Benefits cuts announced in yesterday’s budget will hit some of the most vulnerable people in Hartlepool, a support organisation and MP have warned.
Chancellor George Osborne set out £12billion of Government savings from the benefits system in his summer budget.
They include cutting the limit on the total amount of certain benefits people can claim to £20,000 and a freeze on working age benefits for four years.
More than 12,000 people in Hartlepool receive some form of state handout, over a fifth of the working-age population.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said: “I see in my constituency work every day how vulnerable and disabled people are hit hard by welfare cuts, and today’s Budget may make matters worse.”
His views were echoed by Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau, which helps people with a range of benefits issues.
I see every day how vulnerable and disabled people are hit hard by welfare cuts and the Budget may make matters worseIain Wright MP
Manager Joe Michna said: “The freeze to working-age benefits will affect some of the most vulnerable in Hartlepool and the wider country.
“Of the clients who seek advice from us regarding benefits included in the freeze, nearly half are affected by a health condition or disability and over 40% have dependent children.”
Mr Osborne said in the Commons “welfare spending is not sustainable,” and it traps people into depending on benefits instead of working.
Some of the key announcements in the Budget included:
l Benefits cap to be reduced from £26,000 to £20,000 per household outside London.
l Tax credits and Universal Credit to be restricted to two children, affecting those born after April 2017.
l Income threshold for tax credits to be reduced from £6,420 to £3,850
l Working-age benefits to be frozen for four years – including tax credits and local housing allowance, but maternity pay and disability benefits exempted
l Rents in social housing sector will be reduced by 1% a year for the next four years.
l Introduction of a new national living wage for all workers aged over 25, starting at £7.20 an hour from April 2016 and set to reach £9 by 2020.
Mr Michna, based at Hartlepool CAB, in Park Road, said: “As far as the benefit cap is concerned, if this is to be lowered, it is vital that sufficient and appropriate Discretionary Housing Payment is made available to local authorities to enable households the breathing space to take action or adapt to their reduced income.
“The overall trend will be of smaller families being capped all over the country, and very small families in high-rent areas. The freeze to working-age benefits is concerning and could lead to financial problems for many of the people who seek advice from the CAB.”
But he said it was reassuring that disability benefits will not be taxed or means-tested and added the new national living wage is a good start to improving the earnings of low-income workers.
Mr Wright described the budget as “a mixed bag but one which largely fails to deliver for the people of Hartlepool”.
He said: “I fail to see how the Chancellor claims to want to help working families when he acts to clobber them with the cuts to working tax credits.
“A family with one earner on average earnings will lose over £2,000 in tax credits from the changes announced today.”
He described a 1% pay increase for public sector workers as “a kick in the teeth”, adding: “This will not reward the professionalism of the workforce nor attract talented people into public services in the future.”
Mr Wright added: ““The most vulnerable in society are again bearing the brunt of the Government’s policies.”
Principal of Hartlepool College of Further Education, Darren Hankey, welcomed the Government’s target for three million more apprenticeships in this parliament.
He said: “As one of the largest providers of apprenticeships in the North East and one of the best in England in terms of quality, it will be interesting to see the details of the announcement made in the latest budget.
“Ultimately, whatever the detail is, Hartlepool College of FE looks forward to working with its existing and any new employers to ensure ap prenticeship opportunities are provided, especially for young people.”