Friday, 24 January 2014

MP's concerns over welfare reforms

Local MP Katy Clark as voiced her concerns over the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms.

Speaking in a House of Commons debate, Ms Clark highlighted the UK-wide rise in absolute poverty since 2010, and how the Bedroom Tax is adversely affecting many of her constituents in North Ayrshire.

The Labour MP said, “There has been a massive increase in poverty in this country since 2010. Some of that is associated with welfare reforms; some is related to other aspects of Government policy and what is going on in the country with low pay, wage freezes, wage cuts, and less-secure forms of employment.

“We particularly need to focus clearly on welfare reforms, both for those in work and those who are not working.  Since 1997-98, there has been a decrease in poverty for most of the time.  Some 28 percent of the population lived in absolute poverty in 1997, but by 2010 that had dropped to 15 percent - still a scandalously high figure that is unacceptable in any civilised country, but the reality was that 2.3 million children and 2 million pensioners were lifted out of poverty in that time. The country can be proud of that, even though a huge amount more is needed to be done.”

Ms Clark pointed out that since the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition Government was elected in 2010 “absolute poverty has increased by 1.4 million people, including 300,000 children and 200,000 pensioners,” adding, “There can be absolutely no doubt that much of that increase in poverty has been a direct result of the Coalition Government’s policies.”

The MP for North Ayrshire & Arran said, “One of the impacts that will have the biggest cumulative effect over time is the uprating of benefits in line with the Consumer Price Index instead of the Retail Price Index.  We already see the impact of that change: in 2010, when the Government changed the indexation, the difference between RPI and CPI was the difference between 4.6% and 3.1%.  In every year since, RPI has been higher than CPI.  The impact on our pensions and benefits affects disproportionately those on the lowest incomes.

“Let’s look at those in receipt of carer’s allowance. In April 2010 they received £53.90 a week.  If that had increased under the old system, using RPI, they would now be receiving £61.08 a week, rather than £59.75. They are therefore £167.96 worse-off each year as a result of the switch from RPI to CPI.”

Turning to the Bedroom Tax, which results in claimants having their Housing Benefit cut if they are deemed to have more rooms in their home than they ‘need’, Katy Clark said, “In North Ayrshire we have seen a 756 percent increase in Discretionary Housing Payment applications.  Only 66 percent are accepted, which means that a third of those people do not get the payment.  Indeed, when people go back to apply the next time, because it is a time-limited payment, they are often refused. That is having an impact on council rent arrears.  Rent arrears in North Ayrshire, for example, have increased from 3.6 percent of annual rent to 5.5 percent.

The House of Commons voted by 125 votes to 2 in favour of a motion calling on the UK Government to commission an inquiry into the impact of its welfare reforms on the level of poverty.   Ms Clark indicated she would be “campaigning to ensure this inquiry takes place”.

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