well in that respect, they will continue to receive support to


Carrie out that work. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots. Now who


could forget recent scenes like this around Belfast city centre as


commuters complain new bus lanes are causing traffic chaos. It's not


just commuters complaining. MLAs want answers. They quizzed the


relevant minister, Danny Kennedy today. Let me make it clear, there


is no war on motorists and I tell the House that it is regrettable


that during the bedding in period some have suffered disruption to


their journeys. One of the objectives of this project is to


persuade people who drive through the city centre without a


destination there to travel around the city centre. This would free up


street space for those people who need to drive into the city centre


for shopping, work or leisure. It is designed going forward to make


car and bus journeys faster and easier. I met yesterday with the


Chamber of Commerce representatives and Belfast city centre management,


who expressed their concern that media coverage was sending out the


wrong message. Let me take this opportunity to send out the right


message - Belfast is open. Belfast is accessible. It's a good place to


do business. It's important that Belfast on the move is allowed to


bed in, settle down and work. And the plan is and my expectation is


and hope is that we can then progress to a rapid transit system


for the city. I accept the rational that the minister has said out. I


believe it's a legitimate one, but the experience of the ordinary


commuter has been one of shambles, not Belfast on the move. Either I'm


loseing my marbles or the minister has lost his marbles previously. I


have to say to the minister that this needs to be rethought and


rethought quickly. I do say to the member that significant


consultation has taken place. Full public consultation was jointly


launched by Connor Murphy and the then Lord Mayor in Belfast City


Hall on 3rd September. This consultation which included Belfast


chamber of trade and commerce and the city centre management showed


broad support for the proposals. There is an inevitable bedding in


period. We will continue to monitor and continue to work at this.


Because this works in other places. There's no reason why it shouldn't


work in Belfast. Can he give the House any idea of the extent of the


investment needed to provide the greater Belfast area with a


transport infrastructure that would be fit for purpose particularly in


the light of the city centre changes? If we had �100 million we


could look at a straight fly-over, which would significantly transform


some of the travelling habits of our population. If we had �100


million we could introduce, without delay, perhaps, a rapid transit


system. That is the scale of the commitment that the executive will


need to be carrying forward, if it is serious about whole-scale and


wide-spread improvement to the strategic road network that will


make a positive contribution and improve the flow of traffic, both


in the city centre and its outer limits. Danny Kennedy. Fuel poverty


was among the main topics raised during questions to the social


develop minister. Nelson McCausland updated members on new energy


efficiency schemes which will be used to help combat the problem.


Tackling fuel poverty remains a key priority for my department.


Alongside continuing to deliver mainstream schemes, such as the


warm home scheme, the housing executive heating replacement


scheme, and winter fuel and cold weather payments, my department is


working on a number of exciting new pilots. I recently launched a


boiler replacement scheme offering a grant of up to �1,000 towards the


cost of replacing old boilers, if they have in the family an income


of less than �40,000. The housing executive has received over 14,000


expressions of interest in the scheme and they are sending out


application forms. �12 million has been allocated to the scheme over


the next three year with �4 million available for grants before the end


of March 2013. My department is working with the university of


Ulster, housing executive and a number of local councils to deliver


energy efficiency improvements to homes in small concentrated areas.


The university of Ulster has developed a sophisticated


targetting mothodology which can identify areas of poor housing and


low incomes which could indicate a high prevalence of fuel poverty and


then a pay-as-you-go for oil pilot was launched this year. The results


have been positive. I'm keen for this technology to be rolled out.


Officials have been having discussions with kings span


renewables. I have asked officials to progress this important


initiative as quickly as possible as I believe inr insulation of pay-


as-you-go oil systems would help households who struggle to pay.


I thank the minister for his response. Particularly important in


terms of the initiatives that the minister has quiets rightly


outlined. Will the minister accept and implement the recognitions in


the fuel poverty report? We will look at every piece of


documentation, every proposal that emerges and whatever we think in


there is viable and will help the situation we will consider it. If


it's practical, if it works, then we'll give it good consideration.


Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker and I thank the minister for his response


earlier on. Has his department undertaken recent research to


determine the most up to date figures of those considered to be


in fuel poverty? Yes, indeed that was referred to in the initial


answer where we spoke about work that is being undertaken by the


university of Ulster which has a sophisticated targetting


mothodology, which can identify areas of poor housing and low


incomes where it would indicate there was a high prevalence of fuel


poverty. We've been working with experts and indeed the work that


we're doing at the university is innovative. I'm very encouraged by


that. Therefore there is academic rigour, anything that we're going


to do in future will be evidence based. That's the point that the


member is making, I think. Is the minister aware of any new


technologies which will improve energy efficiency of homes?


always open to new and innovative ways to improve the domestic energy


efficiency of households in fuel poverty. For example, Glenn dim


plex has developed a quauntum system. The project is an electric


heating system using surplus renewable energy from windfarms to


heat dwellings. There's a report on the performance and this report is


currently being considered. Chris Page is with me again. Where


we've been recording this programme our politicians are still debating


the welfare bill. They're still in the chamber. The vote was supposed


to have taken place at about 8.30pm. Because this is such an important


issue for MLAs they're taking their time over it. Whenever a vote takes


place it's pretty safe to predict the bill will be voted through. The


DUP, Ulster Unionists are behind it. Sinn Fein and the SDLP have dauld


for delays. It will go to committee stage I believe. Nelson McCausland


has a meeting in London with one of the welfare reform ministers in


Westminster. He's likely to push for more concessions to say, on the


basis of this Assembly today, I'm under pressure. He may argue phoar


Northern Ireland to have more flexibility on when benefits


payments are made. That's something the parties are generally agreed on


should happen. They might push for a Housing Benefit payment to be


made to landlords and not through tenants. This is set to be one of


the touch stone issues for the Assembly. BBC Radio Ulster news and


our news online service will have the result of that vote when it


happens. Absolutely. Keep your eyes online and on the radio this


evening and tomorrow morning. was a pretty unusual sight in the


Great Hall at lunch time today. Some MLAs had apparently lost their


marbles, what was that all about? This events was called the great


push for meantal health. It looked like something resembling curling.


What it was was an event to mark World Mental Health Day. We had


teams of MLAs, journalists and civil servants playing a game where


they pushed marbles around obstacles. The aim was to keep all


the marbles. The cones represented some of life's obstacles like debt,


bereavement or illness. A good way to put it in the spotlight. Thanks


very much for everything tonight. That's all for this week. Do make a


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.