Tuesday’s (June 19) meeting of North Ayrshire Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet will hear that changes contained in the UK Government’s Welfare Reform Act will “have significant consequences for the local wider community, all benefit claimants and Council Services and strategies.”
The changes will see cuts in payments to some of the most vulnerable people in local communities, which will inevitably see an increase in those seeking help from the Council’s social services department. The UK Tory-Lib Dem Government is on record saying the changes will save billions-of-pounds, but their calculations don’t appear to take into account the increased costs local authorities will have to pick up.
Last December, SNP and Labour members of the Scottish Parliament took the unprecedented step of voting against a ‘consent’ motion in relation to the Welfare Reform Act. As the Scottish Parliament cannot block Westminster proposals, ‘consent’ motions – relating to Scottish aspects of UK legislation – are normally passed without a formal vote at Holyrood. However, given the serious implications for Scots in receipt of benefits, SNP and Labour MSPs decided to withhold consent on the Welfare Reform Act. Westminster, though, simply ignored the decision of the Scottish Parliament and imposed its welfare reforms in Scotland.
Now, local authorities are planning for increased demand on social services and for locally provided benefits, such as free school meals.
The report that will go before Tuesday’s meeting of North Ayrshire’s Cabinet will detail specific local consequences of the UK Government’s welfare reforms, such as “indicative financial pressures of £1.4m” having been identified as resulting from “the cessation of Council Tax benefit”, and a further funding pressure of £1.8m in relation to wider welfare reform in both 2013/14 and 2014/15.
The Council has established a Welfare Reform Group, which is tasked with identifying "further spending pressures as the refroms are introduced," and implementing an agreed action plan to deal with the consequences. However, SNP councillors will be warned, "The extent of these costs is unknown at present [and] additional resource may be required to implement the actions. The level of resource cannot be quantified at this stage."