BIRMIGNHAM faces ‘social meltdown’ and civil disorder if Government welfare reforms are forced through a city charity chief executive has claimed.
Yvonne Davies, chief executive of Birmingham Citizens Advice Bureau and a Sandwell Labour councillor, told a city council inquiry into welfare reform that they should expect an increase in burglaries and crime if people’s income is cut.
She also warned that businesses could be hit as household belts tighten leading to knock on effect for the local economy.
Her warning came as she was questioned over the impact of Housing Benefit caps, the new Universal Credit and Council Tax benefit cuts on thousands of people who currently claim welfare.
Coun Davies said: “Some people will look to alternative ways to get money. It isn’t right, but there will be more burglaries, more shoplifting and the potential for social meltdown as we saw in the riots.”
And she warned that it was not the unemployed who would be worst hit, but those on low incomes and part time jobs who rely on benefits to top up their income and pay their increasing rent, food and fuel bills.
The average household bills faces a five per cent rise in bills the inquiry was told.
She added: “Birmingham is a city of local businesses which rely on people spending money locally.
“If we reduce people’s income they will stop spending. I don’t think businesses realise how this will hit them.”
She told the committee that housing benefit caps, which will force families in larger or more expensive private rental homes to either pay more or move will lead to homelessness as there is not the supply of affordable properties.
“There simply isn’t the choice of housing there,” she said.
And warned that many people will not even notice the impact until they find less money in their pockets - so a council letter or publicity campaigns may do little to prepare people for the cut.
Figures presented by the Bishop of Birmingham’s social inclusion process reveal that lower income households in the city will be, altogether expected to find an extra £1.6m rent and £1.37m council tax benefit. The 1,000 worst off will lose £50 to £100 per week each.
The committee also heard alarming statistics from other charities, including Freshwinds, Birmingham Citizens UK and St Basils, highlighting already shocking levels of child poverty, children going to school hungry and warned that low levels of computer literacy and internet access in deprived areas would make online applications, required for Universal Credit, difficult for many.
Charities said they expect a massive spike in demands for services once the welfare changes are introduced starting next year.
And they are talking about introducing food banks and stockpiling donated clothes and furniture to meet the expected rise in demand for hand-outs.
Inquiry committee member Mohammed Aikhlaq (Lab, Bordesley Green) said: “I feel like I’m living in a third world country talking about food banks and shoes for children.”
Council benefits officers have also been talking to private landlords, offering direct payments and other incentives to encourage them to reduce rent in anticipation of the housing benefit cuts.
A total of 17 organisations including charities, voluntary groups and housing associations have submitted evidence to the Social Cohesion and Community Safety committee inquiry.
The inquiry will report its findings to the full Council meeting in October.