Bridget Phillipson MPThe government is introducing some of the biggest changes to welfare in decades. Alongside £18 billion pounds of cuts, the government plans to bring in one single, overarching benefit with the Universal Credit. It will replace all out of work and related benefits and will also cover those in low paid work.

No one could object to simplifying the benefits system, but there are major risks. Governments generally don’t have a great track record in delivering complex IT systems and the Universal Credit system will need precisely that. New benefits applications will be online only and employers will be expected to provide real time information about earnings.

This goes hand in hand with other welfare changes and cuts that will have a damaging impact on many families across Wearside. In April 2013 when all the changes to council tax, disability living allowance and child benefit come together it will be hard not to see what this government is about.

The so-called bedroom tax will mean social housing tenants who are deemed to be under occupying their home under strict new rules will have to pay extra to remain there. In theory, people can move but this may involve losing support networks and children needing to change schools or people having much further to travel to work, making it unaffordable. There is also a big shortage of suitable properties for people to move to. So even if you accept you need to move, there is no guarantee that you will be able to find a smaller home. This will push many local people into poverty or even homelessness.

We all want see those who can work supported to do so, but aspects of the government’s welfare proposals are punitive.

Many people will end up better off out of work, which is completely counter productive. It is a tough climate to be seeking work in the north east and the government must do more to support jobs and growth.

Instead, we have seen the longest double dip recession since the Second World War. Unless the government takes action, I fear for the future of the region’s economy and for the growing number of young people who are long term unemployed.

This article was originally published in the Sunderland Echo on 26th September 2012.

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