Welfare reforms could cost lives, says report

Welfare changes could cost the Borders economy £7.5 million and result in increased fuel poverty and health issues, which could cost lives.

That is the view of the joint director of public health for the council and NHS Borders.

In his annual report, which looks at the current health of Borderers and what it could be like in 10 years, Dr Eric Baijal warns that the welfare reforms due to take effect next month could lead to a “significant financial loss” to individuals and the local economy.

Dr Baijal states that more than 3,000 of the Borders’ 4,290 incapacity benefit claimants will be required to find work under new criteria.

The loss of the benefits is estimated to be £3m, while he also warns that the job market is not growing sufficiently to accommodate such an increase in job seekers.

Replacement of disability living allowance and stricter qualifying criteria could cost the region £4m, while housing benefit changes could mean a £500,000 loss of income.

Dr Baijal said: “It is likely that the welfare benefit reforms will contribute to: increases in inadequacy of housing; reductions in dietary quality; increase in fuel poverty; possible adverse changes to health risk behaviour including smoking, alcohol and drug use; increases in stress and anxiety, and suicidal behaviour.”

He warns there may also be an impact on access to health care and a potential increase in “avoidable winter mortality”.

Christine Grahame MSP said: “As well as stripping millions of pounds of income from the most vulnerable individuals and families – hitting the local economy in the process – the report makes it abundantly clear there will be a serious impact on people’s health.”

She added: “Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians who have waved these terrible reforms through will read Dr Baijal’s report and be ashamed.”