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No support in council plan for benefit losers

By SPP Reporter

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Disability Living Allowance
Disability Living Allowance

THE lack of reference in Highland Council’s new programme to what support could be offered to the thousands of people expected to be hit by a national benefits shake-up has been criticised.

The authority spelled out its plans for the next five years when it published a major document yesterday on Thursday which contained 128 separate pledges regarding the economy, housing, jobs, children and young people.

It was heralded as an "ambitious and bold" commitment by the SNP, Liberal Democrat and Labour administration which would provide support for communities across the region.

However, no mention was made about what the coalition intended to do to help people who are expected to lose out when the UK Government pushes through the overhaul of the welfare benefits system which is expected to come into force in 2013.

The Conservative/Liberal Democrat government has argued millions of people have become trapped on benefits and it is the most radical shake up since the 1940s.

The legislation will see an annual cap on benefits.

In the Highlands, more than 12,000 people who suffer from severe physical disability and mental health problems like depression and schizophrenia receive payments.

About 3200 people get the lowest grade of Disability Living Allowance, which is about £20 a week but they could lose that income because they may no longer be viewed as eligible when they are reassessed.

About 560 single parent households could also be affected by proposed changes to Income Support.

Opposition leader Carolyn Wilson said she was "completely aghast" after reading the document because there was no mention of the authority’s plans to help people affected.

"I was completely surprised that there was no mention because it is one of the biggest issues concerning people at the moment," she said.

"It is going to be very difficult for them to adjust their lifestyles."

She claimed council housing staff had concerns about how people were going to manage and the Ross-shire councillor said the issue was particularly pressing in her own Cromarty Firth ward because it included an area of multiple deprivation.

When in opposition, SNP depute group leader Dave Fallows, warned last December there was "a storm coming" when the changes come into force.

Councillor Fallows denied welfare reform had been ignored and said it was focussed on stimulating the region’s economy and in turn creating jobs with "a decent wage" to help people who may be on benefits.

"Welfare reform is a massive issue no question about that and no matter which way you look at it is an awful situation proposed," said Councillor Fallows (Badenoch and Strathspey).

But he warned the council could only do so much, although it would help organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau as much as possible to provide support.

"There is not a lot we can do financially, we can’t hand out some kind of compensatory money obviously," he said. "What we can do is provide advice and help if people do find themselves I difficulties."

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