Ricky Henderson: The city and its poorest are hurt by welfare cuts

The bedroom tax debate has sparked a series of protests.  Picture: Ian Rutherford

The bedroom tax debate has sparked a series of protests. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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There has been much debate and anger about the recent welfare reforms to hit Scotland and much speculation about the impact that these changes will have on the most vulnerable people in our society.

One of the main focuses of this debate has been on the so-called bedroom tax and while this is a major concern, it is just one of a series of changes to the welfare system which are already having a devastating effect on the country’s poorest people.

Edinburgh is set to lose £223 million over the next five years as a direct result of these changes and the ­hardest hit are families with young children, people with disabilities and social housing tenants.

Over the next five years people in the city will lose £45,475 in 
disability living allowance and a huge £106,578,905 of housing benefits.

Put simply, this is money coming straight from the pockets of the poorest and most vulnerable in the city.

However, these cuts also have a much wider impact on the community as a whole. More than 90 per cent of benefits’ income is spent locally, so we are effectively talking about removing millions from the local economy, which will affect local retailers and service providers. This will create a downward spiral of service reduction, business failure, unemployment and under-employment.

We recently reported the huge impact of the bedroom tax on our tenants and this has only been after a few months of its introduction.

The number of council tenants in rent arrears has risen from 27 per cent in April to 72 per cent by the end of May. In terms of rental income, we estimate that in the first eight weeks alone since this penalty was introduced, we have not been able to collect £390,000 of rent. This is money that should be used to pay staff, invest in council homes and finance much- needed new affordable accommodation throughout the city. Instead it is going into an ever-increasing black hole. It is alarming that we are already seeing the negative impact of these reforms yet more than 80 per cent of the welfare cuts are still to be made.

Regardless of the government’s rationale or motivation for welfare reform changes the evidence indicates that the most vulnerable in our society are experiencing a disproportionate amount of pain and that this is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

It is also debatable that the changes are effective in tackling the deficit or creating more fairness. I suspect that the end result will be quite the 
opposite.

• Ricky Henderson is convener of health, social care and housing on the city council.