Councils ‘must do more’ to ease impact of recession


Many local authorities should be doing more to prepare for the effects of the recession on disabled and older people, and others in potentially “vulnerable” situations, according to the public spending watchdog.

A new report by the Audit Commission, its second in a series on how councils are reacting to the recession, says debt problems and house repossessions have risen.

This has led to increased demand for benefits, debt and welfare advice in almost all local authorities.

An Audit Commission spokesman said: “Disabled people are economically vulnerable – they often get pushed to the back of the employment queue, and this queue will become even longer in the recession.”

The report says councils are also expecting greater demand for mental health services, although only a third of the local authorities that responded to a survey have experienced this so far.

And it says most councils have taken “sensible, low risk steps” to support households in “vulnerable” situations, such as providing debt advice, although they expect the impact of this support to be “modest”.

The report, When It Comes To The Crunch…, warns that the full social and financial costs of the recession have yet to be felt and many councils should be doing more to prepare for them.

The report concludes that local authorities should “avoid complacency over the recession’s impact, since the most substantial pressures have yet to emerge”.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, the disability poverty charity, said: “What’s known is that disabled people are more likely to experience harsher outcomes and experience the recession quicker than anyone else.”

He said Disability Alliance was aware of evidence that some councils were making advice helpline staff redundant.

“The anecdotal evidence suggests that, just as disabled people need more access to support, it is being restricted by local authorities.”

13 August 2009

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