How six months of benefits changes hit hard in Blackpool

At this time of year, Blackpool's illuminated mile sparkles with neon self-confidence.

But take in the view from the 19th floor of a council tower block in the Queen's Park district, and the town takes on a decidedly monochrome quality.

For parts of this town appear to be stuck in an earlier era.

A myriad of bed and breakfast hotels still display "no vacancies" signs between lacy net curtains, advertise rooms "en suite", and promise the delights of "colour" television.

But this year, for once, Blackpool is in the vanguard of social change.

According to experts from Sheffield Hallam University, the government's welfare changes have hit harder here than anywhere else in Britain.

When those changes came in six months ago, their report predicted that, on average, adults of working age in the town would lose £910 a year.

That compares with an average loss across the country of £470.

The government also forecast that more people would be affected by the housing benefits changes in the North West than anywhere else.

Melvyn Holmes

Start Quote

They're trying to force people out of their homes. We've been here for 20 years, but now we're being forced out”

End Quote Melvyn Holmes Benefit claimant

"Those figures don't surprise me at all," says Melvyn Holmes, a former miner who now cares for his disabled wife in a Blackpool council house.

Because their two children have left home, they have lost £80 a month from their housing benefit, as a result of the end of the spare room subsidy.

For the first time they also have to pay £20 a month towards their council tax, making them at least £1,200 a year worse off.

"We were all right until the bedroom tax started," he says.

Struggling to cope with debts of up to £5,000, they have now applied for a smaller house, just as the government had hoped.

"It's diabolical," says Melvyn.

"They're trying to force people out of their homes. We've been here for 20 years, but now we're being forced out."


The changes to council tax benefit have also hit Blackpool particularly hard, as the council decided to pass on most of the 10% shortfall in government grant to its residents.

Mike Clague, a former RAF chef whose 19th floor flat has such a spectacular view, is having to find £15 a month extra.

"It doesn't sound much," he says. "But on top of all the other bills, it's a lot."

Ann Morris Ann Morris gives out school uniforms to those who cannot afford them

He has had to cut back on food as a result. Chocolate has become a once-a-week treat.

In Blackpool even those on jobseeker's allowance (JSA) have to find an extra £206 a year.

Many people have not yet paid anything.

"We recently had a huge influx of clients for non-payment of that money," says Julia Hannaford of Blackpool Citizens Advice.

"In one week we saw 40 people."

For those that are paying, the extra outgoings have stretched household budgets. Half the council tenants in Blackpool are behind with their rent.

In two or three cases, the local housing association has now obtained suspended possession orders, the first stage in the eviction process.


Elsewhere in the North West there are already some striking memorials to the first six months of the benefits changes: the houses that no one wants.

In Sefton, on an estate once known as Beirut, there are roads where dozens of people have moved out.

One resident of Daley Road points out 10 empty houses in her street.

house One of the empty houses in Daley Road

"They don't even bother to board them up anymore," she tells me.

"It's all because of the bedroom tax. Nobody wants a three bedroom place anymore."

On this part of Merseyside, community workers also report that, since April, more people are having their benefits temporarily stopped.

JSA claimants, for example, now have to prove that they are job hunting, by applying online.

But not all are computer literate.

Ann Morris, a development worker in Litherland, says that as a result many parents can no longer afford to buy school uniforms.

She and her colleagues have set up a uniform bank to help.

"They all want their kids to go back to school with new uniforms. But some have benefit sanctions, so they just don't have the money," she says.

Carol Wilson

Start Quote

I never thought I'd see the day that we'd all get in and share a bath. A treat is getting in the bath first.”

End Quote Carol Wilson Benefit claimant
'Blind Scouse'

Carol Wilson, a carer from the Tuebrook area of Liverpool, was herself sanctioned earlier in the year.

She lost one week's Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), as a result of being in hospital.

Since April she has also had to find £80 a month as a result of having a spare room, and £9 a month extra for council tax.

Along with all claimants, she has also been affected by the 1% cap on annual benefits increases.

She, her partner, and her son now share their bath-water to try to economise.

"I never thought I'd see the day that we'd all get in and share a bath. A treat is getting in the bath first."

And she stretches a pot of stew, known as scouse, so that it lasts for three days.

"You just add potatoes each day. When the meat runs out, it's known as "blind scouse".

Blind scouse is certainly making a comeback in Liverpool at the moment, she says.


