FERMANAGH could be set to have a staggering £22 million a year stripped from its economy if the proposed welfare reforms are implemented with over 19,500 households being affected here alone.
The shocking figures are contained in a research paper which examines how changes to benefits will affect households and the overall monetary effect on the local economy.
The paper looks at changes to all benefits including child benefit, incapacity benefit, housing benefits and disability living allowance – and the direct impact these will have on each council area.
The research was commissioned by NICVA (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action) and a number of organisations, including Fermanagh Citizens Advice, are taking this research as guidance on the potential impact of these reforms.
Some welfare reforms are already underway and others form part of the Welfare Reform Bill currently before the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Assembly have yet to implement these reforms in full, and as a consequence is now having £5 million a month deducted from the block grant by Westminster.
The research paper concludes that proposed changes to child benefit – which include a three year freeze and withdrawal of benefit from households including a high earner – will affect 7,500 households here with a loss to Fermanagh of £2 million a year.
Incapacity benefit has already been replaced by ESA (employment and support allowance) with more stringent medical tests and time-limiting of non-means tested entitlement for all but the most severely ill or disabled.
Fermanagh CAB envisage, down the line, this will affect a further 1,800 households with a potential loss of £6 million per annum.
And if the full reform is implemented to include Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – 2,000 households here will be affected, with a potential loss of £3 million to the economy.
Speaking about the findings of the report Siobhan Peoples, manager of Fermanagh Citizens Advice Bureau said she wasn’t surprised by the extent of the potential losses to the local economy.
“I don’t think it’s overestimated. In fact I thought it would be more.”
But Ms Peoples wonders how her organisation will cope with the impact of these reforms.
“Is there going to be any provision given to Fermanagh CAB for the huge increase in workload dealing with all the people who will need independent advice, advocacy and representation?” she asked.
Ms Peoples estimated 19,520 households will be affected in Fermanagh by the changes and said she feared the workload for her and her staff will mushroom out of control.
“Will there be any funding to help deal with the fall out of welfare reform in Fermanagh” Ms People’s asked.
Enniskillen SDLP councillor Frank Britton, said this report sets out ‘the grim effect of so called welfare reform in Fermanagh’.
Mr Britton said the ‘uncalled for cuts’, which we are in the midst of, amount to an average of £560 per working age adult per year, if they are all implemented.
“This attack on living standards has implications for individual households, the local economy and the council.”
“The scale and depth of these cuts is staggering. The impact on individual households will mean less to spend on food, clothing, heating, household repairs, transport and leisure.”
Mr Britton said the cuts would also affect the local economy – translating to a £22 million drop in spending – and that shops and businesses have been very aware for some time of the worrying changes to spending.
“There is a high incidence of fuel poverty here. Currently 30% of our ratepayers, 52% NIHE tenants and private renters are estimated to fall within this category – a number that is likely to increase with benefit cuts.”
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