‘Borough could lose £29million due to welfare reforms’

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The Newtownabbey Borough Council area is to lose an estimated £29million due to welfare changes, according to a report.

The research, by Sheffield Hallam University, shows that Northern Ireland will be the UK region worst hit by welfare reforms, losing an estimated total of £750million annually.

Political parties are currently at loggerheads over the introduction of the welfare reform bill into Northern Ireland, with Sinn Féin and the SDLP refusing to support it, while First Minister Peter Robinson has warned of ‘nuclear options‘ if the bill is not introduced.

In the Newtownabbey Borough Council area, it is estimated that each working age adult will lose a total of £550 per annum.

Further analysis reveals that those claiming benefits could lose £155 from incapacity benefits, £75 from Disability Living Allowance, £70 from Child benefit, £100 from tax credits and £85 from the one per cent uprating of working age benefits.

Manager of Newtownabbey Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) Pat Hutchinson says she is ‘really concerned’ at the potential impact of welfare changes on the area.

She stated: “This is going to have an extraordinary impact on Northern Ireland. It will affect all benefits as they are all going to go into universal credit. All of the claims for universal credit will have to be done online and the evidence shows that 70 per cent of people will need help with their applications. People here are very anxious about what is going to happen. It hasn’t come in yet but they are already apprehensive as no-one knows how bad it is going to be.”

In England, where the welfare changes have already been introduced, Pat says there has been a leap in enquiries, with some CAB centres dealing with three times more calls from the public. The local worker says that the Newtownabbey bureau has already noticed an increase in calls, as many benefits are consolidated into ‘Universal Credit’ and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced with Personal Independence Payments (PIPs).

Pat added: “More people of working age from 16 to 64 will be affected. There will be a penalty if you make a mistake when filling in the forms and the CAB’s workload could treble as more and more people turn to us. There is already more food and fuel poverty. I don’t think people realise the impact it will have yet.”