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Tackling the effects of Welfare Reform

October 28, 2013

We are beginning to see the harsh reality of welfare reform in our city and these effects are being felt by almost a third of our households.

Some politicians would have you believe through deliberately divisive language that benefit reform is all about punishing other people – for example the lazy neighbour whose curtains remain drawn while you go out to work.

But the truth is far more complex, benefit reform affects all sorts of people and the greatest impact falls on those who are working hard but still struggling.

We knew that we had to work with our partners in reacting to the challenges we face, putting together a broad team of people from a range of organisations.

We started with our biggest immediate problem, the bedroom tax and its effects on Your Homes Newcastle’s (YHN) tenants.

YHN did sterling work, going out into communities, visiting over 6,700 households, preparing people for the approaching sea-change in their benefits and incomes.

Thankfully, the numbers facing eviction as a result of the bedroom tax remain small. And while we expect this number to increase, our commitment to keeping the number of evictions down will not waiver.

In order to act effectively, we had to understand the impact welfare reform was likely to have.

Instead of talking about welfare in isolation, we must talk about the wider issue of people’s incomes falling below what they need to survive.

A big part of the support we offer is making sure that people have access to affordable credit and don’t fall prey to both legal and illegal money lenders. In signing up to the Fair Finance Pledge and promoting credit unions across the city we were awarded for our hard work by winning a Stop Loan Sharks award from the England Illegal Money Lending Team.

We also continued our lobbying pressure on the legal money-lending sector. We blew the whistle on Newcastle United over its agreement to advertise a payday loan company on its shirts.

But we also do equally important work behind the scenes. For example between April and June, Five Lamps helped more than 6,000 people secure almost £10 million in unclaimed benefits- many of whom are often too busy caring for loved ones that they don’t have time to seek help.

In Newcastle we know the best solution to increasing incomes is through the creation of good quality jobs that give people aspiration and hope for the future. We’re working hard to make Newcastle a Working City by attracting employers to the city and encouraging existing businesses to grow.

You can see this in the work the council is putting into a pilot project in Walker, the area most affected by bedroom tax, helping people find work with local employers.

We’ve also worked closely with Newcastle Futures to support families affected by the benefit cap, supporting people and family members into jobs education.

But as I mentioned earlier, the council doesn’t have all the answers and there is no doubt that people in our city are facing tough times. The landscape is changing forever and we must continue to adapt. But I believe we are all responding magnificently and will continue to offer help and support over the months and years ahead.

For advice and information including debt and money advice, you can visit the Welfare Rights pages on the council website.

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