Carrickfergus Borough Council area could lose an estimated £14 million due to welfare reforms, according to a new report.
The research, by Sheffield Hallam University, shows that Northern Ireland will be the UK region worst hit by welfare reforms, losing an estimated £750 million annually. Political parties are at loggerheads over the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill with Sinn Féin and the SDLP refusing to support it, while First Minister Peter Robinson has warned of ‘nuclear options‘ if it is not introduced.
In Carrickfergus, it is estimated that each working age adult will face a total loss of £540 if the reforms are introduced. Further analysis shows that each adult in the local area could lose £155 in incapacity benefits, £70 in Disability Living Allowance, £65 in Child benefit payments, £95 in tax credits and £85 from the one per cent uprating of working age benefits.
Mary McCreight, manager of Carrickfergus Citizens Advice Bureau is concerned about the impact of the reforms.
She said:“There is a lot of uncertainty about what’s actually happening - an increase in queries. People see things on TV and they don’t understand the changes, they find it confusing. For example, with Employment Support Allowance we are seeing more appeals.”
Mary believes that the reforms will exert extra pressure on hard-pressed families who are already choosing whether to heat or eat due to the recession.
She explained:“These reforms will hit people who are working and can’t make ends meet. The cost of living has gone up, yet wages haven’t gone up-life in general has got difficult. Quite a few people will be hit by this, not just those on benefits or pensioners.”
Mary went on to reveal that CAB is having to direct desperate families to local foodbanks.
She said: “It’s quite strange for us that in the twenty-first century we are arranging for people to go to food banks. I feel at the minute that unless things change these are not going to go away. There is uncertainty and it is going to have a knock-on effect on the wider economy.”
CAB has its own money advice worker and Mary says it is important for people to avail of the services. She stated: “It’s a free, confidential, impartial, non-judgemental service. At some time in our lives we all need help, so it’s useful to know that there is an organisation like CAB which is willing to help.