The levels of malnutrition, rent arrears, bailiff visits and food bank use in Cornwall is soaring as welfare reform starts to bite.
According to the latest data contained in the "Cornwall Council’s Understanding the impacts of Welfare Reform report Q3 2013/14", people in Cornwall are facing severe financial hardship, before further reform and the introduction of Universal Credit.
The report says that housing providers across Cornwall are seeing increasing levels of arrears due to the under-occupancy 'Bedroom Tax' changes.
In quarter three, 8% of social housing tenants are affected, with 61% of these are in arrears. (Cornwall Housing Ltd, Devon and Cornwall Housing group, Westward Housing, Coastline Housing, Cornwall Rural Housing Association).
In Q3 70% of tenants affected by under-occupancy were in arrears. This compares to 23% of non-affected tenancies.
Called a "clear sign the Bedroom Tax is having an adverse affect on families". Cllr Andrew Wallis, who released the information said : "It is perverse people who want to move, but cannot due to a shortage of housing stock are penalised this way."
Council Tax changes and the impact of these are also having an effect on families. To date, the collection rate is slightly down by about 1.39% in Q3. Since the changes 26% of new payers (5184) are in arrears, this is slight reduction of Q1 – 28% and Q2 – 31%. There have been 10,500 cases referred to bailiffs this year (compared to 11,300 at the same time in 2012/13) due to increased efforts to encourage people to make payment arrangements and to attach recovery to earnings or benefits.
The Exceptional Relief/Transitional Support funding is not being accessed to extent expected. As Only 14.12% (£155,334) of the £1.1m budget is currently spent. However, the success rate for those applying has increased from 57% in Q1, 69% in quarter 2 to 72% in Q3.
It has been informally agreed that unused money for 2013/14 will be accrued to 14/15 subject to formal agreement from Members.
Though it cannot be 'directly linked' to the welfare changes, hospital admissions with malnutrition have increased in Cornwall. There has been an 87% increase over the last 5 years. This compares to a 63% increase nationally (2008/09 – 63, 2009/10 – 79, 2010/11 – 92, 2011/12 – 130, 2012/13 – 118).
The increase in reliance on food banks has been called stark.
Cllr Andrew Wallis, who released the information said: "More hardship is set to follow with the introduction of the Universal Credit. Details are still a little fuzzy on how this will be implemented in Cornwall and how Cornwall Council will be involved. Luckily for Cornwall this will be implemented before 2016.
"However, the Government have set a target of 80% of universal credit transactions to be carried out online. This is likely to impact in two ways; those who cannot or will not use the internet and those who are able, but do not have access to a computer. Universal credit will be paid direct to the ‘head of the household’, monthly in arrears.
He added: "The line ‘We are all in it together’ seems very hollow, as reality is far from it."