The SDLP MLA Foyle, Mark H Durkan, has called for the Executive to introduce mitigations that would effectively abolish the in-built five-week wait for a claimant's first Universal Credit payment, after it was revealed the Department of Communities anticipates up to 125,000 new claims and an unemployment rate of between 12 and 14%.
Responding to the figures that were published in response to an Assembly Question that he tabled, Mr Durkan said:
"Universal Credit claims between February and May this year rose by 90%; now the Department expects a further 125,000 new claims in the months ahead as well as unemployment rates of up to 14%. These figures are a sober reminder of the economic fallout caused by COVID19 and a stark warning about the financial difficulties ahead for individuals and families across the North.
“The pandemic in conjunction with the pending withdrawal from the EU will have disastrous consequences for citizens of the North- particularly our younger generation who will be most adversely impacted by the predicted unemployment rates. Only this week we had the Economy Minister admit that current challenges could see unemployment rise to levels not seen since the 1990s. The urgent and dire nature of this situation cannot be underestimated.
“The Executive must act now to reduce the strain as much as possible by introducing legislation for the next round of welfare mitigations, which should also address the five-week wait for Universal Credit. The in-built five-week wait drives families into debt and it must be covered by the next round of mitigations. With the claimant count set to rocket, it is imperative that families here are protected from the worst excesses of the Tory welfare reform agenda.
“A robust package must be developed to support all those who find themselves out of work in the months ahead. Focus needs also to be placed on support for our younger generation, who will find themselves at a further disadvantage than most, in terms of low pay and employment opportunities.”