Norfolk-based charity fears the £12bn “draconian” cuts to welfare bills

Housing benefit will be removed from 18 to 21-year-old's on Jobseekers' Allowance.

Housing benefit will be removed from 18 to 21-year-old's on Jobseekers' Allowance. - Credit: Newscast Online

A drive to create a fairer Britain and improve lives or a policy with devastating consequences? Billions of pounds of welfare cuts will be made in the emergency budget next month. Political editor Annabelle Dickson asks what is in store, and what impact it could have.

Thousands of families across the region are on the welfare payroll and the government wants to reduce that bill – across the country to the tune of £12bn.

While details of where the axe would fall were scarce yesterday, David Cameron made his case for the cuts prompting fears among charities and political opponents about their impact.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of the Norfolk-based charity Equal Lives, warned the previous coalition government had already imposed a 'draconian regime of benefit cuts and sanctioning' which he claimed were resulting in 'unnecessary deaths and suicides'.

And he said disabled people had been disproportionately affected.

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'It is no accident that use of Food Banks is highest in areas with the highest levels of sanctioning. Benefits are set at the minimum level of existence so if you take this away people can't feed themselves or their children,' he said.

But Iain Duncan Smith claimed disabled people would be treated with the 'utmost kindness' as he came under renewed pressure in the Commons to rule out cuts to disability benefits.

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The Conservatives have already said the annual benefits cap is set to fall from £26,000 to £23,000, while housing benefit will be removed from 18 to 21-year-olds on Jobseekers' Allowance. Pensioner and child benefits will be protected.

Former Norfolk MP Baroness Shephard, who is deputy chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, said the most vulnerable should be safeguarded.

She said the best thing that could be done for people was to equip them with the very best education and help as many people as possible to get into work. She said there were a range of measures where the government was trying to look at what would best help people to make the first step upwards.

She said: 'One of the biggest challenges for Norfolk is affordable housing. Accessibility of further education, work experience and work, in particular for young people, and the cost of getting to that education and work is always an issue in rural areas.

During a debate following the Queen's Speech earlier this month, the Bishop of Norwich warned over the language used about the poor and unemployed.

'During the election campaign we heard a great deal about hard-working families. This always seemed to mean families whose members were in employment.

'Back in the 1990s, when I was involved in poverty hearings, I vowed never to equate hard work only with employment and jobs again.

'I remember a young woman at a poverty hearing in Cornwall describing how she had been seeking a permanent job for more than two years and saying that it was very hard work indeed being poor and unemployed and attempting to make ends meet while also sending off applications for jobs when, time after time, no one responded... I am not sure that the language we use about the poor and unemployed is always sensitive to this basic truth,' he said.

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