MP hails planned welfare changes

THE town’s MP said she is “delighted” after her Government dropped one of the most controversial parts of their changes to benefits.

The Welfare Reform Bill has been hailed as the biggest shake-up to the welfare system in 60 years and the Government hopes it will tackle long-term unemployment particularly in deprived areas like Hastings and St Leonards. The most recent figures showed 3,488 people are unemployed here, about 5.4 per cent of the working age population.

The current system will be simplified with a universal credit for those out of work, a new system of child support, personal independence payments for disabled people and new powers to target cheats.

Ministers are also promising a huge back-to-work programme starting this summer to help break the benefits culture. Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Welfare, said the changes would “put work rather than handouts at the heart of the system.”

But when the plans were first outlined last year, the Government said it was going to punish people who are out of work for more than a year by cutting their housing benefits - a proposal that has now been dropped.

Amber Rudd - who always opposed that part of the reforms - was thrilled.

She said: “I was delighted to hear that it had been dropped. I knew it was a mistake and lobbied Iain Duncan Smith about it because it was going to penalise the wrong people. It is up to MPs to make sure the most vulnerable people in our constituencies are not hit and I felt this would have done just that.”

Her views were echoed by Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point which runs the Sanctuary project in Ashburnham Road.

He said: “Work is good for us but people need support to access employment, they should not be penalised if they are engaging in a job search or making progress towards employment, which is why the decision to scrap the 10 per cent cut in housing benefit for those unemployed for a year is a positive step. The most vulnerable need to be safeguarded and these reforms must do just that. The costs of not doing this are too great to consider.

“Reform to the welfare system requires sensitivity and boldness combined with a deep understanding of the complexities of the lives of the long-term unemployed. The challenges for the reform of the welfare system are great, we live in a time where 2.5 million people are unemployed and maintaining a culture of individual blame for unemployment will get us nowhere,” he added.