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Changes to the welfare system could see child poverty at the same level it was over a decade ago

CONTROVERSIAL changes to the welfare system will “wind the clock back” by more than a decade in terms of child poverty levels, a think-tank adviser has warned.

Dr Jim McCormick, Scotland adviser with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said UK Government proposals aimed at simplifying the benefits system would put the country on track to miss child poverty alleviation targets.

Dr McCormick was appearing at the first meeting of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee, set up to scrutinise the Welfare Reform Bill currently passing through Westminster.

The Bill will bring in a £26,000-a-year household benefits cap and set up the universal credit for benefits.

Charities, trade unions and public-sector organisations have warned the changes could lead to a rise in homelessness and child poverty, as well as have an adverse effect on disabled and vulnerable people.

Speaking during a round-table discussion at the committee, Dr McCormick said the benefits package being proposed by the UK Government would be “substantially poverty increasing”.

He said figures from work carried out for the foundation by the Institute for Fiscal Studies indicated that by 2020, the UK would be left with the “remarkable situation where we have the UK Government and the devolved administrations all signed up to the child poverty targets of a big reduction in child poverty, and yet we are on track to miss that target by two and half times”.

“We can talk about a mitigation, long-term prevention agenda for Scotland, but the big picture here is an increase in poverty which winds the clock back to the date when this Parliament began in 1999, in terms of child poverty levels,” he said.

“If nothing else changes, that’s the track we are on as a result of welfare reform.”

Dr McCormick was joined by representatives from other voluntary and public-sector organisations who all raised concerns about the adverse impact of the reforms.

Michael McClements, policy manager at council umbrella group Cosla, warned that services provided by local authorities would be put under increased pressure.

“Local authorities have already done some work and are looking at the impact on charging policies, and the expectation is that more people will require more services, but their ability to make payment for those services will be reduced,” he said.

Dr Jim McCormick will be opening the #PovertyAssembly 2012 at 10.30am today. Remember you can join in the debate via the hashtag and by following the live video stream over at http://bit.ly/povertyassembly

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