Mayor John Biggs has criticised the announcement that the benefit freeze is due to end at the end of 2020 as ‘spin’. The freeze introduced in 2016 meant benefits no longer increased in line with inflation and was always planned to end at the end of the current financial year. The Mayor called for the government to repair the ‘broken welfare safety net’ and reiterated his call for Universal Credit to be scrapped.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies the benefit freeze has cut an average of £560 per year from the income of the country’s poorest seven million families who last saw their benefits increase in 2015. That’s more than £2,000 of lost income or a 6% cut in real terms in their income.
Despite having to make savings of £190m since 2010 due to government austerity the council has protected its Council Tax Reduction Scheme, crisis loans and free school meals and this was recognised last week when Tower Hamlets was awarded joint 3rd in Sustain ‘Beyond the Foodbank’ league table of London boroughs who are taking action on food poverty.
A financial health centre that opened in partnership with Tower Hamlets Homes saw 2,000 residents helped in its first year. An outreach team which is part of the Mayor’s £6.6m Tackling Poverty Fund will be starting a second day a week there due to customer demand. They also provide support at locations such as food banks.
Mayor John Biggs said: “Residents in Tower Hamlets have endured years of seeing their incomes not keep up with the cost of living and the government’s renouncement of the end of the benefit freeze is cold comfort for my residents.
“We’ve made tackling poverty a priority as I know many of our residents are facing the brunt of government cuts. While we have had to make difficult decisions we have focused on our political priorities which are making the borough fairer and supporting our most vulnerable residents.”
Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor & Cabinet Member for Planning, Air Quality and Tackling Poverty, said: “We are doing everything we can in the face of huge cuts from government to support our most vulnerable residents. From protecting Free School Meals, to tackling holiday hunger and paying for outreach advice workers at places like food banks we’ve made this a key priority but it can feel like we are plugging gaps in a broken safety net. The government must fix this.”