Socialist Worker
Socialist Worker

Benefit changes plunge thousands into poverty

by Dave Sewell

a food bank in Ladywood, Birmingham

A food bank in Ladywood, Birmingham (Pic: Robert Brenchley)


Thousands of people in 40 local authorities had their income slashed on Monday of this week in the final phase of the Tories’ benefit cap.

This completes the national rollout of the cap, which affects around 40,000 households. Some will lose up to 10 percent of their income.

It’s a huge amount to struggling families and a tiny amount for the government. But the benefit cap isn’t about saving money. 

Tory work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith wants to scapegoat benefit claimants who supposedly live on “pay-outs that are out of reach of the average hard-working family”. The comparison is dishonest in two ways.

Most benefit claimants are employed, and most working people whose wages are lower than the benefit cap will themselves be on benefits. 

And most benefit claimants receive far less than £500 a week.

Those who are hit by the cap need the money to cope with spiralling rents, particularly if they have children.

The areas hit this week are those with the largest number of affected households, including most major cities and London boroughs.

Housing

This is where housing costs are most likely to outstrip income. And other benefit cuts have already plunged thousands into poverty.

The number of people using food banks in Britain had tripled in a year by April, when new benefit cuts came into effect. Since then it’s got worse.

“We’ve had a definite increase, from about 25 people a week before April to sometimes as many as 50,” Robert Brenchley, who works at a food bank in Ladywood, Birmingham, told Socialist Worker. “By the end of our shifts now some foods run out.”

Benefits minister Francis Maude has denied that benefit changes are related to the rise of food banks. But Robert says, “That’s rubbish. We collect the reasons people have for visiting the food bank, and the main reasons are benefits delays and sanctions.

“People can get their benefits cut off for any reason—even being late for an interview. The average time is four weeks. People get desperate.”

The use of sanctions is set to expand massively with the Tories’ planned Universal Credit system to combine working age benefits. It would even apply to low paid workers who can’t prove they are doing enough to look for longer hours.

But the Tories plan to stop bad headlines, Socialist Worker can reveal.

One jobcentre worker told Socialist Worker, “We received a memo last week saying we’re no longer to give out ‘food bank vouchers’ but ‘signposting slips’. This means that when we send people to food banks we’ll no longer print the reason on the form.

“Charities won’t be able to gather information about the effects of the benefit cuts. They are covering up the impact of sanctions”.


Article information

News
Tue 13 Aug 2013, 16:11 BST
Issue No. 2366
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