More help for benefit claimants, as welfare cuts cost North-East nearly £1bn (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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More help for benefit claimants, as welfare cuts cost North-East nearly £1bn
A FIRST-of-its-kind scheme to protect benefit payments is to be repeated, after councillors heard the Government’s welfare reforms will cost the North-East nearly £1bn over the year ahead.
Earlier this year, Labour chiefs at Durham County Council enraged the Government by introducing a Local Council Tax Support Scheme (LCTSS) which meant no working-age council tax benefit claimant would see their payment reduced until spring 2014 at the earliest.
Tory ministers had wanted town halls to respond to their welfare reforms, the biggest in half-a-century, by slashing payments.
Now the North-East’s biggest council is set to continue the scheme for another year – despite facing unprecedented spending cuts which could top £200m by 2018.
The council’s cabinet agreed the move after hearing welfare reform will cost the North-East £940m in 2014-15, or £560 per working age adult – the joint highest figure in the country, along with the North-West.
County Durham will lose £188m, or £565 per working age adult. By contrast, the figure for the South-East is just £370.
Nationally, the cost is £18.9bn, or £470 per working age adult.
Councillor Neil Foster said the cuts meant “less beans and less bread” bought locally and people were having to take three or four jobs to make a living wage.
Council leader Simon Henig said the Government’s cuts were “economic madness”, had contributed to a slower-than-expected recovery and were having a real impact on the most disadvantaged people.
Deputy leader Alan Napier backed continuing the LCTSS for 2014-15 but warned it may not be affordable beyond that.
Labour chiefs hoped the measure would be paid for by cutting council tax discounts on empty and second homes and charging 150 per cent on long-term empty properties.
The welfare cuts figures quoted came from a study by Sheffield Hallam University, which found that poorer areas would be hit hardest by the changes.
In January, Coun Richard Bell, the Tory group leader, backed the LCTSS but raised the prospect of so-called benefit tourism – claimants moving to County Durham to get more benefits than offered elsewhere.
Today, councillors were told it was too early to judge the scheme’s impact, but a review would be undertaken in early 2015.
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