The chief executive of South Tyneside’s Citizens Advice Bureau expects his team’s workload to increase after £12billion of benefit cuts were announced by chancellor George Osborne in the budget.
It is a hard pill to swallow for people in the borough, where the claimant count is above the national average.
Working age benefits were frozen for four years, automatic housing benefit for under-21s was abolished and a £20,000 benefit cap - the amount one household can claim in a year – was announced.
There was some relief from the pace of the cuts as the savings are now to be made over three, not two, years.
But Ian Thompson, chief executive officer with the borough’s CAB, based at the Edinburgh Buildings, Station Approach, South Shields, believes the measures will only help to further “stigmatise” benefit claimants.
He urged anyone facing financial hardship as a result of the budget announcements to seek the bureau’s help.
In South Tyneside there are 4,140 people claiming Jobseekers Allowance – those who are actively seeking work. And 18.57% of the borough’s working population claim some form of benefits.
The benefit expected to take the biggest financial hit is the Employment Support Allowance, claimed by almost 8,000 people in South Tyneside.
Meanwhile, a total of 37% of the borough bureau’s work is currently benefit-related – and Mr Thompson doesn’t expect that to fall.
He said: “The fact that these cuts are going to be introduced over three instead of two years does bring some sort of relief for people on sickness and disability benefits, so it won’t be so harsh in the next two years.
“It does appear that the people on benefits are being made to pay for the economic climate. They are being stigmatised.
“There’s always been a stigma to claiming benefits but it’s as if now it is taken as a fact that people on benefits are in some way undeserving, when the vast majority we deal with they either can’t work, through sickness and disability, or they are unable to find work and are on benefit through no doubt of their own.
“We know in the last few years life has got harder for our client group and people are still coming to terms with things like the ‘bedroom tax’ and, looking ahead, we are worried about the introduction of Universal Credit in South Tyneside in December this year.”
On a positive note, the borough bureau does recover between £3.7million and £4.2million a year for clients whose benefits have been either wrongly assessed or who were unaware they were entitled to other benefits.
Mr Thompson added: “If people on low incomes feel they are going to be hit by anything in this budget then they should come here and seek advice.”
l MP’s view – Page 21