All along the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has insisted that the changes are not about saving money, but about encouraging more people into work.

Indeed since claimants were warned about the cap on total benefits back in April, the DWP says more than 15,000 have been helped to find jobs.

"Since April we have made great strides delivering our reforms," a DWP spokesman told the BBC.

"The rollout of universal credit and personal independence payments have begun, reforms to housing benefit are making the system fairer and the benefit cap is now in place across the country."

The government also says it has cut income tax for 25 million people, saving a typical taxpayer £700 a year.

It claims the typical household will also save £600 as a result of council tax being frozen for five years.

And even among those hit by benefit cuts, there are those who support the principles of the reforms.

"I do think it's right that people should be in work if they can be," says Carol Wilson.

"And I don't think being on benefits should be too comfortable.

"Whilst I would like more, the country is in a crisis. And I cope with what I have," she says.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    BORIS ISLAND 11:30:

    Saga travel reacts to the shelving of Boris's plan: "With Howard Davies's Airport Commission now sinking Boris Island airport in the Thames Estuary, the Government needs to accelerate the decision to pick Heathrow or Gatwick. Governments of many hues have avoided making a decision, but we need politicians with a backbone, not the will of a jellied eel, if Britain is to get the airport capacity it needs."

    Aston Martin

    Aston Martin has hired Nissan executive Andy Palmer as its new chief executive after nine months with no-one in the top job. Mr Palmer led Infiniti, a luxury Nissan brand.

    HELP TO BUY 10:59:

    The number of people who have benefited from the government's Help to Buy schemes has topped 48,000, according to official figures. But there was a slight drop in June in people taking advantage of the version which assists buyers of older properties. The help comes in two forms: an interest free loan for buyers of new properties and a mortgage guarantee for people purchasing "second hand" homes.

    BORIS ISLAND 10:44:

    BA comments on the end of Boris Island: "We've always said that there was no economic case for a Thames estuary airport so it's no surprise that the Davies Commission, after a thorough investigation, has ruled it out," it says, rather sniffily.


    European Union governments will consider putting new sanctions on Russia on Friday. Italy's foreign minister told the European Parliament the Commission was working on a tougher package of sanctions against Russia including defence, "dual use" goods and finance.

    EUROZONE RECOVERY Via Blog Robert Peston Economics editor

    The German and Italian economies are shrinking, and France is flat-lining, Robert says in his blog today. Unemployment remains hideously, intractably high - 11.5% for the eurozone as a whole. So, what does the future hold?

    THE POOND 10:01:
    Man with kilt, sporren and Scottish pound

    You'll have noted the small fall in the pound. This is a plausible enough reason - the growing threat of an independent Scotland. "A poll for the Sun and the Times newspapers showed support for the pro-independence "Yes" campaign had risen to 47%, a 4 point gain," notes Reuters. The "No" lead has narrowed from 22 points to just six now. Now, is this picture as inanely stereotypical as the earlier Swiss cheese one?

    BORIS ISLAND 09:45:

    OK, so what next for UK airport capacity? Having kyboshed Boris's island idea as too expensive and impractical, the commission has another year to pick from the remaining three options - two plans to expand Heathrow Airport and one to expand Gatwick Airport.

    MARKETS 09:20: BBC Radio 4

    An interesting nugget from BlackRock's investment boss Ewen Cameron Watt. He told Today the markets' current complacency will melt in the face of higher interest rates that everyone expects are on their way. He gives some striking figures: "A 1% rise in [UK] mortgage rates will add £800-900 to the average mortgage bill." And put a serious crimp in spending power.


    Europe's share markets have all opened modestly higher. The best gainer in the UK is Weir Group, which is up 3%. And the pound has fallen 0.25% against both the dollar and the euro. It is at $1.6568 and 1.2621 euros.

    • The FTSE 100 is up 20 at 6845
    • the Dax in Frankfurt is 68 higher at 9547
    • Paris's Cac 40 is 13 points higher at 4393
    SWISS ECONOMY 08:50:
    Big cheese

    No growth in Switzerland, reports the State Secretariat for Economics. A surprise: GDP was forecast to growth by about half a percent in the second quarter. Weaker exports and falling construction spending were the culprits. Yearly GDP growth was 0.6% - way under hopes of 1.7% growth. We will endeavour to find an even more fatuous picture before we pack up for the day. Might be hard.

