Councils face recession's 'second wave'

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The Independent Online

Britain faces a rise in domestic violence, alcoholism and drug addiction unless more is done to head off social problems intensified by the recession, the local authority watchdog has warned.

A report by the Audit Commission, published today, predicts that while communities have already been hit by job losses, falling household incomes and lower house prices, councils now need to brace themselves for the recession's "second wave", which will see many areas suffer greater social problems.

It accused some local authorities of being "complacent" over the effects of the recession, as high levels of unemployment for the next three years will create an even greater need for many services already starved of funding.

However, other councils were already found to be trying to head off social difficulties. Wigan has worked with GPs to ensure that people seeing their doctor complaining of stress are offered employment and debt advice as well as medical treatment. Essex County Council is investing more in domestic violence initiatives to head off an expected increase.

"The full effects of the social impact of the recession have not yet been fully felt, but we know they will come," Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission, said. "When there is a group of people who have been unemployed for longer periods, we can anticipate increased levels of family stress. That can give rise to mental health problems, problems with alcoholism and addiction, increase in some kinds of crime and possibly increases in domestic violence."

The commission also criticised the Government for rushing through the introduction of around 50 different schemes designed to tackle the effects of the recession, creating confusion.

Demand for benefits, welfare and debt counselling have already risen in many places, the report found, with more funding needed for social care and mental health services. Authorities in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber had been the hardest hit.

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