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Benefit changes impacting on Scotland's CAB as advice needs soar

The UK government’s welfare cuts and changes are pushing thousands of Scots into financial crisis, and the situation is set to get steadily worse - according to a new report by Citizens Advice Scotland.
CAS has today published an evidence report showing the effects that welfare changes are having on CAB clients – including sick and disabled people, pensioners, young Scots and families on low incomes – and the strains this extra workload is putting on the CAB service.

Among the findings from ‘Voices from the frontline...The impact of welfare changes on Scotland’s CAB’ are:

  • The total numbers of issues dealt with by the Scottish CAB service has increased by 9% over the last five years, but the number of benefit issues has increased by 39% (or 50,000 new issues per year).
  • Just one of the benefit change – the Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008 - has been a huge factor in this. The number of sickness benefit cases brought to Scottish CABs increased by 55% between 2008 and 2012.
  • Last year CAB staff represented Scots at over 4,500 benefit tribunals, an increase of 118% in just two years, fuelled mainly by an increase in ESA cases.
  • In the first nine months of 2012, CAB advised on over 47,000 new issues relating to the claiming process of individual benefits. In 2011/12, CAB helped clients complete nearly 26,000 forms and applications; with almost 20,000 related to benefits.

CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch, who will be giving evidence about the impact of welfare changes on advice services at the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee on Tuesday 22 January, commented:

“The CAB is the front-line service for those who are being hit by these policies so we have seen benefit issues soar by 39% over the past five years. Our advisers are seeing first-hand the real and negative impact that a series of changes over the past few years are having. And it is set to get very much worse.
“Current welfare changes and cuts are driving an increased demand for advice across the country, from people who are being pushed into financial crisis as they see their already constrained income slashed. In 2011/12 CAB across the country dealt with an average of 780 new benefit issues per working day.

“With further changes due to start biting or be introduced in in 2013, we expect demand for benefit advice, to increase even further along with an increased need for other areas of advice such as debt, housing, and budgeting due to changes in benefits. This increase in casework, as well as the increasing complexity and time-consuming nature or many issues, is of course having a knock-on effect on the ability of our service to help our clients.

“We are already at breaking point so desperately need to be adequately resourced to enable us to help those who need it most as we aim to mitigate the impact of welfare reform as much as possible.

“The recent benefits uprating bill debate highlighted the statistics showing how the poorest are paying the price for cuts. The evidence we are publishing today is not just statistics but is based on the real lives of real people. It is not just about the numbers of people affected, but the severity of the individual cases. We have seen a big rise in the number of people in crisis situations, either because of the direct impact of a benefit cut or because they have fallen through the gaps in the safety net that is meant to protect them.

“The evidence we are publishing shows who is really being hit hardest by current policies and it includes thousands of people who are genuinely sick, disabled, and vulnerable and deserve support.

“The impact of current policies don’t just hit the individual claimant but can also have a huge effect on children and others being cared for. Pushing people further into poverty and financial difficulties will lead to an increase in other problems such as homelessness, health inequalities, and family breakdown, as well as lead to rising debt and an increase for food hand-outs. Tackling these issues in future years will only add to the overall public spending bill, not reduce it.

“The UK government must heed this evidence and question whether they really want to continue on a track of devastating reforms which can only damage more lives.”

For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact: Sarah Beattie Smith on 0131 550 1016 or 07774 751655

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