RESPONSE BY THE COMUNITY FOUNDATION FOR NORTHERN IRELAND TO THE by 836goGez

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									RESPONSE BY THE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION FOR NORTHERN IRELAND TO THE
DEPARTMENT FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT DRAFT BUDGET PROPOSALS.



1.    The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the
     consultation as it is seriously concerned about the impact of a range of proposed UK
     Government policy changes and, in particular, the proposed welfare benefits reforms. We
     understand that many of these policy proposals are outside of the remit of the Northern Ireland
     Executive but believe that the devolved government should develop strategies to ameliorate
     their impact on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society . We are particularly concerned
     – and acknowledge that the Minister for Social Development has also expressed concern – that
     the potential loss to Northern Ireland’s welfare benefit recipients is estimated to be more than
     £600 million p.a. by 2014-2015 and there can be no doubt that this will have a devastating
     impact on already vulnerable adults and children. Given that 10% of our households are totally
     dependent on welfare benefits compared to the UK Average of 6%, then the impact of welfare
     reform will have a differential impact here.

     2. The Community Foundation supports the case put forward by the Poverty and Social
        Exclusion team in Queen’s University Belfast that the priority for the Northern Ireland
        budget should be:

          (a) To protect the living standards of those at the lower end of household income
              distribution and especially the prospects and opportunities for the children in those
              households; and

          (b) To improve the quality of life in households and communities most adversely affected by
              the recession.

     With regard to the latter, the Community Foundation would prioritize those households and
     communities that are adversely affected by the recession and already acknowledged to be living
     in circumstances of poverty and deprivation. The unique circumstances of a Northern Ireland
     emerging from years of conflict and the attendant repressed economy do not appear to have
     been considered. The conflict impacted most negatively on our poorest areas and there
     continues to be a lack of employment opportunity, ongoing educational under-attainment, a
     higher dependence on health and welfare benefits and support packages including services
     targeted at mental health, domestic violence, addiction, suicide prevention and homelessness. It
     should also be acknowledged that Northern Ireland has higher fuel, food and utility costs than
     other regions of the UK, so disposable income is already lower.

     Given the above context, the Community Foundation welcomes the three strategic priorities
     listed under section 3 of the Departmental document.

     3.    The Community Foundation recognizes that the realization of these priorities will require
          effective inter-departmental strategies and believes that it is particularly important that
          there is a close working relationship between the Anti Poverty programme within the
          Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department for Social
          Development, as well as a degree of coherence with the policy initiatives within the Office of
     First Minister & Deputy First Minister and, in particular, with Social Investment Fund to
     ‘address disadvantage in those inter-face communities where the problems are many and
     complex’.

4.    The Community Foundation supports the Minister’s prioritisation of front line services as
     they impact on the most vulnerable households and communities (Section 5) and his
     acknowledgement that ‘seeking to protect investment in Neighbourhood Renewal, Public
     Realm and Voluntary and Community services will help those most in need at this time of
     economic difficulty’. The Foundation also believes that it is important to protect investment
     in voluntary and community services that will both help, and involve, those most in need
     over forthcoming years. However, it accepts that the priority must be support for those
     community and voluntary initiatives that can show evidence of working the most closely and
     effectively with those in need and can demonstrate how the quality of life for those
     households and communities are improved in real terms. It will be crucial to support those
     local groups and organisations that can identify and articulate where welfare reforms are
     having the most adverse impact and equally important that DSD has the policy responses
     and financial capacity to respond effectively.

5. The Community Foundation notes the suggested scaling back in support for benefit uptake.
   Given the likely adverse impact of the welfare benefit changes, and the possible confusion
   and uncertainty related to these changes, the Community Foundation would welcome a
   more imaginative approach by the Department in continuing to encourage and support
   effective mechanisms to promote benefit take up amongst vulnerable groups. This should
   utilise community based partners but also networks of contact that are natural points of
   communication and networking with vulnerable groups, e.g.. families availing of Free School
   Meals could be provided with information through the school network; Health visitors are
   another source of contact; but, in addition to this, the most vulnerable still need advocacy
   support.

     The impact of welfare and tax reform must be monitored. The predicted loss of
     approximately 38,000 jobs (50% of which are anticipated to the public sector jobs) will have
     a disproportionate impact on women. The impact of the welfare reforms must be monitored
     for the impact on gender, disability, children, older people, minority ethnic groups and
     community background etc. (a differential currently exists with dependence on welfare
     benefits standing at 13% in the Catholic community and 9% in the Protestant community).
     DSD is best placed to monitor the impact of welfare and tax reforms. It also stands to be
     under most pressure financially as it will be the first port of call for those losing employment
     and/or homes.

