WHAT do you think of people claiming benefits? How easy do you think it is to claim benefits if you find yourself unemployed?
Given the history of the town in the last 30 years, Hartlepool has a much higher than average of people claiming benefits.
There is a range of reasons for this. As an area with heavy industry, Hartlepool has had more than its fair share of people who had accidents or suffered from industry-related illnesses. Then, when we lost much of the industry in the 1980s, many people in the town came out of work and, frankly, never went back.
We now have in some parts of Hartlepool a third generation of families where people have never worked. That’s not good for anyone concerned – whether it’s the family or the rest of us.
I don’t want to see people fail to achieve their potential by staying on benefits.
You are better off, not only financially but in terms of your health and mental well being when you are in work. And I don’t want the taxpayer to pay for it – I can understand people’s sense of frustration and anger when they are getting up early, working hard at a low-paid job, or possibly holding down two jobs, and they see people in the same street getting a lot of help with their rent or council tax.
The House of Commons had the second reading – that is, the general debate about the principles of the piece of legislation – of the Welfare Reform Bill on Wednesday this week.
To be fair to the Government, there’s much to welcome in the Bill. The setting up of the Universal Credit is meant to simplify the benefits system.
My constituency caseload from surgeries and emails is growing fast with people having problems with claiming benefits.
Anything which can simplify the system to make it easier for people claiming would benefit the town.
I also support action to help people into work. This would build on the progress that Labour was making in Government.
But the Government can’t think of this as a quick way of tackling the deficit: real support for people who have never worked, or face major disabilities, is time consuming and expensive, at least to start with.
I am also concerned that, at a time of massive job losses in the town and wider region, work opportunities and job creation remain limited.
The Welfare Reform Bill doesn’t give any indication as to how working families will be helped: childcare support and Tax Credits are scrapped in the Bill, but there is no mention of its replacement.
The changes to Disability Living Allowance will also cause massive disruption and uncertainty for many of the most vulnerable people in Hartlepool.
I am also particularly concerned that people who may have cancer will have to be more concerned with their finances than with their treatment and recovery because of proposed changes.
The great work that Macmillan Cancer Support does with West View Resource and Advice Centre has helped people in Hartlepool a lot. But all that great work could be undermined through the provisions of the Welfare Reform Bill.
I think most people want to see a welfare and benefit system that helps the most vulnerable and provides effective help when fortunes turn against you, whether it is unemployment or illness.
Although some of the sentiment is right in this Bill, I don’t think it will work, and may leave many people in Hartlepool, who rightly and genuinely claim benefits, worse off.