Universal Credit is the main cause of the deepening crisis now being experienced across Fife with rapidly increasing levels of poverty and a spike in the level of rent arrears.
That’s the view of both Fife Council and a number of frontline agencies including the Foodbank, tasked with dealing with the rapidly increasing levels of tenants now finding themselves in financial difficulty.
With a report by Joan Lamie, area housing manager for Kirkcaldy, to go before the town’s councillors next week, confirming that two thirds of the 3060 council tenants in Fife receiving Universal Credit, are now in arrears, it’s a situation that is in danger of spiralling out of control.
The situation is so severe that housing officers are now prioritising tenants in arrears working closely to help them to remain in their homes.
Latest figures show that for 2017/18 in Kirkcaldy, 1436 tenants had arrears of £250 or more.
Fife Law Centre, which provides vital frontline legal services to vulnerable people, has experienced first hand a surge in referrals since the introduction of Universal Credit in December 2016.
Joyce Horsman, principal solicitor, told the Press that one in three of all debt related cases which they deal with is due to a direct consequence of the Universal Credit legislation – compared to one in every 10 people just 18 months ago.
“The situation is certainly worse than last year and is becoming increasingly more acute week by week,” Mrs Horsman told the Press.
“Benefit sanctions and increased delays, with some people having to wait six to eight weeks just to receive payments, is compounding the issue and increasing the pressure on organisations such as ours who are at the sharp end dealing with people in poverty.
“We seek to help anyone who comes to us seeking help, but relying on charity to keep the centre open and with limited resources in terms of staff and time, the way the benefit reforms are continuing to bite could eventually leave us with no other option but to turn people away and that is very serious. “
The centre’s continuing efforts have been praised by Kirkcaldy MP Lesley Laird following a recent visit.
She said: “The centre reports a significant rise in cases, with Universal Credit linked to increased bankruptcies and a surge in rent arrears with people owing, on average, between £2,000 – £5,000.
“As a result, the services are vital to an increasing number of people in Fife blighted by poverty.”
The worsening situation comes as business leaders are being invited to an anti-poverty summit organised by the Cottage Family Centre next Thursday evening.
The town is now home to the worst child poverty rates in Scotland, outside of Glasgow.
The summit will be addressed by Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister and Kirkcaldy MP, plus local politicians and it aims to lay out the stark reality of poverty to spark more support from business bosses, groups and individuals.
Marilyn Livingstone, chairman of the Cottage Centre, said: “We need to come together as a community to ensure all our young people have their needs for food and shelter met. We need to ensure our families have the opportunity and aspiration that we can often take for granted. We need to deal with the causes of poverty as well as the symptoms
Mr Brown added: “I do not know a parent who having heard of the plight of some of these children would not want to help.”
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