‘Bleak times ahead’

A Derry welfare rights officer has warned that “there will be bleak times ahead” and urged people to control their spending coming up to Christmas. Kathleen Bradley from Dove House made the stark warning ahead of British government plans to introduce social welfare cuts.

Ms Bradley said increasing numbers of people are contacting Dove House to ask for financial advice as the cost of living increases.

“In the past, people assumed that the cuts would only impact on those on benefits, but more and more people are now starting to realise that people who are working but are on low incomes will also be hit,” she said.

The debt adviser said the next twelve months in Derry will be particularly hard for many families. “One thing that I have noticed it that the economic situation is being talked about by more people. People are talking about their financial problems because they know that everybody is feeling the pinch.

“It is going to be a bleak Christmas and it is only going to get worse after that,” she warned.

Ms Bradley said that Derry’s low wage economy has created major problems. “Too often the minimum wage has become the maximum wage that many people earn. Incomes have not gone up for a number of years but everything else has. The price of oil, gas, electricity, car tax, petrol, and groceries have all gone up and people are struggling to make ends meet. If cuts to things like housing benefit are imposed on top of that then many people in this city will find themselves in dire situations.

“Our economy will not grow unless people have more money in their pockets to spend and that is not going to happen with the way things are going,” she said.

The welfare rights worker also said changes to benefits systems are likely to increase poverty levels. “Cuts are coming in the form of crisis loans and community care grants are due to be replace. In my experience, any time a benefit is replaced it is nothing more than a cost-cutting measure which only serves to make the poor even poorer.

“There is a myth out there that people on benefits are lazy but that is not the case. Those on benefits need to be given support in order to get into employment. They are not being told about the benefits of volunteering in terms of improving chances of getting a job. The only thing they are getting is money and not even enough of that. There is no such thing as support from the statutory bodies,” she said.

Ms Bradley appealed to local people not to get into debt over the Christmas period. “I would encourage people to scale back at Christmas. It is not about the size of the presents. People feel that they have to keep up with other people in the community or with other parent. This year, people should scale back and think about their finances before rushing out to spend money they don’t have. You can still celebrate and still let people know how much you appreciate them without leaving yourself in serious debt by January,” she said.

She also said that more and more people in Derry are in danger of slipping into poverty. “I always say that there is a poverty scale beginning with those in benefit, then people on low incomes, then people on an average income. In the past it was the first two groups who felt the pinch most but now it is people on average incomes that are being hit and that will only get worse,” she said.