Soup kitchen future under benefit plans

“WE SEE a future of soup kitchens.” That was the grim prediction of one councillor after Dewsbury Area Committee was given a sobering assessment of how changes to the benefits system will affect the town in the coming months and years. Julian Hobson, of Kirklees Customer and Exchequer Services, and Tina Cooper, of Housing Options and Support Services, addressed councillors and members of the public at Longcauseway Church on Tuesday evening. They detailed how changes that the coalition Government are making to benefits and allowances could have a profound effect on local communities. Cuts to housing benefits and new rules about underoccupancy in Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing properties were outlined, which will see KNH tenants financially penalised for living in homes that are too large for them. Ultimately this could lead to people being forced to look for smaller accommodation, no matter how long they have lived in a property, and change the social mix on many estates as families are moved into one area and single occupants moved elsewhere. More than 46,000 households receive either housing or council tax benefit in Kirklees, and around 3,500 KNH tenants underoccupy by at least one bedroom. Changes – mostly reductions – will be made to Local Housing Allowances, which are paid to people living in privately rented accommodation, coupled with a benefits cap and the introduction of a new Universal Credit to replace a raft of benefits. The Kirklees duo explained that in the next two years 14,500 people in the district will go through an incapacity benefit reassessment which will take many of them off Disability Living Allowance and compel them to look for work. The committee also heard that: There are currently 16,722 people waiting on the Kirklees Housing Register, with 308 KNH homes empty; 152 households in Dewsbury will be affected by cuts to the Local Housing Allowance, leaving them £80,000 a year worse off in total; 331 KNH tenants in Dewsbury will be affected by changes to underoccupancy rules, which will see their benefits reduced by a total of £211,000. Potential issues the council are planning for include increased homelessness, crime, deprivation and evictions coupled with fewer jobs and support services. After their report, Coun Paul Kane told them he was “scared to death” by how many people would be affected. A clearly passionate Coun Kane (Lab, Dewsbury East) said: “A hell of a lot of people will be affected, and this shortfall has to be picked up somewhere. People just have to accept that housing is not for life any more. I think it’s disgusting what’s happening to the entire system, and it’s hard not to be political about it.” Coun Cathy Scott (Lab, Dewsbury East) chaired the meeting and said: “We need people to be aware of what’s coming. Councillors, churches and newspapers all need to play our part and inform the people of Dewsbury, because most don’t know what’s happening and we can see a future of soup kitchens.”

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