More jobs means fewer benefits

Coun Warren Bennett
Coun Warren Bennett

Major job boosts in Leyland have been credited for a significant drop in the number of people claiming benefits.

A new report by South Ribble Council shows that when the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ welfare reform was introduced in April last year, it affected more than 600 people in the borough.

But that figure has fallen by 30 per cent in the area, compared to just 11 per cent nationally, and the council believes the change in South Ribble is a result of people finding work and no longer needing to claim benefits.

Coun Warren Bennett, chairman of governance, said: “The so-called bedroom tax, or under occupancy as it should be known, initially affected 651 claimants in the borough.

“This has dramatically fallen to 454.

“There are numerous reasons for the dramatic changes, but increases in local employment point to a move back into work.”

He added: “Welfare reform changes were designed to make work pay and to break the dependency culture.”

In the last 12 months, hundreds of new jobs have been created by a new Waitrose distribution centre opening in Buckshaw Village, and the Dr Oetker pizza factory in Moss Side expanding its operations in Leyland.

Now, South Ribble is preparing for another major change in the way people claim benefits, as Universal Credit is set to be piloted to replace six means-tested benefits this month.

Universal Credit will be paid in one sum each month, and covers Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

The vast majority of claimants across the country are expected to move onto Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017, but a pilot scheme launched in London will be extended to South Ribble throughout June and July.

Coun Bennett said: “Overall this will simplify matters and while the scheme has been delayed nationally, everyone wants it to be a success.

“It seems to be supported across the political parties.

“It’s important that these pilots are done in different types of communities, and I think it’s taking longer than everyone wanted, but it’s only right that it is done cautiously.

“We’re looking forward to seeing it introduced in South Ribble.”

Last week, the council’s cabinet committee voted through a report which gives the go-ahead to services being set up to support residents through the benefit changes.

Coun Phil Hamman, cabinet member for shared services and corporate support, said at the meeting: “Access to Universal Credit is gained online, which is a concern because not everyone has a computer. We’ve drawn up a draft contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide specific services through our Gateway facility, including face-to-face budgeting advice and the use of computers.

“The cost of this will be claimed back from the DWP, so we’re providing new claimants with all the services they need to access Universal Credit at no cost to this council.

“I’m sure this is the best way to help our residents.”

The report states that the funding needed to ‘cover the additional new burdens that will fall to the council’ is around £100,000.

Council leader, Coun Margaret Smith, said: “I’m sure this will be very welcomed by residents. We need to do all we can to help.

“People changing to this system will need to know how to budget.”