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Vulnerable count cost of welfare reforms

Two major charities have claimed welfare reforms are undermining their efforts to help children at risk.

As we report today, NSPCC in Scotland and Barnardo's Scotland say benefit sanctions are leaving families with no income, and any other work in areas such as child protection is often impossible as a result.

They are far from alone. Other charities regularly tell me welfare reforms undermine other work with vulnerable people.

Penalties for failing to adhere to job-seeking programmes, or attend appointments are severe, but have considerable public support. The UK Government believes a hard line is needed to tackle so-called welfare dependency. Yet in practice, many decisions seem inexplicable.

Citizen's Advice Scotland has highlighted claimants having social security payments stopped for missing appointments due to sickness or being asked to attend two meetings at the same time and sanctioned when they fail.

There are many more examples. But health agencies are also concerned. Conditions such as mental health problems or addiction which can cause people to be well one day and sick the next are a big problem.

West Dunbartonshire Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (ADP) is researching this, having found its own work much more challenging in the context of welfare changes.

Helen Weir, the ADP's lead officer, says: "We are hearing of more people being sanctioned - often without warning and our services are often left to try to pick up the pieces."

Charities are trying to highlight the need for better measurement of "savings" achieved through welfare reform.

As Ms Weir points out: "The increased stress of the health assessments, claimant conditionality and sanctions is putting vulnerable people at risk of relapse and impacting on their physical and mental health and wellbeing."

Should the government be factoring in the money wasted on failed rehab or mental health services, when calculating savings? Or the cost to society of leaving someone with a drug or mental health problem who might otherwise be in recovery?

West Dunbartonshire ADP are to publish a report on the problem towards the end of the year, but already have a meeting lined up with the DWP to share findings about how benefit changes affect work to tackle addiction.

It remains to be seen whether anyone at the DWP is listening.

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