THE Borders economy could be hit by as much as £10 million once the proposed welfare reforms are introduced and the impact on individual households will be substantial.
Over 2200 families in the region will be affected and public bodies, voluntary organisations and the Department of Work and Pensions are working together to identify the most vulnerable members of society who are going to need help to cope with the changes.
Some of the changes could mean that 1500 people in the region who have previously not been working will need to find a job, but with 2000 current job seekers and only 500 job vacancies it will be a challenge.
The complexity of the changes “to simplify the benefits system, protect the vulnerable and reduce benefit dependency” and the constant tweaking of how they will be implemented, as lessons are learnt from the areas where the changes have been introduced first, is adding to the task of the Welfare Aware Borders group.
David Cressey, head of strategic policy at Scottish Borders Council said: “The change in legislation will undoubtedly affect many people who are dependent on benefits in the Scottish Borders. However, we are working very closely with out local partners to manage the introduction of the reforms and to mitigate, where possible the impacts on vulnerable people.”
Some of the most significant changes due to take effect from April 1, are: the benefit cap, changes to housing benefit, Council Tax benefit and the Social Fund.
From June this year the Personal Independence Payment for disabled adults aged 16-64 will replace Disability Allowance, although existing claimants are unlikely to be affected until 2015, unless their condition changes or they come to the end of an existing award.
There are currently 5450 Disabled Living Allowance claimants in the Borders and Welfare Aware Borders is warning that the 20 per cent cut in the national budget will lead to “significant changes and hardship for these people, significant loss of income to the local economy, reduced income to social work care and health services and an increase in demand for support and advice”.
Then in October this year, comes the introduction of the Universal Credit - a new single payment for people looking for work or on a low income. It replaces Job Seeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.