Poll results come as Welfare Uprating Bill goes to House of Lords. Unite says benefit changes will “paralyse local economies”

Tim Lezard

job centre signA survey suggests Britons are living in fear of deepening poverty as a result of the government’s attack on the benefits system.

The poll – conducted for Unite – found more than three in five people (62%) believe proposed widespread cuts to benefits will plunge people into poverty.

72% of older people (40-64 year-olds) feel most strongly that this will be the case.

On average, 40% of those interviewed said they believed they would be worse off after the latest changes.

The poll found more than half (56%) of people over 40 years old are increasingly anxious about the changes to come.

Food, luxuries (including take away meals, toiletries and cinema trips), clothes and heating are the items most likely to be cut back.

50% of those aged over 65 expected to have to back on food.

However, analysts also said that because nearly half of all those they spoke to were not aware of the proposed changes, the true extent of hardship could be much worse.

The poll findings have been released on the day the Welfare Uprating Bill receives its second reading in the House of Lords.

The changes – due to take effect in April – will see a cap on benefits rises of only 1%, despite inflation running at around 3%.

The bill includes the widely-criticised “bedroom tax” and removing council tax rebates.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Cutbacks on benefits will not help our economy.

“The fear and hardship they bring will further paralyse our local economies as people stop people spending in their local shops.

“Where on earth does this government from another planet believe people will find a job or extra hours at a time when under-employment and bogus self-employment are rife?

“These cuts are also callous. Not content with snatching income from the poorest among us, they are now embarking on nothing less than class cleansing with their ‘bedroom tax’.

“While the minister pushing these changes through the Lords can go home to his eight bedroom mansion, his government’s policies will uproot poorer families, cause needless distress to the disabled, hurt people who foster and insult parents with kids serving in the forces.

“This cruel and chaotic tax exemplifies the disdain of this government for ordinary, decent people.

“We urge the Lords to do the right thing today – stand between this government and its determined and accelerated slide of our communities into widespread poverty.”

The TUC, which conducted a similar poll earlier this year, found only 30% support among the public for the proposed cuts.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:“This bill has been sold to the electorate on the back of mistruths and nasty stereotypes.

“The reality is that with people’s incomes continuing to fall in real terms, this Bill will cut the value of vital tax credits and benefits for millions of hard-pressed families.

“With the country in desperate need of a ‘Plan B’ to boost our economy and raise people’s living standards, a bill that makes poor people even worse off is the last thing this country needs.”

Unite polled 1,000 people – in and out of work – in five areas of England: Burnley, Birmingham, Peterborough, Slough and the London borough of Southwark.

They included nurses, carers, teachers, construction workers, finance and retail workers, as well as those out of work, students and retirees.

Interviewers found growing anxiety over the further hardship to come and a deep sense that the changes are unfair.

Unite is calling upon the Lords to take action to amend the Bill to prevent poverty from gaining a greater hold on communities.

Among the amendments it is calling for is one to force government to make a full and proper assessment of the impact of its changes on children, the disabled, minority ethnic groups and other highly vulnerable groups before it forces through any benefit changes.

Unite dismissed an existing impact assessment as ‘shamefully inadequate’.

Unite’s poll also found:

•       Those in the south of the country fear most that they will be badly hit. 60% in Slough and 46% in Southwark said that they would be worse off, compared to 24% in Peterborough.
•       66% polled felt the 1% ‘rise’ in benefits was unfair while inflation was three times that rate. 68% of men interviewed felt this compared to 63% of women.
•       The best informed group is 40-64 year-olds (31% unaware of the changes) but ignorance of changes to come is greatest among young people – 68% of 16-24 year-olds are unaware.
•       One in three of those polled currently claim benefits.
•       Of those interviewed, Job Seekers Allowance was the most commonly claimed benefit (40%), followed by housing benefit (23%) and tax credits (22%), employment support allowance (8%) and disability living allowance (7%).

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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