CIVIL servants in Northern Ireland have sparked outrage after spending over £1000 on cakes to celebrate the roll-out of Universal Credit.

The Department of Communitiues (DfC) claim the specially made cakes were part of a "team building" excercise to recognise the introduction of the new benefit system, which has been criticised for causing serious delays and leaving claimants in financial difficulties ahead of Christmas.

The forty cakes are believed to have been branded with the words "Universal Credit" and "UC" at a cost of £1,125 to the taxpayer.

Social Democratic and Labour Party deputy leader Nichola Mallon has slammed the move as “tasteless and insensitive”.

The Irish News reports that the North Belfast MLA said "Universal Credit, and the minimum five-week wait for your first payment, is causing financial hardship especially in North Belfast, Antrim and Ballymena where it is being rolled out in the month of Christmas.

“To brand cakes with the Universal Credit logo is tasteless and insensitive. It shows a careless disregard for the impact it is having on those families forced into debt and in through the doors of food banks.”

However, a DfC spokeswoman defended the decision, claiming: “The process of rolling out Universal Credit in Northern Ireland began in September 2017 and completed on December 5 2018.

“This was a significant and challenging implementation effort for the department, involving the recruitment and training of almost 2,000 staff across 40 locations throughout the province.

“To mark the completion of this task, a total of £1,125 was spent to purchase 40 cakes which were shared amongst 2,000 staff at team building events across Northern Ireland.

“The cakes were provided to mark the end of the introduction of Universal Credit, recognising the commitment and hard work of staff in delivering the new service to customers across Northern Ireland.”

The Trussell Trust, who are responsible for foodbanks across Northern Ireland, have also stated that the roll-out of Universal Credit is likely to create a higher need for emergency food packages this Christmas.