Councillors approved plans to tackle the impact of benefit cuts at a special meeting on Tuesday night.
The SNP and Non-Aligned Independent Party, who both had their ideas for the poverty strategy ‘Towards a Fairer Falkirk’ rejected, voted against but it was passed 17-13.
The leader of the administration, Councillor Craig Martin, promised: “The council is and will continue to be at the forefront of protecting the people who will be affected by these welfare reforms.”
Key to the strategy is investing over £1.8 million from the Fairer Falkirk Fund over the next 12 months in employment and training, a face-to-face service to advise people how to maximise their benefit income and avoid falling into debt and supporting the work of other agencies including the CAB network across the district.
There will be extra financial help too for those in danger of falling into rent arrears as the amount of cash they receive is reduced. Another £35,000 is being made available right away as a one-off payment from the Fairer Falkirk Fund to support a budget that has already been increased from £38,000 to £138,000 for the next financial year.
When the council agrees claimants need further financial help in addition to any welfare benefits they receive they will qualify for a discretionary housing payment to help them pay the bill.
The impact of welfare reform was explained in detail to councillors at a ‘pre-meeting’ session on Monday in a detailed report from Stuart Ritchie, the director of corporate and neighbourhood services.
It said welfare reform will have a significant impact on individuals within our communities, bringing not only the introduction of a new benefits regime but also changes to the way people will receive benefits, the amount they receive, the obligations they will have to adhere to before they receive those benefits and also the sanctions they may face.
Mr Ritchie said: “We need to make sure that we support people so that in facing these changes they can deal with them to the best of their ability and in a way that makes these transitions as smooth as possible. We have to make sure that our support is focused, targeted and allows for early intervention and prevention.”
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group, called for more protection to be given to tenants who will lose housing benefits as a result of the ‘bedroom tax’ legislation.
She claimed: “Pressure will be placed on local families because of these radical reforms and will have a significant impact on many of our residents. Much more could be done if the Scottish Government had full legislative powers and the only way that is achievable is with independence.”
An amendment from the non-aligned group for £60,000 to be taken from reserves and given to the three CAB in the district to help staff deal with hardship claims, was also out voted.