THE overall economic impact of welfare changes in Herefordshire is estimated to be a loss of  £43m annually.

New figures show that around 14,500 households in the county now live in poverty with the effect of welfare changes starting to be seen.

Food aid is emerging as a particularly priority.

A household is considered to be in poverty if its net income - after housing costs and taxes – is less than 60% of the national average.

The latest Understanding Herefordshire report – a basis for key decision making in the county over the next 12 months – reveals that, over 2013, minimum income requirements were estimated to be at least 10% higher for residents of villages than the population as a whole as ancillary costs like transport and heating rose faster than inflation.

The report directly links poverty in the county with the various changes to the welfare system with the economic impact already estimated at a loss of £43m annually – around 1% cent of total economic output.

There is now, the report says, an increase in need for  support locally, particularly as the use of sanctions and delays in benefit processing creates a demand for “crisis” support.

The criteria for the local welfare provisions scheme - introduced by Herefordshire Council in  April last year – offers limited support as the policy explicitly chooses to not bypass DWP sanctions or ‘top -up’ benefits when the DWP can provide benefit advances for those in need.

Those seeking support are frequently referred directly to food banks by social workers, housing associations, Citizens Advice Bureau and others with support provided without a wide ranging assessment of need.

Both Hereford City food bank and the Citizens Advice Bureau have seen an increase in demand for their services over the past year.

The number of food parcels given out by the Hereford City food bank in the first three months of 2014 was double the number given out in the same period of 2013 and around two fifths of these were reported as being related to benefit issues.

Herefordshire Council is currently reviewing the Local Welfare Scheme, in consultation with partner providers, and looking at food aid specifically.

Earlier this month, the Hereford Times revealed that Herefordshire Council was keeping just under £300k of welfare assistance unlabelled in its social care budget for the coming year.

The council says it wants the cash to help welfare initiatives rather than the crisis loans for which it was intended under the local welfare provision scheme.

Critics said the council spent less than £5k of its annual £377k allocation by the end of December last year – equivalent to 1% of its local welfare budget.