Hain backs charities in demand for Poverty Enquiry

Neath MP Peter Hain has backed calls by Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam to launch an enquiry into the escalating poverty in Britain due to what they have described as the ‘massive cuts to social safety nets that have led to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale’ in the UK.

According to a new joint report released by the two charities, more than half a million people in Britain are now relying on food banks to eat.

Mr Hain says, ‘Welfare cuts have hit Neath harder than most other communities in the UK, with cuts to welfare costing the local economy £30 million, which equates to £700 per working adult in Neath.’

Continuing, Mr Hain says, ‘Neath Port Talbot’s high incapacity benefit and DLA claimant count is a legacy of the industries like coal and steel which our communities grew around and that provided employment for so many at such a cost to people’s health.’

‘It is these most vulnerable people in our communities who are now forced to turn to food banks in order to feed themselves and their families.’

A consistently outspoken critic of the welfare cuts imposed on local people by the Government, Mr Hain concludes that ‘I for one would welcome an enquiry into the welfare cuts that have caused widespread hunger and destitution in our country.’

£30 Million will be taken from local economy as £700 per working adult is lost because of Welfare changes say Hain

Nearly £30 million a year will be taken out of the Neath Port Talbot economy through cuts to Incapacity Benefits and Disability Living Allowance. Neath MP Peter Hain has described the cuts as ‘devastating not only to those directly in receipt of the benefits but also to the wider community that will also feel the implications because £30 million less will be spent in local shops and on local services.’ He has also attacked the changes for disproportionately hitting industrial areas like Neath hardest with £700 per working adult lost each year.

Mr Hain’s comments come following a report published by Sheffield Hallam University into the impact of the Welfare changes showed Neath Port Talbot to be the worst affected local authorities in the UK in terms of cuts to DLA with an estimated £7million lost, and the second worst in terms of cuts to Incapacity Benefits with an estimated £23mllion lost. Mr Hain said that ‘ Neath Port Talbot’s high incapacity benefit and DLA claimant count is a legacy of the industries like coal and steel which our communities grew around and that provided employment for so many at such a cost to people’s health.’

The impact study shows that the poorest in the country will be hit hardest by government welfare changes with old industrial areas like Neath and Port Talbot set to be decimated by cuts across the board. Across the UK an average of £470 per annum per adult of working age will be lost but the picture is far worse for many ex industrial areas including Neath Port Talbot where each working age adult will be losing £700 per annum.

Neath Port Talbot is the 10th worst affected local authority taking all changes to welfare into consideration and is the third worst affected in Wales behind Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent.

Neath MP Peter Hain said: ‘Of course it makes sense that the most deprived areas would be most affected by cuts to benefits but the question is why the ‘all in it together’ government has failed to go after tax dodgers and bankers who still continue to receive astronomical bonuses that most people won’t expect to earn in a lifetime let alone as a bonus.

‘The government fails to understand that these cuts will not only impact on the individuals who will see their subsistence money cut, but also the local economy by taking millions of pounds out of it while at the same time claiming they want it to grow. If people don’t have the money to spend in local shops then the local high street will suffer. ‘

Incapacity benefit is being replaced with Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and involves claimants going through the Work Capability Assessment which Mr Hain says involves ‘de-humanising tick-box medical tests which have already resulted in serious problems for my constituents arising from the pressure and fear of losing such a lifeline, with some being referred to the Neath Foodbank. To compound matters many of these decisions are incorrect in the first place and through the help of the dedicated Welfare Rights team at Neath Port Talbot CBC the right outcome has been secured. Their 80% success rate is incredible and just demonstrates how wrong these decisions are.’

Mr Hain added: ‘The Government is expecting sick and disabled people to compete in an already over-saturated market with five people chasing every vacancy in Neath, competing for jobs up against the long-term unemployed who don’t suffer the detrimental effects of often severe ailments’.

Employment and Support Allowance Appeals

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Is the Minister aware of the representations that I have made to the Secretary of State about a constituent of mine who has been suffering from mental illness for 13 years? Three months before his Atos test, he tried to commit suicide. Nevertheless, he was immediately refused a continuation of his benefit and was put into the limited liability group. Does the Minister not realise that there are some horrendous cases of punitive action being taken against people who are completely innocent in this respect? That constituent was without any visible means of income, and I had to refer him to the food bank in order to prevent him from starving. Is the Minister proud of such consequences of his policies?

