Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Poorest suffer in benefits overhaul

All governments want to reform the benefits system due to its enormous drain on the country's finances.

And few people will disagree with attempts to stamp out abuse of the system which literally takes money out of the pockets of those in most need. Entitlement to benefits should only be gained after rigorous examination. Yet the reforms which began to be introduced in Britain yesterday by the coalition government at Westminster – they do not come into effect in Northern Ireland yet – leave many people feeling uneasy.

The impression gained is that millions of claimants will be significantly worse off. The clamp-down on benefits is severe and with rising unemployment that will be bad news for very many people here. What really rankles is that it is the poorest people in society who are being hit by these reforms. They are paying the price for the recklessness of the elite who wrecked the economy and left the UK with a huge debt burden.

While that may seem a simplistic economic argument, that is how those who will see their benefits reducing in the coming months regard the situation. They can point out validly that bank bosses are still earning enormous bonuses even though the government promised to clamp down on them. Some of the banks only survived because of taxpayers bailing them out, yet they seem subject to little government sanction even now.

Works and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith says the reforms are fair but the jury is still very much out on that. One glaring example is the so-called bedroom tax, where people occupying a home with an unoccupied room will lose some of their housing benefit. It is a good theory to attempt to rebalance the housing stock, equating need with provision, but the simple fact is that there are not enough one-bedroom homes in the social housing sector to make it work.

People will be penalised through no fault of their own. That manifestly is unfair and the government should admit its mistake speedily.

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