This week, we’re taking a look at some of the latest benefits and welfare headlines.
Mother of two says it’s not easy being overweight and on benefits
An obese mother of two living off benefits handouts from the Government says that she needs more money from the taxpayer to help overhaul her diet. Christina Briggs, aged 26 from Wigan says that she doesn’t like being 25 stone but she cannot do anything about it because all she can afford is junk food. Exercise is also out of the question because she does not have the funds to be able to go to a gym. She told Closer Magazine:[quote] “It’s not easy being overweight and on benefits. If I was well off, I’d be able to buy fresh food and afford a gym membership.” [/quote]
The woman says she also tried swimming but it cost £22 a month, meaning that she had to cut back on her favourite pizza and Chinese takeaways. She gets £20,000 in benefits a year and lives alone with her two children. The family sit down to eat takeaways, chocolate and crisps every day. Christina has been warned by her doctor that her lifestyle is putting her health in danger but she says this is not her fault because healthy food is too expensive. She believes her only hope is more help from the Government- perhaps a cash incentive for every pound she loses or healthy food vouchers. The mother added that she is unable to work due to her daughter’s health problems.
Unemployment falls to 6.2 per cent, Job Seekers Allowance claimants also down
The number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance has fallen below a million for the first time since 2008 according to new figures. The number of claimants fell for the 22nd month in a row according to the Office for National Statistics. The total amount of jobless people is almost 500,000 less than it was last year, the largest fall in unemployment since 1988.
As well as the amount of jobs increasing, wages were also on the rise as average earnings increased by 0.6 per cent. There are now over 30 million people in work in Britain. In recognition of the figures, Chancellor George Osborne tweeted:[quote] “Today’s employment stats mark another step towards full employment. But still so much more to do.” [/quote]
He also added that unemployment in Scotland was down to below 6 per cent, below the UK average. However, it is not all good news as despite a steady two year decrease in unemployment, the rise in earnings is still shorter than the rate of inflation at 1.5 per cent. The Bank of England halved its wage growth forecast saying that it now expects average salaries to rise by 1.25% this year.
Housing Benefit divides the Coalition
The Conservatives and Lib Dems had a showdown in the House of Commons over a bid to ease housing benefit charges. Lib Dem MP Andrew George called for his peers to back a plan to exempt more people from what is known colloquially as the ‘bedroom tax.’ Lib Dem MPs were to get behind the bill, with Labour expected to follow suit. The Tories are understood to have told their MPs to vote against it. Mr George called the bill ‘modest reforms’ to the system. If the bill became law, people who could not find a smaller home would not have to pay the bedroom tax. It would also exempt disabled people who require a spare bedroom or who have adapted homes.
The bill was expected to be the second time that the two parties have voted against each other. However, the Lib Dems have been called hypocrites for voting against a bill that they voted in favour of just two years ago. Tory ministers were not going to support the bill because they said that it would cost an extra £1 billion in welfare spending. Sources from the party called the bill a ‘cynical PR move’ by the Lib Dems to try and gain supporters ahead of the upcoming Lib Dem conference next month.
One Tory MP said that the Lib Dems had showed that they were ‘devious and untrustworthy’ and claimed that the vote officially showed that the coalition had come to an end. With Labour also backing the bill, it passed by 306 votes to 231.
Delays to welfare payments for disabled people is ‘unacceptable’
The delays that are facing some claimants of a flagship Government welfare scheme are ‘unacceptable’, one minister has admitted.
Data released by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that of the 530,000 cases registered for the Personal Independence Payment between April 2013 and July this year, just over 206,000 had actually been cleared- either awarded, withdrawn or declined. The figures do not reveal how long people had actually been waiting but the minister for disabled people accepted it had most likely been too long. He said:[quote] “Unlike the old system, PIP includes a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews to ensure that support goes to those who need it most. Today’s figures show just that, with nearly 23 per cent of people getting the highest level of support, compared to 16 per cent with Disability Living Allowance.” [/quote]
He said that DWP accepted that the delays were unacceptable and pledged to put them right. He said that between May and July the number of claims processed had doubled. He said that by the end of the year, no claimant should be waiting longer than 16 weeks for their assessment.
According to the statistics, PIP has been awarded to 51 per cent of new claimants since April 2013. Since October of that year, it has been granted in 72% of re-assessment, consisting mostly of people who were previously on Disability Living Allowance.
Reacting to the figures, disability charity Scope called on the Government to do ‘everything in it’s power’ to address the delays, which he said were causing wannabe claimants potential financial uncertainty, distress and anxiety. He said that the charity’s telephone helpline had been busy with people calling for advice on their PIP claims- many were facing delays of over six months.