Fact-finding UK tour on impact of benefits freeze puts Chester on national TV screens
Chester was the latest stop on a fact-finding mission by a pair of MPs seeking the end of the freeze on benefits which is making life even tougher for those in society who are struggling.
Independent MPs Frank Field (Birkenhead) and Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) have been touring the country on a route that has taken them to London, Leicester and Morecambe.Yesterday, Mr Field and Ms Allen, formerly of the Labour and Conservative Parties respectively, were in Chester on their latest stop of a tour they are calling the 'other Britain'.
The visit of the MPs to the city was covered by Channel 4 News last night as they met both charities and individuals who have experienced poverty.
During the discussion around the table, the MPs heard that people are being left 'hungry and cold' and that the controversial Universal Credit is a common theme, with the waiting time and debt which can result from delays cited as problems.
Speaking on the programme, Anne-Marie Scragg from West Cheshire Poverty Truth Commission said: "All these people that I have worked with, work – and then they’re in this situation.
"It’s not that they’ve lived on benefits for years, that’s not the case and that’s what we keep trying to tell people. But once they’ve lost that bit of security, then they lose their children and it goes on and on.”
The duo are calling for Chancellor Philip Hammond to end a freeze on benefits in the Spring Statement, which he is due to announce next week on Wednesday, March 13.
Mr Field summed up the problem surrounding Universal Credit by saying that it was 'designed by middle class people for middle class people' and that there were 'clearly no poor people around the table' when it was conceived.
It was rolled out in 2013 after being announced in 2010 and merges six payments into one.
This includes income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working tax credit.
Pete Hough receives £112 a week in support every fortnight - which he described as 'diabolical' - and became homeless after he fell behind with rent when his benefits were sanctioned.
Speaking on the broadcast, he said: "When I worked, I was earning £300, £400, £500 a week. I was spending £200 on a pair of trainers, giving £200 for my kids – no problem.
"If you’d have said to me eight months ago, everything you own has been donated, I’d have laughed at you.
"Everything I am wearing is donated. My sandwiches I eat everyday have been donated by Greggs the day before. You get a soggy sandwich, you get a biscuit that’s a bit hard. There’s always a bottle of water and there’s always a cup of tea, there’s always a smile."
Michael Cahill also discussed his situation after being forced to give up his senior management job after suffering from a nervous breakdown.
He said: "I was on top rate income tax and I couldn’t understand that I’d paid so much tax in my working life that when I fell ill, there was no help out there apart from my parents, who I became utterly reliant on. I couldn't cope at all with life after work.
“£112 a week when you’ve got rent, gas and electricity – we’ve worked it out and you can live on £112 a week. No you can’t, it’s impossible.”
Ms Allen explained why she and Mr Field were calling for the freeze on benefits to be lifted as the prospect of a fourth year with no rise is on the cards.
Despite initially backing the freeze when it was introduced, Ms Allen said that 'the world has changed and inflation has changed'.
She said: "We are just coming to the end of a third year of the four year benefit freeze.
"The Government has already saved £900m more than it anticipated by the end of that third year and there is no moral or logical or evidence based reason to keep that freeze going for the final full year and we want it ended."
Mr Field added that if the freeze does not come to an end, calls from himself, Ms Allen and those being negatively impacted 'will not go away'.
The Treasury has said that the Government will be spending £28bn more on welfare by 2022 than it is currently and supporting people to help improve their lives is a priority.John McDougall, Cheshire Live