Benefit cuts 'will force Lothian households out'

PEOPLE in Edinburgh and the Lothians will suffer among the biggest losses in housing benefit in Scotland under UK Government cuts which housing campaigners claim will force families to quit their homes.

Thousands of families in the Capital and surrounding areas will lose out as a result of an across-the-board reduction in housing benefit levels from October next year.

Instead of being calculated as the median - 50 per cent - of private sector rent in an area, housing benefit will in future be set at 30 per cent.

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Figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions show that means in Edinburgh alone 3100 households in one-bedroom accommodation will each lose 312 a year; another 2850 in two-bedroom homes will lose 468 per year; 710 families in three-bedroom houses will lose 988 per year; and 50 families in four-bedroom homes will each lose 1404 per year.

In Midlothian, ten families with four-bedroom homes will each lose 1456 per year and in East Lothian, the same number of families in similar accommodation will each lose 1612 per year.

When taken together with other changes to housing benefit, many claimants will see their payments cut even more.

Housing campaign group Shelter Scotland said the overall monthly loss per household for all sizes of home in Edinburgh would be around 51 - equivalent to a ten per cent cut in their housing benefit.

Shelter Scotland director Graeme Brown said: "Many of the people affected are already on low incomes, such as pensioners, those with disabilities, carers and people in low-paid jobs, who will really struggle to find the extra money they will need to keep a roof over their head.

"For a pensioner surviving on 98 a week, or those on the minimum wage of 218 a week, these losses represent a significant proportion of their income.

"We're really concerned that people will become trapped in a spiral of debt, arrears and eviction, which for some, may end in homelessness.

"We could see children pulled out of schools and families forced to move away from their homes, which will have a big impact on local communities and services."

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He said Shelter Scotland supported reform of housing benefit, but added: "Cuts on this scale are going to have a devastating impact across the country and we urge the Government to rethink them."

Linlithgow MSP Mary Mulligan, Labour's housing spokeswoman at Holyrood, said there was "no logic" to the blanket cut in housing benefit and claimed the Government had "no sense" of the impact it would have on ordinary people.

She said: "We would all accept we don't want to be paying public money to make landlords richer, but the fact is rent levels are what they are and therefore that's what people have to pay.

"The Government is trying to save money by hitting the people who can least afford it."