The SIC says the UK government’s “sweeping” changes to the welfare system will heap financial strain on people already struggling to cope with rapid rises in the cost of living.
“Deeply concerned” council convener Malcolm Bell has written to Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael asking for an urgent meeting to discuss the “serious impact” the reforms are likely to have in Shetland.
Among those to be affected by cuts and changes to welfare payments are social housing tenants, people currently receiving disability living allowance and households in receipt of a raft of benefits due to be brought together under the umbrella of universal credit.
Mr Bell said: “The changes to the welfare system and the impact these will have on the people of Shetland are extremely concerning to us as a council.
“That is why I have written to our MP, Alistair Carmichael, to outline the particular challenges we will be facing because of our remote location and rurality. My colleagues and I are deeply concerned and have asked for a meeting at the earliest opportunity. We are calling for some support to mitigate the impact on those individuals and households affected as the reforms are rolled out.”
In the letter, Mr Bell points out that new under-occupancy rules – commonly referred to as the “bedroom tax”, though Mr Carmichael and his government dislike the term – will be “particularly challenging”.
Based on recent data, it is estimated that around 190 isles households will be affected. The loss will be between £8 and £20 a week.
“As with other areas, Shetland already has an insufficient number of one or two bedroom houses, making the choices for those who are deemed to be in accommodation which is too large even more limiting,” the convener writes.
The letter comes in the wake of February’s executive committee meeting, where councillors lined up to criticise the cuts and reforms to the benefits system.
At the time, Mr Carmichael defended his continued membership of the coalition and said the Liberal Democrats’ presence in government had managed to restrict the level of welfare cuts being pushed through by the Conservatives.
He accepted there “may need to be more flexibility” for rural areas when it came to the bedroom tax, given the limited range of options for people to move.
For full story, see Friday’s Shetland Times.