Welfare changes will hit thousands

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PROPOSED changes to benefits will have a significant impact on thousands of people in the Express area.

Wakefield Council’s cabinet will consider a report on Tuesday that outlines how the government’s Welfare Reform Bill will change the benefits system, affecting almost 37,000 people across the district.

The bill would introduce a universal credit that would bring together a range of benefits - including Jobseekers’ Allowance, income support, child tax credits, working tax credits, housing benefits and income related employment and support allowance - into one single payment.

It would also bring in restrictions to housing benefits and changes to other aspects, such as the social rented sector of housing, rules on business rates and council tax.

Many of the changes are still being consulted on or have yet to be passed through Parliament but some changes will begin shortly, with others being implemented from April 2013. Restrictions to housing benefit for single people under the age of 35 living in private rented property will begin this month.

The report to cabinet is the first step in the council’s preparations for the changes.

Coun Graham Stokes, cabinet member responsible for the council’s corporate services, said: “The changes will affect 36,900 people in this district – more than ten per cent of our population. It also means a massive shift in how benefits are paid with much of the responsibility moving from the council to the Department of Work and Pensions.

“Though the changes will take place over a number of years we need to start planning for the impact now – both on council staff and what it means for our services and what it will mean for people receiving benefits.

“The picture for the future is undoubtedly grim and it is likely that people will see their benefits reduced. If financial hardship increases as a result of these changes we could see an increase in homelessness, more crime and poorer health among people in this district.

“If these changes become law we will have limited options in how we deal with the impact on people’s lives, but we will continue to stand up for people in this district and protect the most vulnerable and in need. We will continue to monitor the bill and how it will affect people in this district so we can do what we can to adapt our services to meet people’s needs.”