Report Shows That Welfare Cuts Will Not Work for Stoke-on-Trent

A report by two of the City`s major charities paints a bleak picture of the local impact of cuts to the benefits system proposed by the coalition government`s Welfare Reform Bill.

Stoke-on-Trent Citizens Advice Bureau and Brighter Futures have cooperated to analyse the impact of the proposed cuts on their users and on the economy of the city as a whole.

The report predicts that cuts to Employment and Support Allowance alone will take at least £13 million each year out of the local economy. They predict that changes to Housing Benefit will lead to increased homelessness and a reduction in the number of private landlords in the area. The report notes that the changes could force vulnerable people to live in dangerous shared accommodation.

“The changes attempt to impose a single “Ëœone size fits all’ solution on towns and cities which are facing starkly different economic challenges. This means that in a city like Stoke on Trent they will represent a false economy and will give at best only short term savings to the public purse. In the medium term they will both reduce our economic activity and add to the burden on public services. Taking swift and decisive action together we can make a difference. This report set-out practical recommendations that I am hopeful will be acted-on as a matter of urgency”.
“In our work we meet thousands of local people who are currently dependent on welfare benefits. In many cases these people could be helped back into work by the regeneration strategies of central and local government. We fully support these efforts to create new local jobs. However, we recognise that they will not create instant jobs and thus we believe that, even for those who can be helped into work, they need a decent benefits system meanwhile. For those who are unable to work due to illness or disability, the proposed changes represent yet another hurdle in lives that are already often impossibly hard”.
“The proposals to change Housing Benefit are designed to solve problems in London and the expensive south east. Housing conditions in those areas are completely different to those in North Staffordshire and the effect of imposing these cuts on Stoke will be to make many people homeless and to make it difficult for organisations like Brighter Futures to offer the individually tailored packages of care that we design to help people cope with the effects of mental health problems, addictions or criminal behaviour”.

Benefit Cheats Caught and Charged

by Mike Rawlins

Two benefits cheats have been ordered to repay a combined £15,000 in dishonestly claimed benefits.

Stephen Lowe, from Burslem, was given a suspended prison sentence for dishonestly claiming £11,986 in council tax and housing benefits, and Amanda Lovatt, from Longton, was given a community order for dishonestly claiming £3,365 in council tax and housing benefits. Lowe and Lovatt were both separately sentenced by magistrates sitting in Newcastle-under-Lyme on Friday (13 March).

Keiran Clarke

Kieran Clarke

Stoke-on-Trent City Council portfolio holder for resources Councillor Kieran Clarke (pictured) said: “We have a team of officers dedicated to investigating benefits fraud. We have powers to carry out thorough investigations and had compiled files of evidence against both Lowe and Lovatt.

“Benefits cheats are not simply cheating the system, they are cheating the vast majority of residents who are law abiding taxpayers. We are committed to
prosecuting offenders who break the law, and to recouping taxpayers’ money that has been claimed dishonestly.”

Lowe, 38, claimed benefits between 12 April 2004 and 22 June 2008 despite his wife starting a job at Staffordshire County Council on 5 April 2004, and despite starting a job himself at Kwik Fit on 17 May 2004. He claimed a total of £9,446.20 in housing benefits and £2,540.48 in council tax benefits.

Magistrates sentenced Lowe to a three-month prison term, suspended for 12 months, a 12-month community order, a 12-month supervision order, and £200 prosecution costs. He must pay back all the £11,986 in full.

Lovatt, 42, claimed £2,835.95 in housing benefits and £529.25 in council tax benefits between 17 December 2006 and 11 November 2007, despite her live-in partner being in full-time employment. She also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of dishonestly claiming £4,729.79 in income support during the same period. Those costs will be recovered by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Magistrates sentenced Lovatt to a 12-month community order, a 12-month supervision order, and £300 prosecution costs. She must pay back the full £3,365 housing and council tax benefits to the city council.

Councillor Clarke added: “We take a very dim view of those who deliberately cheat the system. With council tax bills now being delivered for the year ahead, it is vitally important that those residents who can pay take into account the payments they will need to make.

“But we also know that there are residents in the city who genuinely cannot afford to pay. We will do everything we can to help those residents and have teams of officers on hand to give support. I urge anyone who thinks they might legitimately be entitled to benefits to call the council on 01782 234234, and we will be happy to offer assistance.”