Derry City and Strabane District Council has called for local advice service providers to be properly funded in the face of an expected avalanche of appeals against benefit cuts.
The local authority passed a motion at its monthly meeting on Thursday demanding that the Department for Communities make monies available to deal with the forecast increase in appeals as a result of Welfare Reform.
SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney, who proposed the motion, said: “Welfare reform is here and working families, the sick, the disabled and jobseekers are beginning to notice the impact it is having on their everyday lives.
"The flagship project of the Tory austerity agenda is about saving money despite the rhetoric about 'making work pay' and 'providing the most vulnerable with the support they need'. This is a cost saving exercise targeted at the poorest in society."
Colr. Tierney said the replacement of DLA with Personal Independence Payments; the bedroom tax; cuts to ESA payments for new claimants; the benefit cap; and the abolition of Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, are all taking a toll on the most vulnerable.
He said the local Citizens Advice Bureau, alongside independent advice agencies, needed statutory support to help deal with increasing demand for their services.
"Although a mitigation package has been negotiated until 2020 there is genuine distress throughout our community about Welfare Reform.
"A community that is one of the most deprived across these islands. A community that suffers high levels of benefit dependence. A community that is being disproportionately affected by the Tory austerity agenda.
"People come to our offices across the city and district everyday because the welfare system has failed them.
"They come because their PIP application was refused even though they've had multiple heart attacks in the last year. They come because they can’t afford to buy oil but don't qualify for Discretionary Support. They come because their ESA claim was rejected even though their doctor says they're not fit to work."
He said making sufficient funds available to provide people with adequate support services during time of financial crisis was essential.
"As an SDLP representative I am proud my party colleagues voted against Welfare Reform in the Assembly and at Westminster and I am equally proud to propose this motion that I sincerely hope will help local people access quality representation when dealing with the impacts of Welfare Reform," Colr. Tierney concluded.