Benefits advisor warns we’re facing up to a hard future

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HARD-UP people in Boston are ‘fighting like heck’ to stay afloat even if they have a job and are facing yet more pain when benefit changes kick in, according the town’s busy Citizens Advice Bureau.

The Boston branch says people are regularly queueing up to use its services and advisors helped 6,500 people with more than 13,500 cases last year and handled cases involving a staggering £7.56 million debt in 2010/11.

The bureau, based at the Len Medlock Centre, says 45 per cent of its queries involve benefits with more of those actually in work but struggling to make their pay packets stretch.

The CAB spoke to The Standard in light of Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on Monday, where he floated the idea of cutting housing benefit for under-25s to make savings to the welfare bill.

Boston CAB chief officer Stuart Hellon (pictured) said he understands that the Government has to balance the books but fears the cuts will affect the group most vulnerable to unemployment.

Mr Hellon said: “It’s alright saying we are going to cut benefits but where are the jobs?

“The largest growth area in the past year for our benefits work is for people who are working but still can’t cope – that’s the scary thing.

“All the bills are going up but the money stays the same. A lot of people are in a position where their hours have gone down or they have taken a pay cut to keep a job – where do you go? People are fighting like heck to keep their heads above water.”

Boston CAB is facing up to losing grant funding for next year, just as changes to benefit rules kick in.

In April the Government will alter the way benefits are paid, which the CAB expects will add to a workload that has shot up by 10 to 15 per cent in the past year.

The CAB will retain its council funding but could lose grant money it uses to fund benefit help.

Mr Hellon added: “Next year is not going to be easy both for us and the people of Boston. I hope it’s not going to be as painful as we fear – it would be great if it’s not.”

Boston and Skegness MP Mark Simmonds said the Prime Minister was right to ‘start a debate’ and stressed no definitive changes have been decided.

He said: “We need to have an intelligent debate about how we make the maximum number of people self reliant as opposed to being caught in the benefit trap.”