A COUNCIL chief fears struggling families will face a “perfect storm” this winter after Universal Credit was cut. 

Stockton Council leader Bob Cook sounded the worries as a new ten-year plan to tackle the borough’s stark health problems was rubber-stamped on Thursday. 

The £20 uplift to Universal Credit was pulled earlier this month. 

Cllr Cook told cabinet colleagues the council was looking at action they could take now to deal with the benefit cut, as well as increasing fuel and energy costs. 

The Labour leader added: “I’m sure there will be people out there who’ll be on Universal Credit for the first time in their lives. 

“The pandemic hasn’t helped businesses in hospitality in particular where they weren’t able to open. 

“We know there are issues coming up soon – obviously it’s a perfect storm with prices going up, and inflation.

“Fuel and energy is the lifeblood of anyone’s house.”

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Nine of Stockton’s 56 wards are in the 10 per cent most deprived in the country with an average male life expectancy gap of 21 years between the most and least deprived areas.

Work to close the gap in the poorest neighbourhoods and those who are marginalised will be part of the long term council vision alongside charities and other bodies. 

Cllr Ann McCoy, cabinet member for adult social care, feared food banks were running short in Stockton at the moment. 

And Cllr Cook believed there would be problems to deal with in the next six months.

Cllr Jim Beall, cabinet member for culture, leisure and health, explained how Stockton was a “strange” borough in having some very wealthy and very poor wards.  And he backed the 10-year plan. 

“It’s not going to be an easy job but if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed,” added Cllr Beall.  However, leaders put blame for the trouble firmly at the government’s door. 

Cllr Steve Nelson believed the council and partners couldn’t close the gap on its own.

“It’s really a mitigation exercise – we’re picking up the pieces of this government,” he added.

Meanwhile, Cllr Cook said “12 years of austerity” had forced wages down.

“There has been multi-year freezes for people’s wages,” he added. 

“I know local government and the public sector probably came off the worst. Parts of the private sector are barely getting inflationary rises.

“They’re starting to see them now as some industries are short of people and they have to push up wages. 

“But this government has been talking about a high wage economy when they’ve been pushing wages down for the past 12 years.”

In the past, Government officials have pointed to the £400bs they’ve spent protecting livelihoods, helping firms and aiding public services during the pandemic – and how the uplift to Universal Credit was “always temporary”. 

The spokesman added: “It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the Government should focus on our “Plan for Jobs”, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”

 

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