How will the benefit cap affect St Albans? Councillors express their concern
- Credit: PA
Eighty homes in the district will have their housing benefit reduced by up to £1,120 a month following recent government cuts.
The housing benefit reductions will range from £279.64 to 14p a week, averaging out at £62.11, after the government reduced the benefit cap from £26,000 to £20,000 a year.
The cap affects a number of other benefits too and more than 200 homes in the district will feel the deductions as a whole.
Forty eight households will lose more than £100 a week, 42 will lose more than £50 a week, and 121 stand to lose less than £50 when the cuts are instated on November 14.
The move has been heavily criticised by some, including Roma Mills, Labour councillor for Batchwood.
She said: “To be perfectly honest with you I was dismayed and disgusted when I read the account of the impact on St Albans. People who are on low incomes are going to be even more squeezed and I don’t know how they’re going to manage.”
Roma went on to speak about how the cost of living in St Albans is similar to London, where the cap has been reduced to £23,000, but that that has been ‘ignored’ by the government.
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She went on: “Those on benefits don’t have a huge choice in the matter. To squeeze their income in this way is a disgrace. People seem to think that this is some kind of lifestyle choice.
“In an area like St Albans it’s a relatively small number of people [who will be affected] but it’s not worth the pain they’re inflicting on people.”
Green councillor for St Peters ward, Simon Grover, also slammed the proposals. He said: “This new cut will mean acute hardship for people all across our district - people who for a wide range of reasons find themselves in need to society’s safety net.
“Anyone who is worried about this should contact the council, as they may be able to get discretionary payments to help.”
Cllr Brian Ellis, St Albans council’s portfolio holder for housing, said that the cuts would not necessarily be detrimental and that similar measures in 2013 led to an increase in employment.
He said: “If you are receiving £26,000 in benefits that is equivalent to something like £29,000 before tax and national insurance, which is above the national median income.”
A rough estimation carried out by the Herts Advertiser actually puts the equivalent income as £34,000.
Cllr Ellis added: “It’s difficult to tell [how this will affect people on benefits]. As a result of that initial cap in 2013, the government said thousands affected went back into work and reduced their benefits in their entirety or in part.”
He agreed that some people would be disproportionately affected but added: “At the other end of the scale there’s one person who will have their benefits cut by 14p.”
Cllr Ellis said that the council had an annual budget of £100,000, which would rise to £130,000, to help those affected by the cuts.
He said: “Sometimes the rules affect people disproportionately and we can uses these funds to help.”
The portfolio holder added that he has been working with MP Anne Main to lobby parliament about putting up the cap level to £23,000 - the same as it is in London.
He is in the process of scheduling a meeting with the minister responsible for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Damian Green.
The council and the DWP will be holding a drop in session between 10am and 2pm next Monday, October 24, at the Alban Arena to provide advice about the benefit cap.