Task force launched to deal with welfare cuts fallout

It is feared that the changes will create a huge obstacle in the battle to improve the health of the poorest members of society. Picture: Jon Savage

It is feared that the changes will create a huge obstacle in the battle to improve the health of the poorest members of society. Picture: Jon Savage

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A TASK FORCE to reduce the harm caused by welfare reform cuts has been set up, after someone took their own life following financial worries.

It is understood that senior NHS Lothian figures are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact the controversial welfare overhaul will have on the region’s most vulnerable residents’ health.

It is feared that the changes, which include the introduction of the “bedroom tax”, fitness-to-work assessments, a benefits cap and the introduction of a universal credit system, will create a huge obstacle in the battle to improve the health of the poorest members of society.

To help offset this NHS Lothian has set up a Welfare Reform Action Group, aimed at putting a “network of help” in place for those hit by the changes. One of the measures taken could be putting welfare rights advisers in Lothian GP practices and NHS facilities.

Its formation follows ­revelations – set out in NHS minutes – at least one person has been driven to the brink by financial pressures caused by cuts heaped on top of existing problems. They state: “Staff are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact on primary care services, in particular mental health services where there has been at least one suicide recently where ­welfare reform was cited as a contributing factor.”

City health leader Ricky Henderson has expressed concern at the pressure being heaped on vulnerable people.

He says reform is causing the council and the NHS to swim “against the tide” in the struggle to improve the health of the poor. And, with recent analysis suggesting by 2015-16 the cumulative reduction of benefits in Edinburgh will be £226million, he said: “That’s not money coming out of the council’s budget, it’s coming directly out of people’s pockets and as benefits are paid to poor people, it’s them that will see their money reduced.

“I’m a great believer in work. But people with some health conditions find it difficult to get meaningful employment and we have to provide these people with the means to live.”

Cllr Henderson fears there will be further suicides. “I hope no-one will arrive in such a desperate situation” he added. “But when there are a number of blows to someone’s situation it can lead to them feeling pretty desperate.”