33% of the population on one Chester estate is known to claim some form of benefit but Gordon Brown claims to be setting about tackling “sick-note Britain”. RICHARD DOWN reports
THE number of people claiming incapacity benefit this Christmas has become so overwhelming that Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain has announced tougher tests for claimants.
Meanwhile, in Blacon a new partnership, the Economy and Enterprise group, has been set up to get to the root of the issue. And it is faced with slashing some daunting figures.
In Blacon nearly 1,300 are sick or disabled, according to Job Centre Plus figures. A further 310 claim Job Seekers Allowance and 340 get lone parent benefits.
In Blacon Lodge a third of every adult is out of work and claiming. Across the rest of the city one in seven is getting benefits.
The situation is “challenging”, says the group and getting people off benefits is not a straightforward task.
Neil Jay, of Chester Credit Union, often has to deal with the fall-out from people being disqualified from benefits or those who are trying to make ends meet while claiming. He said: “We have more than 250 members in Blacon alone.
“Getting people off benefit leaves them out in a big wide world. They’ve not had to pay bills or rent or council tax, so they don’t know how to manage a budget.
“They can be quite comfortable on benefits. However, if any of that changes, and at the moment the Government is looking at overhauling the disability system, then they’re being left high and dry.”
Cllr Judith Stainthorp raised these concerns at a recent Blacon One Voice meeting. She asked whether there would be a long term programme to help those getting back into work.
Many, she said, had ended up worse off than before in other drives to get people back into work.
But the combined knowledge of Blacon Community Trust, Hope Centre, Jobcentre Plus, Learning Skills Council, West Cheshire College, Chester City Council, and Connexions, is hoping to avoid these pitfalls.