Suffolk: Benefit payments slashed for more than 200 households under flagship Coalition Government welfare reform

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Supermarket levy - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2008

More than 200 families claiming benefits in Suffolk have had their payments cut following the Government’s controversial welfare reforms, new figures have revealed.

The disclosure prompted claims the revamp has put a stop to “runaway benefit claims” and had returned “fairness” to the welfare system.

However, a senior Labour figure placed the coalition’s flagship scheme under fresh scrutiny, arguing a housing shortage combined with a cost-of-living crisis and a lack of controls on private landlords will cause hardship for families.

The data, released yesterday by the Government, showed 207 households in Suffolk have had their housing benefits capped between July last year, when it was introduced, and May 2014.

It was the highest in Ipswich (63), while in north-east Essex a total of 334 households were affected.

The reforms introduced a ceiling for the first time on the amount families can claim in welfare, such as Jobseekers’ Allowance, housing benefit and child benefit.

The new £26,000 limit, equivalent to a pre-tax salary of £35,000 a year, is designed to ensure households are always better off in work than on welfare.

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Meanwhile, the research also showed how 121 Suffolk households with five children or more had been hit. It was 118 in north-east Essex.

The coalition has long argued that, at a time of major cut backs to public spending, the welfare budget cannot escape unscathed.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “If we are going to end benefit dependence and succeed in our long-term economic plan, we have to continue to reform welfare.

“Where there have been individual cases that need attention, people have come to me and I have often been able to help. But in general, people understand that welfare reform is necessary, not only for the country but also for those who deserve a second chance.”

Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, added: “By capping benefits we are putting a stop to these runaway benefit claims and returning fairness to the system.

“This government is fixing the broken welfare system we inherited, ensuring that it always pays more to be in work, and thereby encouraging thousands of people to move off benefits and into jobs.”

But Ipswich borough councillor John Cook, a Labour party agent, said: “The best way to tackle the benefits bill is for employers to start paying a living wage, introduce a fairer rent system to bring some level of control on rent payment – because in reality the housing benefit is not a benefit for the tenant; it is a benefit for private landlords – and build more homes.

“If things carry on the way there then the housing benefit system is going to spiral out of control.”