6. The suggestion, under paragraph 6.6, that front line services in areas such as community
   development, support for the voluntary and community sector, support for voluntary advice
   services and for women in disadvantaged areas – amongst other items - may suffer
   reductions in public funding is deeply worrying. Since its establishment as the Northern
   Ireland Voluntary Trust in 1979, the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland has
   invested heavily in each of these areas. Our experience of working through the recessionary
   policies of the 1980’s provided us with evidence to illustrate how the work of Women’s
     Groups and Centres in disadvantaged areas, and working with marginalized groups, actually
     contributed to both household well-being and community cohesion. Instead of running this
     provision down, we feel that it is timely to enhance it. Clearly any such investment must be
     targeted along clear indicators of effectiveness and capacity to reach directly to women
     living in poverty.

     Similarly, it is felt to be very important for the Department for Social Development to
     maintain its support for quality community development work which can deliver evidence
     based outcomes relating to community resilience and the creation of opportunities.
     Without this, the Community Foundation cannot see how the Department can remain true
     to its declared strategic priority of ‘Tackling poverty and social needs experienced by the
     most vulnerable in society, bringing divided communities together and encouraging social
     responsibility’.



7.    The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland feels that it is understandable that the
     Department would wish to encourage organisations to identify opportunities to collaborate,
     share services and merge to reduce costs and protect services. It also believes that this
     should be in the context of promoting effectiveness and efficiency and that a distinction
     should be made between the impact of this efficiency drive on the voluntary sector (many of
     which are centrally located headquarters organisations that may have the potential to share
     premises, resources and backroom staff support) as compared to the more locally based
     community sector groups. Within the latter, collaboration and sharing could be considered
     within the context of bringing divided communities together through the sharing of resource
     support but it may also be much more difficult for this sector to share resources due to the
     very local nature of their work in responding to needs through the delivery of localised
     services and activities.

8. The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland notes the reference to possible cuts with
   regard to the financial support available to District Councils through the Community Support
   programme. It is important that we do not reduce their capacity to the extent that we lose
   the potentially important contribution that community planning might make within the
   context of the eventual Review of Public Administration. The current circumstances,
   however, might open up the possibility of examining an overall integrated quality support
   mechanism for community development that might inform the roll out of the Review of
   Public Administration, and community planning in particular.

9. The Community Foundation supports the Department in making a continued commitment to
   the Housing Rights Service, particularly in the context of the likely impact of the reduced
   Housing Benefits available. It is, however, concerned about the reduction in capital
   allocations and its impact on new build social housing or the departmental capacity to avail
   of the opportunity to purchase at highly competitive prices from the private sector where
   large developments lie empty and will continue to do so for years to come. Access to
   affordable housing is crucial as demand, which is already high and unmet, will continue to
   grow as families lose the homes they have purchased as a result of loss of employment or
   reduced income.
10. The Community Foundation believes that it is important that the delivery of services to
    vulnerable groups and disadvantaged communities should be managed in as effective a
    manner as possible, with an openness to delivery at community and/or sub regional level
    rather than at a central or departmental level. While we are supportive of the Urban
    Renewal programme, we believe that this programme should not be constrained by short-
    termism, bureaucracy and unnecessary risk-adverse procedures. We are concerned that the
    admirable policy intent of the programme can be undermined by unwieldy administrative
    burdens. We feel that this should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

11. The Community Foundation welcomes the Department’s plans to carry out Equality Impact
    Screenings and, where necessary, full Impact Assessments for individual cases and its plans
    to ‘attempt to put protection of persons and families in need as a core value of its Budget.
    However, this will require the drafting of agreed means of measuring need comparatively
    between individuals and vulnerable groups in order to objectively show which persons and
    families are ‘most in need’.

12. The Foundation has been impressed by the steps taken by the Department – and its Minister
    – to engage with stakeholders and would like to acknowledge the level of consultation
    directly undertaken. The Foundation remains willing to work with the Department in
    meeting its strategic priority of tackling poverty and bringing divided communities together,
    as well as augmenting and recognising community resilience.



    Avila Kilmurray,
    Director,

    Community Foundation for Northern Ireland

    14th February 2011.

								
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