Benefits reforms hit locals

Many vulnerable families across Dumfries and Galloway are facing financial crisis, according to the local Citizens Advice Service.

The charity, which has recently reached its 15th year of operation, has published a new report detailing its casework last year, with evidence showing many low-income households are being hit hard by the government’s welfare reforms.

The report reveals that across the region the Citizens Advice Service dealt with nearly 27,000 cases last year. That’s more than four issues for every 10 households in the area.

The most common issue by far was the benefits system, with 46% of all cases last year from vulnerable people – especially the disabled and elderly – who are struggling on low incomes and were having problems getting the support they need from the newly-reformed benefits system. The 46% figure is significantly higher than that for Scotland as a whole (38%).

The second biggest issue was debt, as more than 500 new clients across the region reported problems, with their average debt over £19,000.

In better news, the Citizens Advice Service put more than £11 million back in the pockets of local people by assisting with issues such as withheld wages, unclaimed benefits and compensation. That means that the organisation delivered over £21 for every £1 funding it received.

D&GCAS chief executive Sue Irving said: “In this report we’ve used our new recording system to show the detail of the work we do and the problems that local people are facing. Many people will be shocked by just how many families in Dumfries & Galloway are suffering.

“The Citizens Advice Service offers free, impartial and confidential advice to anyone who needs it. Our trained advisers offer advice on any issue. But the report shows how we are having to specialise in financial advice – whether it’s helping people who are in debt, or those who have been caught out by the changes being made to the benefits system.

“It’s very worrying that nearly half of all cases we see now are about the benefits system. This rate is higher than the numbers seen by the Scottish CAB service as a whole, which suggests a growing crisis for vulnerable people here in Dumfries & Galloway.

“Our advisers see the real people behind these figures. And they are not the ‘scroungers’ that the tabloid newspapers love to highlight. We are talking here about people who are really in need: older people, families with young children, and very ill and disabled people, many of whom are already struggling in poverty and are now seeing their meagre income cut or taken away because of these deeply flawed reforms which show no sensitivity to individual needs.

“I am very proud of the work we do every day to help people across the region. Our service is completely free and our advisers are trained to a high quality and assessed regularly to make sure that our service remains consistent.

“But we need to be clear that there is still a huge job to be done here. All of our offices are incredibly busy and our resources are stretched very thin. Too many local families are suffering and need our help. Sadly, the welfare reforms that are still coming into effect will make things even worse for many more people, and there are still not enough decent job opportunities locally, so times will remain tough and it’s vital that there is a quality advice service for those who need it. I am determined to make sure we continue to provide that for all who need our services.”