Housing benefit cuts slammed

Lisa Nandy
Lisa Nandy

Wigan’s MP has slammed changes to housing benefit which has left families in the borough entitled to just 50p per week.

Lisa Nandy hit out after research showed Wigan has one of the highest percentages in the country of households whose benefits have been capped.

More than a quarter of claimants in the borough, 26 per cent in total, now receive just 50p per week in housing benefit, official figures have shown.

More than 7,500 families across the country now receive less than £1 in housing benefits following the introduction of the £20,000 cap, which is raised to £23,000 in London.

Ms Nandy, who has actively taken up the cases of several Wiganers left almost destitute by welfare reforms and sanctions, strongly criticised the Government for its attitude towards some of the borough’s least well-off residents.

She also suggested the latest reforms were so extreme that Wiganers could be driven to foodbanks and left needing the assistance of local homelessness charities.

Ms Nandy said: “The Government’s latest cut to housing benefit will affect some of the most vulnerable and deprived families in Wigan.

“Reducing support to as little as 50p a week will mean that money intended to buy food or pay bills will now have to be spent on paying rent. The result will be lengthening queues at The Brick and more children growing up in poverty.

“It is a disgrace that this Tory Government is willing to give tax breaks to millionaires, while thousands of families are struggling to make ends meet.

“When I worked with young homeless people before I came into Parliament I saw first-hand the damage that these kind of cuts can have.

“Only last month in Parliament, I challenged the Government over the ongoing reductions to housing benefit and the impact it would have on people here in Wigan, and I will continue to fight to protect local residents.”

Official figures show Wigan had the joint-fourth highest rate of capped households with Blackburn and Ashfield among more than 300 local authorities which responded to researchers, with only North Hertfordshire, Sandwell and Bolton having a higher proportion of families receiving 50p a week housing benefit.

Birmingham has been hit hardest by the changes, with both the highest number of families affected and the most households reduced to 50p a week in housing assistance.

It is thought the reforms brought in last year have trimmed the budgets of some 67,600 households across England and Wales.

Charities and poverty campaigners blasted the decision, calling the cap level arbitrary and saying it unfairly targeted those unable to re-enter the workplace.

The Government, though, defended its cuts as leaving claimants on a similar level of income as working people and providing incentives to get a job.

Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham said the cap had been set at “a level that bears no relation to anything else, it’s completely arbitrary”.

She added: “We reckon of the people affected by the benefit cap, about 80 per cent of them are not really in a category expected to work because they’re sick or have very young children.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We are committed to helping people into work if they are able, and the benefit cap provides a clear incentive to move into employment. Over 26,000 people who were previously capped have moved into work.

“Anyone eligible for working tax credits, carers allowance and most disability benefits are exempt from the cap.

“The benefit cap restores fairness to the system and the new limit will ensure the amount people on out-work-benefits can claim better reflects the circumstances of many working families in the country.

“Even with the new cap, households can still receive the equivalent of a pre-tax salary of £29,000 in London, or £25,000 elsewhere.”