    CHINA PROPERTY 08:34: Via Blog Linda Yueh Chief business correspondent

    The various steps that China is taking to stem house price rises seems to be working, but can the government manage an orderly slowdown in the property sector? Linda Yueh finds out here.

    BORIS ISLAND 08:19: Radio 5 live
    boris island

    Aviation expert David Bentley told Wake up to Money about one of the three remaining airport expansion options - that to expand Heathrow as a "hub", he says. A hub can mean base for airlines, or a major airport to change plane, as in a "hub and spoke system," he says. Whatever is decided, it will need to satisfy air travellers for the next 20 years or so, he adds.


    Australia's central bank kept its interest rate at a record low of 2.5% for a 12th consecutive policy meeting. The economy is growing sluggishly, initial data suggest.

    BORIS ISLAND Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    tweets: Davies says Boris Island project would be "reckless" and unlikely to appeal to government "of any political colour"

    Redrow houses

    Redrow says a large number of its Help to Buy clients were first time buyers and over half were in the north of England. It says its order book is looking plump - up 85% on last year. Business Live has been debating Redrow's building style. Ease of upkeep of the wooden bits has excited debate.


    Housebuilder Redrow's results are here. The usual tale of rising prices and the government's Help to Buy scheme. Redrow reports a 13% increase in the average selling price to £239,500, record group revenues and record pre-tax profits (almost doubling). Help To Buy provided 35% of private completions.

    BORIS ISLAND 07:07:

    Sir Howard Davis, chairman of the commission, said it had come down against Boris's island airport plan because: "The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount." Even the least-ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70-90bn."

    BORIS ISLAND 07:04:

    "The Airports Commission has today (2 September 2014) announced its decision not to add the inner Thames estuary airport proposal to its shortlist of options for providing new airport capacity by 2030. Following detailed further study into the feasibility of an inner Thames estuary airport the commission has concluded that the proposal has substantial disadvantages that collectively outweigh its potential benefits." A firm no, as expected.

    MARKETS 06:56: BBC Radio 4

    BlackRock is the world's largest asset manager with more than $4.5 trillion under management. Its investment boss Ewen Cameron Watt, discussing why markets are so steady in the face of so much global tension tells Today: "Volatility is exceptionally low by historical standards and there's too much money chasing too few assets."

    HSBC SHARES 06:42: Radio 5 live

    Ewen Cameron Watt, Chief Investment Strategist of the BlackRock Investment Institute, is now on 5 live talking about the news Neil Woodford, the fund manager, flogged his HSBC shares. "Neil bought HSBC because it was one of the few banks where he thought there was some dividend growth," he says. However, fines in the sector are likely to drain that prospect, he says. It's fines "more than anything that's sapping bank's willingness too lend, or ability to lend".

    MARKETS 06:27: BBC Radio 4

    Today is looking at why stock markets are at a 52-week high when the political situation around the world is so dire - there's the threat of war in Europe and conflict in the key oil producer Iraq. Ewen Cameron Watt, chief investment strategist at Investment Institute of giant asset manager BlackRock says: "At this stage in the summer months the thought that Russia might affect sending gas to Europe is not a worry. [Energy stocks] are about 90% of capacity."

    BANKING COMPLAINTS 06:12: Radio 5 live

    More from the Financial Ombudsman's Caroline Wayman. Fee-paying bank accounts are the cause of the increase in complaints about banking, she says. "People are getting in touch saying they didn't know they had a fee paying account or want one." People are "more aware but we see a lot of people who are reluctant to raise concerns," when coming forward to the service, she says. There are also more complaints about payday loans, but from a low starting point she says.

    BANKING COMPLAINTS 06:02: Radio 5 live

    Caroline Wayman, chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman Service is on Wake Up to Money talking about complaints about banks. Complaints about payment protection insurance have fallen by almost a third, but complaints about other things in banking are up: "Still a lot of people get in touch, more than 1,000 people a day," she says. "We've had to expand a lot."

    06:01: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Morning! Get in touch via email or via twitter @BBCBusiness

    06:00: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    Good morning and welcome to Tuesday's Business Live. Stick with us for the pick of the morning's news.



  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?

  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?

  • Members of staff at James Stevenson Flags hold a Union Jack and Saltire flag UK minus Scotland

    Does the rest of the UK care if the Scots become independent?

  • Women doing ice bucket challengeChill factor

    How much has the Ice Bucket Challenge achieved?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.