April 16, 2013 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson



This month has seen big changes in the benefits system. 

Virtually none of these cuts are actually targeted at false claimants or individuals choosing not to seek work. The government has given councils 10% less money for council tax benefit than it was paying out under the old central government system. That's a cut across the board for working-age claimants whether disabled, working on low income or recently made redundant. 

They have brought in the bedroom tax, which is a cut in housing benefit for tenants of One Vision Housing and other social landlords in Sefton who have a spare room. That, too, includes people who are disabled or long term sick.

One of my constituents told me he is being hit by both of these cuts. He worked full time until the age of 38 when a degenerative, incurable disease forced him out of his job. He has been disabled for 12 years and has been told that he must pay an extra £14.71 per week because he has a spare room and £34 per month towards his council tax. 

His Employment Support Allowance has also been cut by £25 per week. In total this man, who worked hard until he was told he wasn't physically able to, is losing £200 per month as a result of cuts to his benefits. That's £2400 every year. While taking this from him, the government announced that 13,000 income millionaires will get an average £100,000 a year in tax cuts.

The government says it is making these welfare reforms to encourage people into work and to reduce spending. But for all the government's talk, the welfare bill is actually growing because the economy cannot support job creation. 

Long-term unemployment jumped by 89,000 in February alone. 

If the government is serious about bringing down the welfare bill it should focus on the recovery of the economy to kickstart the jobs market. Penalising disabled people and low earners on benefits does absolutely nothing to address the shortage of jobs in this country or bring down welfare costs. 

And while over 200,000 people turn to food banks for the first time and single working parents lose up to £4000 a year, the government doesn't bother to pursue the staggering £10bn it loses annually in tax evasion and avoidance. 

So there is money for some people in society, but not those who need it most. 

I fear that the crack down on benefits is just penalising people in need at the same time as few high earners grow ever richer.  

What is needed is a change of economic policy so that people don’t have to rely on benefits to survive. Sadly this government doesn’t seem to realise what is happening in the real world.