Falkirk Council: More helped to claim benefits but still too many children living in poverty

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More than £7 million of extra cash was claimed by Falkirk residents last year thanks to help from Falkirk Council’s benefits advice service.

Members of Falkirk Council’s executive were told today (Tuesday) about the success of the service which is a key part of the council’s anti-poverty strategy.

After a campaign to encourage people to claim all of the benefits they are entitled to, members heard that Falkirk also had the highest increase in council tax reduction claims in Scotland.

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Claims in Falkirk rose by 5.03 per cent compared to a national increase of 1.03 per cent, from November 2022 to November 2023.

One in four children in Falkirk are living in relative poverty after housing costs. Pic: File imageOne in four children in Falkirk are living in relative poverty after housing costs. Pic: File image
One in four children in Falkirk are living in relative poverty after housing costs. Pic: File image

Online orders of free period products also leapt by 154 per cent to 6276 in the past year, following its introduction in 2021.

Members heard that there has been an improved staff awareness of poverty and how to help, thanks to ‘Think Poverty Awareness Sessions for council staff, attended by 276 people in 2023/2024.

Service manager Sally Buchanan praised front-line council staff along with the Citizens Advice Bureau staff for the extra income they have helped people get.

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She said: “What we have brought in through council services and Citizens Advice Bureau services for the Falkirk area represents 4.5 per cent of the total financial gain across Scotland which – given our population represents around 2.9 per cent – shows we are pulling in more than you would expect, which is great news.”

Advice had also helped many people struggling with debt.

Ms Buchanan added, however: “That said, I still think there is more we can do to make sure that everyone is aware of those services and that people who really need that support are able to get it and are aware that its there.”

The leader of the council, Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, agreed that despite these efforts, it was “frustrating” to see poverty in Falkirk and across the UK remaining “stubbornly high”.

One in four children in Falkirk are living in relative poverty after housing costs – largely due to income from benefits not keeping up with rising costs of living, as well as stagnant wages growth combined with high energy costs and high housing costs

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The report, which was unanimously agreed by councillors, set out actions the council can take to tackle poverty although Falkirk Council director of communities, Karen Algie, said working in partnership with others would be vital.

The report highlights the fact that the majority of children living in poverty are in working households, while people living on their own are at most risk of facing poverty.

It also highlights that there is still a lack of awareness among communities and staff about the services available and how they can help, with 39 per cent of people surveyed saying they did not know that Falkirk Council could help if they were worried about money.

Nationally, £18.7 billion of benefits goes unclaimed in the UK each year, including £7.5 billion of Universal Credit and the anti-poverty strategy pledges to continue to make sure more people know about what help is available.

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Councillor Gary Bouse, the SNP’s spokesperson for communities, said: “It’s very concerning that 39 per cent of people in Falkirk don’t know there is the potential to help them with money matters.”

He said that he has referred constituents to the benefits advice service and has seen for himself the positive impact they can have on people’s lives.

While the strategy was supported unanimously, councillors asked for reassurances that housing would remain a priority in the fight against poverty.

And Councillor Robert Spears and Councillor Laura Murtagh both said they were concerned that the council’s plan to cut the school working week would impact on parents and could create more financial difficulties for families.