Ipswich: Nearly 50 families on benefits see payments slashed following controversial government welfare reforms
PUBLISHED: 14:57 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:57 10 January 2014
Nearly 50 families claiming benefits in Ipswich saw their payments slashed following the government’s controversial welfare reforms, new figures have revealed.
The revelation provoked a war of words between the town’s Labour council leader David Ellesmere and Conservative MP Ben Gummer as the coalition’s flagship scheme came under fresh scrutiny.
The reforms introduced a ceiling for the first time on the amount families can claim in welfare, such as jobseekers’ allowance, housing benefit and child benefit.
The new £26,000 limit, equivalent to a pre-tax salary of £35,000 a year, is designed to ensure households are always better off in work than on welfare.
Some 47 families in the town suffered a benefits cut in the first four months after the £500-a-week limit came into force on July 15 last year, the new government research found.
It was the highest amount in Suffolk.
Mr Ellesmere slammed the shake-up, saying vulnerable people have been hit “when they are already down” and arguing the government should instead shift its focus on to reducing housing costs and increasing the minimum wage.
But Ipswich MP Ben Gummer hit back at those allegations. He labelled Labour the “welfare party” and insisted the figures proved the coalition was on course to deliver its promise of making people better off through work than on benefits.
“My Labour opponents have voted against every single welfare reform,” Mr Gummer said.
“They are the welfare party and seem to think it is reasonable for people to receive more in benefits than they would in work.
“I disagree with that and these figures – which are relatively low because the cost of housing is not what it is in London – show that we are achieving precisely what he (Mr Ellesmere) asked us to do even though he said everything we were going to do would not work.”
He added: “We have always maintained that it is wrong that people get more money from benefits than the average weekly wage for working households.
“The evidence received so far show that the benefit reforms are a considerable stimulus to get people back in to work while unemployment is below what it was before the general election in Ipswich and youth employment is lower than what it was before the crisis when we were a richer country.
“But there is still much more to do to reform our welfare system and under another term of a conservative government we will ensure this will happen.”
Mr Ellesmere said: “Although unemployment is down, many new jobs are part time and low paid. Combine that with the failure of the David Cameron to tackle housing costs and that means the government is now spending more money on benefits for people in work than for those who are unemployed.
“Everyone wants to get the benefits bill down but the government should be putting more effort into doing this by getting people jobs, increasing the minimum wage and reducing housing costs rather than their default option of hitting vulnerable people when they are already down.”
In Suffolk, some 156 families saw their household benefit payments decrease as a direct result of the new welfare cap, the Department for Work and Pensions statistics, released yesterday, also revealed.