FIGURES which reveal that half of all households in the West do not have any form of savings, failed to surprise an Omagh-based caseworker who deals with as many as 7,000 enquiries every year from people in financial hardship.
In a recent report from the Department for Social Development, it was revealed that the Urban West area also has the highest proportion of single parent families. The figures also show the area derives the highest proportion of social security disability and other benefits.
One in four households in the West also receive housing benefit, and the area has the lowest regional average weekly income before and after housing costs, according to the report.
The figures make depressing reading, particularly with just under ten weeks until Christmas. According to Michael Roddy, casework tribunal co-ordinator with Omagh Independent Advice Centre, it illustrates the position many local people find themselves in on a daily basis.
The centre, located at Omagh Community House, is the only free and independent advice centre of its kind in the district council area, and offers guidance on a number of areas including social security benefits, housing, employment law, and representation on social security appeal tribunals.
He says that, given the work the centre does in these areas, there is no reason to doubt the latest government figures.
"There is a great dependency on benefits and more demands on people regarding their daily outgoings", explained Mr Roddy. "Given the level of enquiries we get through the doors here, we would concur with those figures."
According to Mr Roddy, the centre deals with 7,000 enquiries every year, and more than half of those are related to social security benefits.
He said it was unsurprising that around one in every two households in the West did not have a form of savings.
"People have less disposable income now, while you also have rising fuel prices and rises in the cost of living. The amount of benefits does not reflect these rises in the standards of living, and if you don't have an income, it is very hard to save."
Mr Roddy concluded, "Our level of enquiries does not go down. The need still exists and people are definitely dependent on social security as their only source of income. The social security system is paying a very small amount, which is set by government, but it is not enough and does not rise in line with inflation and standards of living."
Omagh Independent Advice Centre also offers outreach services in Carrickmore, Drumquin and Fintona.
Staff at the centre can be contacted on 8224 3252 or by email at
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