Welfare reforms are being linked to a rise in homelessness, violent crime, people in debt and the number of children relying on food banks to get by in Kent, a shock report has suggested.
The reforms are also being linked to a rise in the number of vulnerable children being placed in Kent from other areas, notably London.
The report has come from Kent County Council and provides an overview of the potentially wide-ranging impact of benefits changes, such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and the cap that limits what claimants are entitled to.
Homeless man begging for money
It cautions the findings are “fairly tentative”, but there is “potential for increased vulnerability of some residents” resulting from the changes.
It says the number of people who are homeless in Kent rose by 25% in the first three months of the year, while the number of families temporarily in bed and breakfast accommodation was up 22%, compared with the figure for the same period the year before.
The number of families dependent on food banks has “increased sharply” the report states.
Between April and September, the figure rose to 3,195 - nearly double the number for the whole of the previous year.
Burglars continue to target Sittingbourne homes
Canterbury saw the largest increase, going up from 216 to 308 over the period.
Worryingly, more children are using food banks, with 1,357 turning to them between April and September - 652 more than were recorded for the whole of the previous year.
Council chiefs say the figure is likely to be higher, as the figures do not include help given by other charities and voluntary groups.
The report concludes that the sharp rise “is the most compelling evidence of the impact of welfare reforms on indivduals and families.”
Of equal concern is the suggestion the reforms may be behind rising crime rates in some of Kent’s poorest communities.
More families are using food banks, it's been revealed
According to KCC, figures for crime rates in deprived areas of Margate show “some crime types have increased significantly since the introduction of welfare reforms.”
Violent crime in Margate Central and Cliftonville has increased by 208 cases, while theft and handling have increased by 104 cases, compared with the previous year.
“The evidence offered suggests the change is related to the welfare reform as no alternative explanatory factor is yet apparent,” the report says.
Cllr Will Scobie (Lab), who represents Margate, said: “It is very disappointing. The recession has obviously hit people hard and any changes in benefits is going to hurt.
The most worrying thing about this report is that it has reversed the changes we have made in recent years. We had started to make improvements but even those improvements appear not to have helped. We are not sitting back but change does take time.”
A homeless teenager on the streets. Library picture
Kent County Council leader Cllr Paul Carter said: “I think the evidence we are building is beginning to suggest that the benefit changes are a significant component part of increasing homelessness and the start of migration into the boroughs and districts of Kent.
"But it is early days and we will monitor it very closely.”
There was not yet a causal link between crime and benefit changes, he added.
“There are far more fundamental underlying problems in the area. It is too early to put a causal link between crime and the benefit changes,” he said.
As the UK economy continued to improve, the impact of the changes would be less pronounced, he said.
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