Mr Hoban: I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was in the Government who introduced the work capability assessment and the employment and support allowance. I have set out the improvements that we have made to the system that we inherited from the previous Government, which was not working. We are continuing to make reforms, and that is demonstrated by fact that the proportion of people claiming employment and support allowance has tripled under this Government.

Hain calls for Affirmative Action to Combat Continuing Rise in Unemployment in Neath

Neath MP Peter Hain has strongly criticised Government economic policy as unemployment in the Neath constituency continues to rise.

Long-term youth unemployment has increased by a third over the past twelve months, a figure described by Mr Hain as ‘terrible for young people who already feel deeply worried about their future prospects under current economic policies.’

Figures out today (Wednesday 15th May) also showed a 6% rise in overall unemployment in Neath between April 2012-April 2013.

According to Mr Hain, ‘The Westminster Government has failed utterly to get Britain back to work. Furthermore, instead of offering constructive support like the Jobs Bill proposed by Labour, the Coalition is compounding people’s misery by introducing a series of punitive cuts to Welfare benefit.’

Mr Hain continued: ‘With five people chasing every one job vacancy in Neath, we desperately need affirmative action to get local people into work. This is why Labour is calling for a compulsory jobs guarantee, which will get any adult out of work for more than two years, or young person out of work for a year, into a job – one they would be required to take in order to continue receiving benefit but which will open up new opportunities currently denied to those seeking work in such a hostile climate.’

The attack on pensioners’ benefits could destroy social cohesion


The secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, says in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that he “would encourage” better-off pensioners to pay back their taxpayer-funded benefits voluntarily. This follows Nick Clegg calling for the means-testing of a range of benefits for pensioners, and Paul Burstow, the former Liberal Democrat minister for care services, suggesting the money saved should be channelled into elderly care reform.

There’s clearly a rising call, either to abandon pensioners’ winter fuel allowances, free TV licences and bus passes, or to means-test and tax them. Austerity, an ageing society and acute public spending pressures are cited in justification.

This is simply mendacious, because the savings proposed would be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall welfare budget.

The winter fuel allowance costs between £2bn and £3bn a year; so, unless the threshold is so low as to be worthless, there’s not a chance of being able to fund a new elderly care programme.

Means-testing TV licences and bus passes would raise little more than £1.4bn a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. If, as the government has done with child benefit, benefits are removed from pensioners in the top tax bracket, the amount raised would be even less – about £250m, which is less than 1% of the total welfare budget (about £160bn) or 0.1% of total government spending. Frankly, the cost of all these pensioners’ allowances is peanuts. To lower the threshold for means-testing would be administratively costly, time-consuming and inefficient because of the many varied combinations of assets, capital and earnings among pensioners.

It will also create real unfairness at the cliff edge for pensioners on modest or low incomes – especially those in need of more fuel or frequent travel because of illness, who could lose a key component of their independence in old age. Thousands of such people in my constituency alone have been liberated by free bus travel.

While these benefits are trivial relative to the whole budget, the social and political cost of taking them away could be huge: what would this say about a society of soaring bankers’ bonuses?

For lower earners these benefits are a few comforts guaranteed to them in old age, for middle to higher earners one of the few rewards received for consistent contributions to the welfare pot throughout their working lives. They are a symbol of senior citizenship and social cohesion.

Arguing that Sir Paul McCartney and other pensionable millionaires are receiving free bus passes at the expense of lower- or nil-rate pensioner taxpayers wilfully misses the argument for universal benefits. I doubt that Sir Paul uses his entitlement to a free bus pass – but, even if he did, he pays for it many, many times over in high taxes.

The worry is this: if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through at least some universal benefits, why would they still finance the lion’s share of it? The danger is a US-type system of poor law, from which President Obama has struggled to escape with his health reforms.

The attack on pensioners’ allowances leaves a big question hovering over the future of the welfare state: is it for everyone, or just for the poor? In his epoque-defining report in 1942, William Beveridge advocated a universal and contribution-based welfare state in the laudable hope of cementing social solidarity. Now, 70 years later, that hope of cohesion is disintegrating as the Tory-Lib Dem government dismantles the very universalism upon which that solidarity relies.

Cutting or means-testing pensioners’ allowances risks turning young against old and rich against poor while making negligible savings for the Treasury. All parties should be challenged to maintain them in their 2015 manifestos, as they did in 2010, and Labour should certainly stick by the policy.