CONTROVERSIAL welfare changes could catch many poorer households in South Tyneside ‘by surprise’, a councillor has warned.
Coun Sherie Murphy voiced her concerns about the radical benefits shake-up contained within the Government’s Welfare Reform Act.
There are mounting anxieties about the impact of the welfare legislation in South Tyneside, which has a high claimant count and a large benefit-reliant population.
Speaking at the latest Jarrow and Boldon community area forum, Coun Murphy, a Labour member for Boldon Colliery, said: “I fear a lot of people are not aware of how these welfare changes will affect their lives.
“People need to be more aware of the changes, which are coming soon. And people also need to realise these changes are coming from central Government, not from the local authority.”
Coun Murphy expressed particular concerns about plans for a so-called ‘bedroom tax,’ which penalises people on housing benefit who live in homes considered under-occupied, which could affect more than 2,000 council house tenants in South Tyneside.
Representing the biggest change to the benefits system for 60 years, the Welfare Reform Act is due to come into force next year.
Last month, South Shields MP David Miliband and South Tyneside Council leader, Coun Iain Malcolm, both voiced their concerns about the legislation at a public meeting at South Shields Town Hall.
The key change is the introduction of universal credit, which replaces basic working-age benefits and tax credits. Measures also include tougher rules on access to housing and disability benefits.
Although the Government argues the changes will ‘make work pay,’ critics say the changes target the vulnerable in society.
Coun Murphy added: “I know that South Tyneside Homes and other groups are informing tenants about the changes, but we need an awareness programme, so people know about the reforms.
“People should get in touch with their local councillors, because these are big changes.”
The forum chairman, Coun Ken Stephenson, said the Welfare Reform Act would be placed on the agenda of the next forum meeting, at Jarrow Town Hall, on Thursday, October 25, at 5pm.