County's struggling families urged to turn to credit union
STRUGGLING families hit by impending changes to the benefits system will be urged to put their money into a jam-jar.
Neath Port Talbot has one of the highest claimant rates in the country and is expected to be particularly hard hit by the Government's welfare reforms.
Council deputy leader Peter Rees has even warned it could send the country back to the dark days of soup kitchens.
The authority is now working with various organisations in the country to try to soften the blow.
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One of them is Neath Port Talbot Credit Union, a community-based financial cooperative which, with more than 6,000 members, is now one of the biggest in Wales.
"Overall the changes to the benefits system are going to be horrendous," said development team leader Brian Warlow.
"We have an extremely high dependency on benefits in Neath Port Talbot, having lost the heavy industries that people relied on.
"It's all very well talking about trying to get a job. If you're living at the top of the Afan Valley how are you going to get to Amazon to start at six in the morning?"
One in four people in Neath Port Talbot receives at least one form of benefit. Many of them will see those benefits reduced or possibly stopped altogether because of the reforms.
The credit union is looking at a range of measures to help them. One is a new service, a budget account nicknamed a jam-jar account, ready for the introduction of the Universal Credit from next October.
This will replace several benefits for working-age people and lead to a single payment of up to £500 a week for each household.
But there are fears people will struggle to manage their budget as it will be paid monthly.
Tenants of social and private landlords can opt to have their money paid directly to a Neath Port Talbot Credit Union account.
"The first thing we will do is pay their housing provider so they have a roof over their heads," said Mr Warlow.
"We will then pay essential standing orders such as gas and electricity.
"What is left over will then be put onto a pre-loaded debit card, which means people in this area can do what many take for granted, such as shopping for bargains on Amazon and eBay."
Mr Warlow said that, if people still struggled to manage their money over a month, the credit union would pre-load the debit card on a weekly basis.
He said anyone who had concerns could contact the credit union for advice.
It has offices in Neath and Port Talbot town centres as well as in Taibach, drop-off points around the county including schools.
"Unfortunately there is a small group of people we cannot help because they do not want to be helped," he added.
"But if people do want our help we are there for them."