Given the increasing austerity measures in place locally and in Britain, I thought it might be interesting to put a figure to one small aspect of the welfare system to demonstrate the level of hardship being felt by many across our communities. If you are a regular reader, you’ll know the posts on BtP often deal in tens of thousands up to tens of millions of pounds when we reveal spending here and there in the public service, but the figure I arrived at when finishing this piece shocked even me.
I asked the Social Security Agency, since 2011, to outline the liability to NISSA on currently unpaid crisis loans and other loans made to claimants, and to outline the number of cases currently in arrears by NI Assembly constituency.
Let’s deal with the basics first. Crisis loans (due to end in a number of weeks) is described by NI Direct as being for when;
- you don’t have enough money to meet your (or your family’s) immediate short term needs in an emergency or as the result of a disaster
- think there will be serious damage or risk to your (or your family’s) health or safety without the loan
Budgeting Loans are for ‘if you’re on a low income and need help with certain important costs’. Funeral Loans are there to help cover the cost of funerals.
As the names suggest, these loans need to be paid back and are taken from a welfare claimants income.
At this point it should be pointed out again that the figures included in this piece are not the total amount of loans made by NISSA to welfare claimants, it is the total cost of loans that have not been repaid (yet).
The second part of the response from SSA sets the context. In outlining the constituencies with the highest number of cases with loans outstanding, we will see the names of constituencies all too familiar.
North Belfast comes top of the list, with 52,760 outstanding cases.
Next is West Belfast with 51,780 outstanding, followed unsurprisingly by Foyle, with 45,980 outstanding cases.
The South Antrim constituency comes bottom of the table, with 11,650 outstanding cases.
Now, to the figures themselves, which are provided below for each financial year.
Remember, these are the value of loans outstanding, not issued.
These shocking figures in themselves demonstrate the inability of loan claimants to repay the loans to the Social Security Agency.
However, when we put all of the figures together, there is a truly frightening outcome.
There is a total of £451.8m of Crisis Loans outstanding across the North, £198.5m of Budgeting Loans outstanding and £44.6m of Funeral Loans outstanding in the last five years.
This comes to a staggering total of £694.85m – that is £694,850,000 or almost £1 billion.