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Welfare reforms may cause ‘social meltdown’

Welfare reforms may cause ‘social meltdown’

🕔11.Sep 2012

Cataclysmic predictions about the impact that Government reforms to the welfare state will have on low income families have been made by the chief executive of Birmingham Citizens Advice Bureau.

In a doom-laden forecast, Yvonne Davies said she expected “social meltdown” and even riots in the streets when claimants realised their benefits were being cut or disappearing completely.

Ms Davies warned that burglaries and petty crime would increase as more people began to supplement their income by “pinching things”, while promises by Ministers that no one will lose out under changes to the benefits system were “not worth the paper they are written on”.

The CAB chief was giving evidence to a council scrutiny inquiry into the impact of welfare reform.

Changes to be introduced in 2013 will see a single Universal Credit payment replace a range of existing benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, child tax credits, working tax credits and housing benefit.

Rather than paying housing benefit directly to councils and landlords, the Government intends to hand the money directly to claimants making them responsible for paying the rent directly.

Controversially, Universal Credit applications will be deemed “digital by default”, with applicants being told they should apply through the internet. Telephone support will be available, but will be geared towards helping people to use online services.

About 35 per cent of Birmingham households are without computers and cannot access the internet, according to research by the council.

Council tax benefit is being localised, with the Government handing responsibility for dealing with claims and making payments to local councils. Cuts in funding will put paid to 100 per cent benefit for thousands of Birmingham families, with even the poorest applicants being required to find about £300 a year unless they are pensioners or have a child under six.

The Government’s intention is that there should be a reduction in the size of the benefits bill following the changes, Ms Davies told the committee. She had already witnessed cases where terminally ill people had been refused Employment Support Allowance, the replacement for Incapacity Benefit.

Ms Davies said the impact of the changes would be devastating, not just on poorer families already struggling to make ends meet but also on the Birmingham economy. Spending in local shops would plummet as disposable incomes were squeezed.

She added: “The idea that Universal Credit applications should be digital by deficit is terrifying, it’s ridiculous. Even if you are able to operate new technology it doesn’t work half the time.

“This could result in social meltdown. Those who can earn their money elsewhere will look at other ways of getting income and this could lead to more burglaries and crime.

“There could be riots in the streets.

“It’s hardly a surprise if someone has no money pinches something to see them through the day. It’s not right but you can understand the logic that that might happen.”

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