The Highlands is developing an “underclass” and threatened by a “tsunami” of economic turmoil as a result of Tory government policies, according to a clutch of councillors.
They queued up to deliver a disturbing economic forecast yesterday, moments before the chancellor rose to his feet to give his autumn statement in the House of Commons.
A tide of gloom engulfed the Inverness debating chamber in the wake of a council officer’s update on the effects that welfare reforms had been having on the region.
Benefits and welfare manager Sheila MacKandie presented a report highlighting how changes to the benefits system had particularly impacted on council tenants.
Liberal Democrat group leader , who deals with the fallout on a daily basis in his role as Inverness Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) manager and as a city councillor, warned of an increase in child poverty.
“We’ll see a lot of children hungry because they’ll no longer be passported through to get a school meal.
“So, unless there’s another intervention on that, we’ll see the scenario here of teachers paying from their own pocket to ensure their pupils get meals.”
He said the warning signs had been “obvious” to councillors and should have been spotted by the civil servants steering government policy.
Council leader Margaret Davidson echoed the sentiment and warned that the most vulnerable in Highland society would foot the bill for Britain being “on a war footing,” in the wake of the latest defence shake-up and escalation of terrorist atrocities.
Answering her own question of how that would be paid for, she said: “By cuts in local government – and, as I have said before in this chamber, it is always easier to take money from the poor than it is from the rich.”
She added: “The way the welfare cuts have been structured, we have a right-wing government working on the American model and developing an underclass in our society – and the nightmare will increase.”
Highland resources committee chairman Bill Fernie described the current climate as “one of the most disgusting chapters in British political life.”
He said the poorest families were being hit “the hardest they have ever been hit in their lives” due to the pace of reforms.
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said: The Lib Dems worked side by side with the Conservatives in the last coalition government to help reform welfare.
“That was the right thing to do then and I hope Mr Christie will also agree that George Osborne has done the right thing today by protecting tax credits before the new £9 an hour living wage kicks in.
“This was something Scottish Conservatives campaigned for and we are delighted the chancellor has listened.”
Veteran Lib Dem politician and Holyrood hopeful Jamie Stone made a plea to safeguard future CAB funding in the Highlands.
“CAB advisers visiting people in their homes, often in remote areas, gives real help,” he said.
“The advice helps them claim the full cash benefits they are due from the government and gets them properly connected with service providers such as social work and the NHS.”