Unfair benefit changes causing poverty and anxiety

Britons are living in fear of deepening poverty as a result of the government’s attack on the benefits system, a new poll reveals today (Monday 11 February).

More than three in five people (62 per cent) believe that government changes, which will see widespread cuts to benefits, will plunge people into poverty, with 72 per cent of 40-64 year olds feeling most strongly that this will be the case.

On average, 40 per cent of people interviewed said that they will be worse off after the latest changes being this April, with again 51 per cent of 40-64 year olds expressing the greatest concern. More than half (56 per cent) of those over 40 are feeling 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. A shocking 50 per cent of those aged over 65 will cut back on food with 20 per cent in this age bracket to cut back on heating.

But with one in every two people (49 per cent) not aware of the changes to come in April, the true extent of hardship could be much worse.

Austerity placardThe findings are revealed by Unite the union on the day that the government’s Welfare Uprating Bill receives its second reading in the House of Lords. The bill will see benefits rise by only one per cent, in effect a real terms cut as inflation is running at around three per cent. This is in addition to changes that will see the poorest in society forced to find money to pay towards their council charge and the so-called bedroom tax.

The union polled 1,000 people – in and out of work – in five areas of England: Burnley, Birmingham, Peterborough, Slough and Southwark to gain a true picture of the feeling in typical communities. A huge variety of people in employment were polled, including nurses, carers, teachers, construction workers, finance and retail workers, as well as those out of work, students and retirees. Across the board, Unite 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. The impact assessment government did carry out was, according to the union, shamefully inadequate given the magnitude of the benefit cuts.

Unite says also that the government must halt all plans to force the poorest tenants to pay from their benefits towards council tax and plans to charge social housing tenants for rooms deemed ‘extra’ or move to smaller accommodation, of which little is available.

Speaking ahead of the second reading, 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.”

Unite is building a campaign against the welfare cuts, uniting in and out of work benefit recipients in defence of the welfare state. Shortly, it will launch a new website that aims to challenge government distortions and act as a hub for those determined to fight to save the welfare state.

In summary, Unite’s poll found:

  • Those in the south of the country fear most that they will be badly hit. 60 per cent in Slough and 46 per cent in Southwark said that they would be worse off, compared to 24 per cent in Peterborough.
  • Across the five areas, 48 per cent will have to cut back after April with cutbacks greatest among the 40-64 year old group (60 per cent), followed by 53 per cent of 25-39 year olds, 39 per cent of 16-24 year olds and 19 per cent of over 65s.
  • 76 per cent of those polled in Slough are preparing to cut back, followed by 65 per cent in Southwark, 45 per cent in Birmingham, 33 per cent in Burnley and 18 per cent in Peterborough.
  • 45 per cent report growing anxiety at the thought of being even worse off, with this greatest among 40-59 year olds (56 per cent) and those living in Slough (64 per cent), Southwark (50 per cent) and Birmingham (48 per cent).
  • 66 per cent of those polled felt that the one per cent ‘rise’ in benefits was unfair while inflation was three times that rate; 68 per cent of men interviewed felt this compared to 63 per cent of women.
  • Those aged 25-39 (70 per cent) and 40-64 (71 per cent) felt most strongly that this was unfair.
  • 58 per cent felt it was unfair for government to be forcing those on benefits to pay towards council charge (61 per cent men, 54 per cent women), with again those 25-39 (58 per cent) and 40-64 (67 per cent feeling most strongly.
  • 54 per cent felt bedroom tax unfair, with men (56 per cent) and women (52 per cent) and those aged 40-64 (63 per cent) feeling most strongly this was the case.
  • The best informed group is the 40-64 year olds (31 per cent unaware of the changes) but ignorance of changes to come is greatest among young people – 68 per cent of 16-24 year olds are unaware.
  • There is an overwhelming reliance on media for information about the changes – 70 per cent learned of the changes from the media – with only 5 per cent hearing from their local council and 4 per cent turning to government websites. Friends, charities and unions are the other sources of information.
  • On average of one in three of those polled currently claim benefits (33 per cent).
  • 68 per cent have never claimed benefits before; 37 per cent of those interviewed aged between 25 and 39 have claimed them in the past.
  • Of those interviewed, Job Seekers Allowance was the most commonly claimed benefit (40 per cent), followed by housing benefit (23 per cent) and tax credits (22 per cent), employment support allowance (8 per cent) and disability living allowance (7 per cent).


Read more from Unite here.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was one of the signatories to a letter in the Guardian last week calling for a People’s Assembly Against Austerity. This ‘national forum for anti-austerity views’ will meet at Central Hall, Westminster, London, on 22 June. To register go to: www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk.