Welfare Reform and its impact in Cornwall

Latest data* is showing the welfare reforms are having an impact on the citizens of Cornwall. As indications suggest citizens are facing financial hardship; though in some areas this is not as high as expected. However, this is before further reform like the introduction of Universal Credit.

Housing providers across Cornwall are seeing increasing levels of arrears due to the under-occupancy (Bedroom Tax) changes. In Quarter 3, 8% of social housing tenants are affected, with 61% of these are in arrears. For 2013/14 Q1 – 59% and for Q3 – 63%. (Cornwall Housing Ltd, Devon and Cornwall Housing group, Westward Housing, Coastline Housing, Cornwall Rural Housing Association).

In Q3 70%  (Q1 – 59%/Q2 – 74%) of tenants affected by under-occupancy were in arrears. This compares to 23% of non-affected tenancies. That is a clear sign the Bedroom Tax is having an adverse affect on families. It is perverse people who want to move, but cannot due to a shortage of housing stock are penalised this way.

Council Tax changes and the impact of these are also having an effect on families. To date, the collection rate is slightly down by about 1.39% in Q3. Since the changes 26% of new payers (5184) are in arrears, this is slight reduction of Q1 – 28% and Q2 – 31%. It might be cold comfort, but there have been 10,500 cases referred to bailiffs this year (compared to 11,300 at the same time in 2012/13) due to increased efforts to encourage people to make payment arrangements and to attach recovery to earnings or benefits.

The Exceptional Relief/Transitional Support funding is not being accessed to extent expected. As Only 14.12% (£155,334) of the £1.1m budget is currently spent. However, the success rate for those applying has increased from 57% in Q1, 69% in quarter 2 to 72% in Q3. It has been informally agreed that unused money for 2013/14 will be accrued to 14/15 subject to formal agreement from Members. I really do not know why there is such a low take-up despite the Council’s best effort to inform people of this help.

You only got to look at the following picture to see in huge increase on the use of Food Banks. It makes for some stark reading.

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Though it cannot be directly linked to the welfare changes Hospital admissions with malnutrition have increased in Cornwall. There has been an 87% increase over the last 5 years. This compares to a 63% increase nationally (2008/09 – 63, 2009/10 – 79, 2010/11 – 92, 2011/12 – 130, 2012/13 – 118).

More hardship is set to follow with the introduction of the Universal Credit. Details are still a little fuzzy on how this will be implemented in Cornwall and how Cornwall Council will be involved. Luckily for Cornwall this will be implemented before 2016.

However, the Government have set a target of 80% of universal credit transactions to be carried out online. This is likely to impact in two ways; those who cannot or will not use the internet and those who are able, but do not have access to a computer. Universal credit will be paid direct to the ‘head of the household’, monthly in arrears.

The line ‘We are all in it together’ seems very hollow, as reality is far from it.

 

( *Cornwall Council’s Understanding the impacts of Welfare Reform report Q3 2013/14)

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