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Bridget Phillipson: 'The government has serious questions to answer'

Bridget PhillipsonThis week we’ve seen a leaked letter from the office of the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles to the Prime Minister confirming what we’ve been warning for months: that the government’s welfare proposals will make thousands of people homeless and end up costing the country more than they save.

The letter states that 40,000 families will be put on the street and that any savings made from welfare changes will have to fund temporary accommodation.

The government has known all along about the impact of these changes, but has tried to keep them hidden from the public.

As far back as November last year, I was arguing in Parliament that the one aspect of the government’s plans – on Housing Benefit – would have a disastrous impact in Sunderland.

Government ministers have tried to peddle the myth that Housing Benefit is simply an ‘out of work’ benefit. But in Sunderland last year a third of claimants were aged over 60 – people who have contributed but now need our help.

The government has serious questions to answer and needs to look again if we’re to avoid a rising tide of homelessness in our city.

I recently met with the family of Joe Arthur, who was attacked and subsequently died whilst on holiday in Corfu in 2006.

Nearly five years on, the three individuals connected to his death are still awaiting trial in Greece.

It has been a long and traumatic process for the family even to get to this point.

I raised the family’s pursuit of justice in Parliament and as a result I’ll be meeting with a minister from the Foreign Office to press for action.

Mr Arthur’s family have received first rate assistance from Northumbria Police and the local coroner, but this is not always the experience of every family.

No one going on holiday imagines that a tragedy could occur, but for hundreds of families every year it does. The Foreign Office needs to improve the support they offer to prevent further heartache for families affected by a death abroad.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who work tirelessly in their communities and seek no recognition.

The passing of long serving former councillors Elizabeth Porter and John Donnelly has marked the end of an era.

Mrs Porter was a remarkable and determined woman who served as Sunderland’s first female mayor and lived through over a century of considerable change.

John Donnelly was from a generation of men whose desire to serve their communities was inextricably linked to their working lives – in John’s case in the mining industry.

He never forgot his roots and these strong values shaped his vision for Sunderland.

Both will be sadly missed, but their passion, dedication and contribution to the life of the city will always be remembered.

This article was originally published in the Sunderland Echo on: Wednesday 6 July 2011
You can view the original article here.

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