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KESS Seminar – Social Welfare Issues Relating to Poverty

6th June 2018 @ 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm

1.30pm – RaISe – Welcome and Opening Remarks 

1.45pm – Dr Mark Simpson (Ulster) – Protecting dignity, fighting poverty and promoting social inclusion in devolved social security 

The protection of human dignity and poverty reduction are core functions of social security. Changes to working age benefits since 2010 have reduced claimants’ incomes, putting more people at risk of poverty and arguably reducing the ability of the system to support a dignified standard of living. Human rights law has been used to challenge key policies and pressure has grown for a different approach in Scotland and Northern Ireland, resulting in Northern Ireland’s mitigations programme and the devolution of new powers to Scotland. The Scottish Government has given a commitment to develop a devolved system on the basis of a distinctive set of principles, notably respect for the dignity of claimants, and plans to reinstate statutory targets for the reduction of child poverty. The Northern Ireland Executive has a legal duty to publish a strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion. There are also proposals for enhanced protection of social and economic rights in both regions. These objectives could be undermined by benefit cuts. Limiting the child element of universal credit to two children per household is projected to increase child poverty and merits particularly close attention. Recent judicial reviews show senior judges are increasingly prepared to hold governments accountable for the impact of social security regulations on children’s rights. It is therefore likely that this change will be challenged in the courts. However, the devolved regions need not wait for legal action. The two-child limit works against Scottish policy on child poverty, while Northern Ireland’s larger average family size and higher rates of socio-economic disadvantage mean it will be among the most affected United Kingdom (UK) regions: parity in social security provision does not mean parity of living standards. Drawing on research for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the seminar examines how social security system can protect dignity. It then assesses the impact of recent reforms in the UK, with a focus on child-related benefits. Finally, it suggests that dignity and child poverty can help devolved administrations identify priority areas where limited resources can be targeted to improve social security at the regional level.

2.05pm – Dr Paul McKenzie (Ulster) – Mapping Fuel Poverty Across Northern Ireland

Fuel poverty is a significant issue across Europe and a particular problem within the UK and Ireland. Fuel poverty occurs when insufficient funds are available to pay for a warm and comfortable home. Households affected by fuel poverty are at risk of physical and mental health difficulties and are linked with excess winter mortality. While strategies exist to reduce fuel poverty, there is a pressing need to allocate assistance to those most in need. As fuel poverty is influenced by various socio-economic indicators, an area-based targeting approach was developed to identify households most at risk of fuel poverty.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be used to integrate variables that are key determinants of fuel poverty including temperature, the price of home heating oil, data on benefits (e.g. Disability Living Allowance) and deprivation. GIS enabled variables to be combined and weighted for each Census Output Area (COA) to create a fuel poverty risk score for every household in Northern Ireland.

This presentation highlights findings of research undertaken in relation to fuel poverty risk model, which received further funding from OFMDFM and the Department for Social Development (DSD) to liaise with local councils to determine the efficiency of the area-based model to identify those households most at risk. Questionnaires were conducted in partnership with 18 District Councils to identify the extent of fuel poverty within targeted COAs. The area-based approach proved very successful in identifying households at risk of fuel poverty.

The research found that the ability to combine, analyse and visualise many socio-economic datasets means that this technique is transferable to many other areas of application. This presentation explains that the approach enables planners and policy makers to visualise “at-risk” groups which in turn facilitates targeting of resources and assistance of those most in need. It also explains that the approach developed for fuel poverty has considerable potential for wider poverty mapping and research is currently underway at Ulster University on an area-based algorithm for mapping food poverty in Northern Ireland.

2.25pm – Discussion 

2.55pm – RaISe – Closing Remarks 

3.00pm – Networking and Refreshments


6th June 2018
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm
Event Category:


Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS)


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Parliament Buildings, Stormont
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