Edinburgh to act against impact of welfare reforms
Plans to mitigate the impact of national welfare reform measures on the capital have been announced by the City of Edinburgh Council. The plans, which will see an additional investment of £350,000 in advice and support services, will be discussed by the Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee on Tuesday (16 April).
The introduction of policies such as the Housing Benefit Under-occupancy Restrictions (or ‘bedroom tax’), which are expected to affect 3,800 Council tenants, and around 2,500 Housing Association tenants, combined with national reductions in benefits will have a significant impact on some Edinburgh residents and the city’s economy as a whole.
The Council has taken steps to minimise these repercussions where possible and is considering further actions to offer support. Residents affected by the under-occupancy restrictions have been contacted to provide advice about options such as moving to a smaller home, taking in lodgers or budgeting on a lower income.
Health, Wellbeing and Housing Convener, Councillor Ricky Henderson, (pictured below)said: “The new changes to the national welfare system will have a significant impact on the city and particularly those receiving benefits. It is also expected that the introduction of the under-occupancy changes will lead to increasing rent arrears, which may have an adverse impact on the Council’s ability to deliver services and capital investment in its homes.
“We have taken steps to bolster Council and voluntary sector advice services to make sure that residents are aware of these changes and the help that is available to them. It is vital that we support our most vulnerable citizens and do what we can to minimise these repercussions where possible.”
The committee will be asked to approve an investment of £350,000 to provide additional advice services. Of this sum, £100,000 will be provided to Citizens Advice Edinburgh, £22,000 to the Community Ability Network, £15,000 to The Action Group, £15,000 to FAIR and £7,000 to COSS. Some of the extra funds will also be invested in the Council’s own Advice Shop service and Contact Centre.
An additional £67,000 has already been agreed for the Welfare Rights and Health Project, CHAI Advice Service and Granton Information Centre.
Recent Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty figures suggest that changes to the national welfare system will lead to a loss of income of £223 million by 2015/2016 for people in Edinburgh. These changes mainly affect individuals and families living on low wages, those seeking work and disabled people who are unable to work. This will result in a greater need for advice about benefits, debt and budgeting, as well as an increased demand on social work, housing and homelessness services.
The administration of Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants is now the responsibility of the Council, after being transferred from the Department for Work and Pensions on 1 April. Crisis Grants are available as emergency payments where there is an immediate threat to health or safety and are now paid out from Council Neighbourhood and City Centre Offices with an out of hours service also available. A new team has been recruited to deal with the assessment and processing of claims, which can be made by phone, online, on paper and in person. Community Care grants will help to enable or continue independent living by providing furniture, carpets and white goods.
Further measures will be discussed by the Health, Wellbeing and Housing Policy Development and Review Sub Committee on Tuesday 23 April 2013.
The city council’s announcement comes as new independent research by Sheffield Hallam University has shown that welfare cuts will take more than £1.6bn a year out of the Scottish economy and hit the poorest parts hardest – the equivalent to about £480 a year for every adult of working age. The biggest losses are from reforms to incapacity benefits at about £500m a year.
The report states: “The financial losses arising from the reforms will hit the most deprived parts of Scotland hardest. Glasgow in particular, but also a number of other older industrial areas, will feel the impact most. The loss of benefit income, which is often large, will have knock-on consequences for local spending and thus for local employment, which will in turn add a further twist to the downward spiral.”
The report added: “A key effect of welfare reform will therefore be to widen the gaps in prosperity between the best and worst local economies across Scotland.” Researchers note that the scale of financial loss in Scotland would have been greater if the Scottish government had chosen to pass on the cut to council tax benefit.
The report was commissioned by the Holyrood’s welfare reform committee, and while it’s findings are unlikely to come as a major surprise, committee convener Labour MSP Michael McMahon said: “Our committee wanted a detailed picture of what would happen on the ground when these reforms were fully implemented. It is obvious to all that the impact is dramatic – and more so in the areas that can least afford it.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “Sheffield Hallam have used the same publicly available data as the Scottish government analysis and reach broadly the same conclusions on the scale of the cuts. It is completely unacceptable that hard-working people and vulnerable groups will bear the brunt of the UK government’s welfare cuts.”
The UK government insists that changes must be considered alongside other measures like the increase of the tax threshold, that changes to the welfare system were necessary and that reforms will benefit the Scottish economy in the long-term.