Ministers under fire as poor get 50p-a-week benefit rise

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Millions of the poorest people in Britain are facing a benefit increase of just 50p a week, the smallest rise in their payments for at least 30 years.

Millions of the poorest people in Britain are facing a benefit increase of just 50p a week, the smallest rise in their payments for at least 30 years.

Pressure groups attacked the Government yesterday, saying that the rises, which will come into force in April, were objectionable and that a swath of society was being ignored.

Millions of claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), Housing Benefit and Income Support will see payments go up by just 1 per cent next year, thanks to the operation of a government formula. The increase is the lowest since at least 1974, and less than a third of the 3.1 per cent inflation rate.

Campaigners said that those losing out - the "forgotten poor" - were being sidelined because of the Government's focus on pensioners and families with children.

The decision has echoes of the row five years ago when a similar formula delivered a rise of just 75p a week in the state pensions, forcing the Government into a U-turn. The increase is based on the measure of inflation that excludes rent, mortgage interest payments and council tax for September - the Rossi index.

Rossi dropped to 1.0 per cent last month, the Government's Office for National Statistics said last week .

This means 2.2 million people claiming income support will see their benefit rise by just 44p a week to £44.05. For under-18s the award is even more miserly - 33p to £33.38.

The 835,000 people out of work eligible to claim JSA will see their benefit rise by 56p to £55.65. Almost three million people claim housing benefit but the level depends on their individual circumstances.

Paul Kenway, the director of the New Policy Institute, which campaigns for social justice, said a vast group of people had seen no real increase in benefits for several years. "This group is neglected," he said. "There's a real imbalance in the benefit system relative to kids and pensioners with sharp elbows," he said.

"This group is not vocal and there are not charities shouting for them. They are seen as what the Victorians used to call the undeserving poor."

It was entirely right that the incoming Labour government had targeted working families with children, he said, but it should now broaden benefit reform. "There has not been any fuss over this but this [Rossi increase] is another turn of the screw for this group," he said.

Paul Wheatley, a senior policy officer at Citizen's Advice, said the relative decline in income-related benefits meant the Government risked missing its poverty reduction targets.

"This 1 per cent increase is worrying. It is rather objectionable when commentators and politicians accuse people of languishing on benefits when we are talking about £54 a week," he said. "These benefits are not linked to wages or even prices so they are building potential inequality into the system which, I think, needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency."

Paul Dornan, a policy adviser at the Child Poverty Action Group, said that it was also worried by the potential impact on children.

"Family income needs to be seen in the round. You cannot ignore the uprating of adult payments when considering the family's incomes, since family income may be made up of payments for both adults and children," he said.

"If adult benefits - such as income support - fall in real terms this impacts on the family's spending power. To ignore that impact is a sleight of hand, making increases appear more valuable than they actually are."

Research by academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found adults needed a minimum of £91 a week on which to live - almost twice income support.