I recently attended the launch of The Impact of Welfare Reform on Communities and Households in Sheffield, a report written by Professors Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. Another of their reports, Hitting the Poorest Places Hardest, is required reading for anyone who wants to understand why poverty in the UK is increasing and why the food bank movement is now the fastest-growing part of the local voluntary sector.
Drawing on government figures, Fothergill and Beatty have worked out the impact of the range of welfare reforms in every city and district in Britain. These include changes to or replacement of housing benefit, council tax benefit, disability living allowance, incapacity benefits, child benefit and tax credits, and the introduction of the benefits cap. By the time the reforms have come into full effect, they will take £19bn out of the economy each year. This is about £470 a year for every adult of working age in Britain.
Sheffield has not been as badly hit as many other cities and London boroughs. The city will lose £169m each year, equivalent to £460 a year for every adult of working age. The worst-affected areas are Blackpool (£910 for every adult of working age), followed by Westminster (£820). The impact will be least felt in rural parts of the south such as Cambridge (£250) and Hart in Hampshire (£240).
Both Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council, and Dr Margaret Ainger, chair of the Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, attended the launch and said they planned to use the report's analysis to aim resources at the neighbourhoods that were suffering the most. Ainger said she was "shocked, fearful and daunted" by the report, but was determined to focus CCG health inequality interventions on the worst-affected communities.
After the launch, Andy Buck, chief executive of Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre, told me it had responded to welfare reforms and cuts by developing its campaigning capability. He said: "Our investigation of the use of benefit sanctions has contributed to the growing national debate."
But there are reasons for optimism. The Sheffield Fairness Commission has been created to bring together the public, private, voluntary and faith sectors to tackle deep inequalities. The city council provided an initial £1m Fairness Commission Fund to back practical action on issues such as fuel poverty, food insecurity and aggressive practices in the high-cost credit market.
Sheffield now has the data, the strategy, the partnership and the delivery mechanisms it needs to mitigate the impact of the welfare reforms on its most vulnerable citizens. For anyone who wants to know how to tackle this complex agenda, there is no better place to start than the CRESR report.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser