MPs and trade unionists gathered in South Tyneside to highlight how welfare reforms are impacting on the lives of people in the region.
Speakers one by one outlined how the Government’s shake-up of the benefits system is having a “devastating impact” on people’s lives.
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck and her Jarrow counterpart, Stephen Hepburn, were among the guest speakers addressing the ‘Unfair Welfare’ event at the Quality Hotel in Boldon.
Mrs Lewell-Buck warned of the dangers of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ – the under-occupancy charge -–which impacts on an estimated 3,500 people in South Tyneside, while Mr Hepburn explained how the changes affect people in his constituency.
Another of the speakers, Unison regional convenor Shirley Scott, who chaired the symposium, called on activists to unite to fight the changes.
She urged members to get involved in local coalitions opposing the changes and “fight for the rights of ordinary working people.”
Mrs Scott said: “Low pay is a blight on too many people’s lives.
“In this region one in three children now live in poverty. In South Tyneside, we have some of the worst areas of deprivation in the country.
“Unison is supporting the Living Wage Campaign which will take families out of poverty, debt, stress and illness and improve family life.
“Leading Unison activists ware considering the impact that public sector cuts are having across the region, exacerbated by welfare reform, and leading to a further increase in poverty and the reality of living on low pay.
“Across the region we are seeing an emergence of short-term low-paid work and a rise in the number of zero hours contracts.
“The symposium was an opportunity to look at regional initiatives, including Unison’s link with credit unions, to tackle low pay and debt avoidance, the aims of the campaign for a living wage, public sector initiatives, and why this is a trade union issue.”
Only last week a borough housing boss warned of the creation of ‘wilderness areas’ after a sharp rise in tenants ending their council tenancies.
New figures show that between April and July this year, 573 tenants handed back their keys – up 139 on the same period last year.
Labour councillor Jim Foreman, the local authority’s lead member for housing and transport, said: “We could end up with little wilderness areas where people won’t be able to live.”