This chart shows the kind of issues my caseworkers and I have supported people with in the first month of the year. These are the new cases opened in January so do not include the ongoing issues we are supporting constituents with. As you can see the four biggest issues are social security and pensions (28%), local government issues mostly related to waste collection (12%), housing (9%) and tax credits (8%).
The number of people seeking support with financial hardship has remained high, as it has been for many months now. There is a big demand for support from the food bank from families struggling to put food on the table.
One welfare change that has been causing a lot of worry for some is the changes to support on mortgage interest payments. This was previously paid as a benefit to people on income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Universal Credit, and Pension Credit. It is an important safety net for low income households, especially pensioners, who would otherwise face repossession when their income falls. But the government have changed it from a benefit to a loan, essentially making people take out a second mortgage on their home. People needing this support are worried about the extra repayment burden, which generates interest and is repaid when the property is sold or passed on. Many of the people receiving SMI are at pension age with outstanding interest-only mortgages. They are now being asked either to find the extra money to pay the interest themselves or to take on the government loan. People are receiving letters informing them about the change which miss off crucial details like the interest rate on the loan. This is a yet another poorly thought out welfare change by this government which is hurting some of the most vulnerable. I am asking the government what they are doing to support vulnerable people with this change.
We deal with a lot of Personal Independence Payment appeals, especially cases where errors have been made in the medical examinations that result in disabled people wrongly being denied vital support. The majority of decisions we have challenged have been successfully overturned. You may have seen in the news recently that the government have announced PIP cases will be reviewed after the High Court found their policy was discriminatory against people with mental health conditions. All 1.6 million claims will be reviewed and those affected by this ruling could receive backdated payments worth £100s. If you think this may include you, there is no need to do anything. The DWP will write to you about your claim.
Anti-social behaviour is sadly a big and growing problem in parts of our borough at the moment and residents are understandably angry about the damage this is doing to local communities. People should be able to let their kids play out in the street without fear of the dangers of off road bikes or damage being done to play parks. This is the cost of Tory austerity which has seen Teesside lose a quarter of bobbies on the beat over five years. Enforcement officers employed by the council have also dropped to just 12 for the whole borough, as Tory cuts have cut into the council budget too. I regularly raise police funding in parliament and will be doing so again this week when the police grant report is on the agenda for discussion. A cash freeze in Home Office funding to local forces is just another real terms cut on police budgets at a time when we desperately need more money to tackle the issue.
As well as supporting people locally with these issues, I take all of the personal stories to parliament and challenge Tory ministers about the impact of their policies on families in our area.
If you need my help with an issue, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office on the details below.
Office address: 10 Milbank Terrace, Redcar, TS10 1ED