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Poorest families suffering as welfare reforms take effect

TENS of thousands of the poorest ­families in Scotland have been pushed deeper into poverty by controversial changes to the welfare system in the last three years, a leading charity has warned.

EVIDENCE: Jamie Livingstone of Oxfam says the worst-off lose out.
EVIDENCE: Jamie Livingstone of Oxfam says the worst-off lose out.

An estimated 82,000 families have been hit by changes including fewer council tax exemptions and the under-occupation policy or "bedroom tax" introduced by UK ministers, according to the Oxfam study.

The majority of cuts in Scotland have been related to housing benefits with 54,000 households affected by the so-called bedroom tax, the report, Multiple Cuts For The Poorest Families, found.

A further 27,000 households north of the Border are seeing a reduction in the limits on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and 1000 households are affected by the overall benefit cap.

The report by the New Policy Institute (NPI), says the worst-hit families affected are losing out by £18 per week or £864 per year.

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: "This is the latest evidence that cuts to our social safety nets, which are supposed to stop people falling further into poverty, have gone too far and are hitting the poorest families hard. Little wonder we are seeing people turning to food banks in deeply worrying numbers, with others struggling with rent, council tax, childcare and travel costs to job centres.

"When the five richest families in the UK have the same wealth as the bottom 20% of the population it is unacceptable that the poorest are paying such a heavy price."

Oxfam Scotland said it welcomed the Scottish Government's pledge to effectively abolish the bedroom tax north of the Border by providing money to offset the reform through the Discretionary Housing Fund.

Around £50million is needed to fully offset the impact of the controversial tax and, whilst emergency funding has reached the UK Government's current cap of £38m, the Scottish Government is awaiting approval from Westminster to provide the remaining £12m to hard-up tenants.

Mr Livingstone added: "We call on the UK government to immediately remove the current cap imposed on this funding. This will ensure that people, who need support, get it."

Overall, some 1.75 million households in Great Britain have seen their lives suffer over the same period as a result of the changes.

The four policies are the under-occupation penalty, the lowering of the limit on Local Housing Allowance payments to people renting private homes rather than living in social housing, the introduction of a £500-per week benefit cap and the replacement of the council tax exemption with the council tax support discount.

The latter has seen 1.4 million UK families become eligible to pay council tax for the first time since 2013, having previously been deemed too poor, the report claims.

Oxfam is also calling on the UK Government to introduce an "absolute minimum" level of support that applies regardless of local authority and which is "high enough to prevent people from having to walk the breadline".

Last week a new report revealed almost a million adults and children received emergency supplies from food banks in the past year, a rise of 163% on the previous 12 months.

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Britain has a strong welfare state, but for too long the system trapped those it was designed to help in a state of dependency. There's nothing kind or fair about that.

"That's why the Government is fixing the system. Work is the best route out of poverty so we're making sure it pays to work and supporting people into employment - with an extra 1.5 million people in work since 2010."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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