Social welfare groups say the massive cuts planned in Britain's welfare budget will hit struggling families and could push the vulnerable "over the edge."
The cuts may well "trigger a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness", says the respected housing charity, Shelter, talking recently to the Belfast Telegraph.
The NGO is especially concerned at a controversial cap on housing benefit - and will not allow politicians to avoid the consequences of their cuts, which many economists argue are unnecessary and damaging as well as unfair.
"The vast majority of housing benefit claimants are either pensioners, those with disabilities, people caring for a relative or hardworking people on low incomes," says Shelter's CEO, Campbell Robb.
Mr Robb says that even at present levels, nearly half of local housing allowance claimants are making up a shortfall of almost £100 a month in order to meet their rent.
"If this support is ripped out suddenly from under their feet, it will push many households over the edge," he warned.
Chancellor George Osborne's proposals mean that the maximum housing benefit allowance per property size will be capped. Those who are expected to work will see their receipt of payments time-limited. Moreover, restrictions will be introduced for those of working age in the social rented sector whose property is adjudged to be larger than their household size warrants.
The changes could force people out of their homes, says Liz Peace, the chief executive of the British Property Federation.
"In introducing a cap on housing expenditure, it is vital that claimants in more expensive areas of the country are not sidelined and forced out of homes they have lived in for years," Ms Peace commented.
She added: "The cap would create more problems than it would solve, as it is vital that we do not end up creating more ghettos or forcing people to travel miles to work."
As well as the cap on housing benefit, Mr Osborne introduced a three-year freeze on child benefit in his recent emergency budget on behalf of the new UK coalition government.
He further reduced tax credit payments and says he will index-link benefits to the newer inflation measure, the consumer prices index (CPI) instead of the older retail prices index (RPI) - which welfare campaigners say is a truer indicator of need. This alone will save an estimated £6 billion by the end of the current Parliament. But it will also cost the average jobseekers' allowance claimant £1 a week, says the Child Poverty Action Group.
The retail prices index is currently at 5.5 per cent and consumer prices index is 3.4 per cent.
Further family benefits being cut include the £500 one-off Sure Start Maternity Grant, aimed at helping low-income families, which will be restricted to a mother's first child only from April 2011.
The £190 Health in Pregnancy Grant, which was introduced in 2009 to encourage mothers to buy healthier food, will be scrapped from January 2011.
These changes, along with the three-year freeze on child tax credits, will force more mothers to return to work quickly, says Ann Robinson, consumer policy director at uSwitch.com - which carried out a survey after the budget, indicating that a large number of families believe they will be worse off as a result of the government's actions.
"These cuts will place family finances under even more pressure at a vulnerable time," Ms Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph. "The high cost of living coupled with the costs of running a household means that many parents today need two incomes to just get by. The decisions the Government has taken today will make it a lot harder for a mother to have the choice of staying at home."
Those claiming disability living allowance have also been targeted. The Government will introduce what it terms "objective medical assessments" from 2013-14.
This move has been attacked by a range of disability charities.
"It appears to be designed purely to reduce the number of people eligible for this support," said Richard Hawkes, the CEO of Scope, which works with people living with cerebral palsy and with their families.
Hawkes said: "Disability living allowance is not a benefit, but a basic recognition that it is more expensive to live as a disabled person in our society."
More on the impact of the cuts: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/welfare-pound11bn-of-ben...