UK GOVERNMENT welfare reforms are “pushing people to breaking point” in communities throughout Scotland, according to a new report.
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said cuts were having a “devastating” impact on individuals and the charities that help them.
Benefit claimants face depression, fear and anxiety as a result of changes to the system, a report by the umbrella body for voluntary organisations in Scotland found.
SCVO said the findings backed up calls for the devolution to Holyrood of more welfare powers than were recommended by the Smith Commission last week.
It also called for an end to benefit sanctions in Scotland, saying people were being punished unfairly in the current system.
The body wants action to increase access for people to jobs paying the living wage as well as clearer information for claimants to help them avoid sanctions.
Its report said: “Inflexible assessment processes, poor understanding of families’ circumstances and the threat of continual reassessment is heaping stress and anxiety on to people, negatively affecting their health and leading families to destitution.
“Sanctions are being applied more frequently, sometimes without any understanding of the real barriers to people finding employment.
“The threat of sanctions combined with benefit delays is pushing some people to extreme lengths, including re-offending and suicide attempts.
“The day-to-day struggle to survive is pushing people to breaking point.”
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The SCVO said disabled people and women experiencing domestic violence were particularly at risk, with the changes affecting their ability to enter the labour market and lead independent lives.
The report added: “Families and communities are in real crisis, many are already barely scraping by and some are left without any income.
“This must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
The organisation said an increasing number of people were seeking support from charities and funding was not keeping up with demand, with frontline workers struggling to keep up with benefit changes.
Commenting on the report, John Downie, SCVO director of public affairs, said: “It amplifies the many calls for the devolution of more power over welfare than promised by the Smith Commission, in order to take a different approach which, instead of punishing people, gives them the support they need when they need it most.
“People are being sanctioned for circumstances beyond their control.
“This is completely unacceptable and we want to see an end to all sanctions in Scotland immediately.
“We also need more investment in frontline third sector organisations so that they are in a better position to support people bearing the brunt of welfare cuts.
“Many charities and third sector organisations are being overwhelmed by demand from the most vulnerable people in our communities who are struggling to cope owing to these unfair changes.”
The body carried out interviews with charities and community groups at locations across Scotland and conducted an online survey in summer 2014.
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