Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Social Security Agency's Innovation Fund

This is the speech I delivered today at the launch of the Innovation Fund in Belfast City Hall:

Tackling poverty has never been a more crucial issue for Government in Northern Ireland than in the present economic climate.  People at all levels of society across Northern Ireland are feeling the impacts of the current recession and it is more important than ever that the Social Security Agency is at the forefront of addressing and mitigating the impacts of poverty by ensuring that those who need it most are receiving the financial assistance to which they are entitled.

The Executive recognises the challenges for those people who are most disadvantaged within our society and are taking the necessary steps to address this need to ensure that those people have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from increased prosperity.

The Social Security Agency has, since 2005, had a specific target to encourage benefit uptake and has taken forward a wide range of programmes in support of this target.  This work has generated an additional £37.6m to date in benefit awards with £3.95m of this in the last 12 months alone.  The Agency is continuing to build upon its commitment to helping reduce the impacts of poverty by encouraging people to check they are receiving their full benefit entitlement.

This year the Agency has significantly increased its investment in benefit uptake work, including, introducing two new initiatives, one of which is the Innovation Fund; and the second a province wide advertising campaign which will be announced shortly.  The Agency has a proven track record of working successfully with Third Sector partners, including organisations who focus on specific customer groups as well as voluntary and community sector organisations who work at grass roots level.  All of this is focused on connecting to those in our communities who may be hardest to reach and who may be entitled to financial support.

This year the Social Security Agency is launching, on a pilot basis, an Innovation Fund of £250,000 to encourage partners in the voluntary and community sector to take a lead in testing new and fresh approaches to reaching people with potential benefit entitlement.  The response to a competitive tendering competition was very encouraging with 27 proposals being submitted by 19 local organisations.

I am also particularly pleased that Atlantic Philanthropies has decided to make an additional investment of £125,000 to support the objectives of the Innovation Fund.  Atlantic Philanthropies is a Foundation which shares many of the objectives of my Department in building sustainable communities, addressing disadvantage and mitigating poverty.  I would like to publicly thank Atlantic Philanthropies for their commitment and investment.  I would also like to thank Ken Logue personally for his work on developing the Innovation Fund to date and for his promised commitment to working in partnership with us in monitoring and evaluating the outcomes.  This further investment by Atlantic Philanthropies means that we now have £375,000 to allocate, rather than the £250,000 originally envisaged.  As a consequence we can now fund 7 separate projects to run for the next 12 months.

The successful projects seek to target a wide range of people who may not be claiming their full entitlement, such as those in part time work on lower levels of income, those with health issues, including cancer, young people with special needs, older people, those living with disability and carers.  This is encouraging and I also like the fact that proposed new and innovatve technologies are being tested.

I congratulate the successful organisations and look forward to the outcomes of your efforts.  I would also like to commend staff for their past and continued efforts in serving the people of Northern Ireland so well.

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