Letter: Reform the benefit system, not the people who rely on it

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The Independent Online
You were right to say that Frank Field doesn't demonise the poor ("Birkenhead's magnetic field", Review, 20 July). By suggesting they should pay for errors in the benefit system designed to help them, he goes much further.

The woman he mentions who was expected to pay back an overpayment in housing benefit accepted the money in good faith, having passed on details of her change of circumstances. Field's suggestion that she abandon the security of a council property and embark on the high-risk business of house buying to reduce her debt is mind-boggling. What happens if the council makes another mistake with her payment or if she can't afford maintenance costs? She could find herself homeless.

Housing benefit is often fraught with delays and errors; many landlords refuse to house claimants because payment is so erratic. Any attempt to sort things out runs into excuses: files missing, case workers unavailable, computer systems failing. No wonder some people cheat.

Mr Field should address the system itself. Efficient processing and payment of claims gives people less reason and less chance to cheat the system. If the woman in the example had not done the right thing and informed the council, she would probably not now be in debt. Penalising honesty is no way to treat those in our society least able to help themselves.

Name and address supplied

YOU omitted some startling facts about Beechwood, cited as an example of how the welfare state has gone wrong. The people of the estate brought about physical changes that have transformed it from the soulless place it was 10 years ago. They encouraged the local college to set up a satellite facility and persuaded the government's task force to fund a job centre. They secured both the use of a derelict supermarket as a community resource and the funds to equip it with a day nursery, social club and training suites, used to draw in further European money for getting people back to work.

People from all over Europe have visited Beechwood to learn from what is considered one of the UK's foremost examples of community-based economic and social regeneration. Talk to the people who live in these areas; do not rely on urban myths.

Sheila Long

Beechwood Community Trust