Work supporting the most vulnerable in local communities suffering from the worst effects of the cuts to their welfare support has been reviewed by Fife Council’s scrutiny committee.
Convener, Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Brett, said it was vital the council’s efforts are monitored to ensure help is reaching people most in need, and it is being delivered as efficiently as possible.
“We’re all aware of the enormous impact that welfare reform measures are having on Fife households – and by extension our local economy,” he said.
“The council is now spending considerable time and money, across a number of departments, to mitigate the negative impacts of national policy decisions and implementation issues.
“The scrutiny committee has a duty to make sure the actions and spend are appropriate.”
It has been estimated welfare reform will adversely affect nearly 50,000 households in Fife and remove £153 million a year from the local economy.
Fife Council spends £4.5m a year on discretionary housing payments, £2.3m through the Scottish welfare fund, £121m on housing benefit and council tax reductions as well as providing grants to third sector organisations working in the community.
The Fife Welfare Reform and Anti-Poverty Partnership, led by the council, brings together public and voluntary sector agencies to develop a coordinated strategy to mitigate the impacts of welfare reform in the kingdom.
“The council is continuing to put extra resources in place to manage the increased claims for DHP and crisis grants,” said Mr Brett.
“We’ve also topped up the Scottish Welfare Fund given the 23% rise in claims. But this is not all about hand-outs.
“Our welfare support workers run community job clubs to try and help people into employment, and council officers visit tenants who claim Universal Credit to provide financial advice and try and help them manage any debts.
“As Universal Credit rolls out across Fife, we’re seeing more and more tenants accumulating rent arrears.
“We know that the structure of the benefits system is causing this and the council’s planning to introduce a rent allowance scheme to help people through this.
“However, this is balanced with our duty to protect the public purse and the Think Rent campaign and individual officer support encourages council tenants to prioritise rent payments.
“Not only are Fife’s households struggling with the impact of welfare reform, it’s having a costly impact on the council and our partner organisations.
“It’s clear that we don’t have enough resource to mitigate the full impact of the welfare changes, but the committee is reassured that there is a coordinated plan of action in Fife which is responding quickly and proportionately to the challenges facing our residents.”