THE FERMANAGH Citizens Advice Bureau manager has laid bare the devastating impacts of the welfare reforms saying that local unemployment will rise pushing their advice service to the limits.
Siobhan Peoples, of CAB, outlined how the looming changes to our welfare system will badly affect thousands of households in Fermanagh.
The county has one of the highest numbers of welfare tribunal cases in the North but the future of CAB representation hangs in the balance as numbers are expected to spiral out of control forcing local staff to turn away desperate claimants who rely heavily on the service.
Demand for the free service is predicted to quadruple if the welfare reforms are implemented by the Northern Ireland Executive.
The revelations come amid concerns from a recent report which claimed that the welfare reforms will cost Fermanagh’s economy £22m a year leaving a heavy dent in our local spending.
CAB, an independent advice charity based in Fermanagh House, relies on its core funding from Fermanagh District Council. CAB staff say they call on the council to lobby the Department of Social Development for an increase in their budget.
According to Siobhan, the service will struggle with rising client numbers.
“The importance of CAB role in Fermanagh is vital because there is no other free advice service in the county, unlike any other district in Northern Ireland.
“Our workload has increased hugely because of previous (welfare) changes and the vast majority appealed through us and in most cases they won. We have represented 893 clients in tribunals and had a extremely high success rate. That would say to me there is something wrong with this benefit system. “In the last year Fermanagh did the highest number of (ESA) appeals than any other bureau in Northern Ireland. It grew from 69 in 2008 to 253 last year.
“It will fall back on CABs to handle all this when it is implemented. We just won’t be able to cope with the demand and thousands of people won’t be able to get advice. We will have to turn people away because we won’t have the staff there for them.”
The vast majority of CABs in the North receive funding from their local health trust, however the Western Trust, which includes Fermanagh, does not share any of their budget with free advice services, which Siobhan believes is “unfair” to local tax payers.
But with tightening purse strings on local government departments, the local advice bureau is concerned it will have to struggle on without vital funding.
Siobhan added: “The people who are going to be affected the most are those who are on all different types of benefits and people who are in work, particularly on low paid work.
“The changes to child benefit could actually see more people becoming unemployed because they will have to work longer hours and that might not fit around their children’s school times.
“It will affect a lot of people in Fermanagh which is may be a reflection that there are quite a lot of people working in the low wage sector.”
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