THE region is in the grip of a low pay crisis, new figures show – with an explosion in the number of working people surviving on housing benefit.
The number of claimants in the North-East and North Yorkshire who have jobs has leapt by 56 per cent since the last general election, according to official statistics.
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Labour said low wages and part-time jobs meant more and more working people could only “put food on the table” with a housing benefit top-up.
Rachel Reeves, the party’s work and pensions spokeswoman, said: “Lots of people have not had a pay rise for years and they don’t get the hours they used to – they can’t make ends meet.”
But the department for work and pensions (DWP) insisted the number of housing benefit claimants - and the overall bill – was falling.
The figures show that the total number of housing benefit claimants has crept up in the region since May 2010 – to 264,196 in November last year.
But that masks the huge rise in the number who are in work, which has soared from 27,369 to 42,795, an increase of 56 per cent.
In County Durham, that figure rose from 3,881 to 6,507 (up 68 per cent), with similar leaps in Middlesbrough (61 per cent), Redcar and Cleveland (52 per cent) and Stockton-on-Tees (61 per cent).
And more working people are on housing benefit in North Yorkshire, in Hambleton (up 59 per cent), York (46 per cent) and – most strikingly – Richmondshire (85 per cent).
Ms Reeves, who uncovered the statistics, said the bill for people earning so little that they received housing benefit had risen by £6bn since the election.
Labour would reverse the trend by building more homes, stabilising rents, extending childcare to more families and by tackling abuse of the minimum wage and zero-hours contracts.
Ms Reeves added: “Our number one priority will be making life better for people on modest and middle incomes, so these figures will start moving in the opposite direction.”
But DWP spokesman said: “The truth is that the housing benefit bill was spiralling out of control in the years up to 2010, doubling to £20bn in a decade.
“Action this government has taken is bringing that bill under control - saving the taxpayer over £2bn a year. And, contrary to these figures, we have seen the number of housing benefit claimants fall over the last quarter.”
There has been growing criticism of the Government’s insistence that getting people off benefits and into work is, by itself, a route out of poverty.
In fact, of all the families living in poverty, 67 now have parents who are in work - up from 43 per cent since 1997 and by six per cent in 2011-12 alone.
The growing problems has been blamed on far more people working part-time, as companies tried to avoid shedding staff after the economic crash.
In addition, tax credits – introduced by Labour to help the low-paid - have been hacked back by the Coalition and there has been a boom in the use of zero-hours contracts.