Cuts will cause a surge in crime, says police boss

Nik Brandon in the children's room at his Norwich flat, which will attract 'Bedroom Tax'. Photo: Bi

Nik Brandon in the children's room at his Norwich flat, which will attract 'Bedroom Tax'. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

Norfolk's police and crime commissioner is warning that 'short-sighted' government welfare reforms will cause the county's historically low crime rates to surge.

Stephen Bett, a former Conservative councillor, predicted 'catastrophic repercussions' for demand on the county's police force, with more people trapped in financial hardship by benefit changes turning to crime.

The welfare reforms, which include housing benefit changes dubbed the 'bedroom tax', come into play in April.

In a letter seen by the EDP, sent to all of Norfolk's MPs and councils on Friday, Mr Bett pulled no punches over the welfare reforms, warning he would not be able to fund the extra demands on the force which they would create.

He said: 'My worry is that the changes to housing and welfare benefits will result in some people turning to crime in order to bridge the shortfall caused by reductions in the sums they will receive.

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'Whilst accepting the government has to prioritise the tackling of the country's financial deficit, it must not create a nonsense framework which causes more problems than it solves.'

Mr Bett, who was elected as the county's first police and crime commissioner (PCC) in November, said he had grave concerns over the 'bedroom tax' which will see benefits cut by between 14pc and 25pc for people in social housing.

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He said: 'The penalty if claimants are left, through no fault of their own, in accommodation with a spare bedroom, seems totally unreasonable if they have no suitable alternative available.

'Why penalise claimants who have no alternative but to live in accommodation with a spare bedroom? The lack of public housing or affordable private housing in recent years worsens the problem and I simply don't understand how the policy makers could be so short-sighted.'

The Hunstanton farmer said he was also concerned about the impact of the Universal Credit, a new payment for claimants which merges different benefits as one payment each month.

He warned that people on the benefit were likely to spend the cash all at once at the start of the month, leaving them short by the end.

In the letter, Mr Bett argued some benefit claimants would either resort to loan sharks or to 'alternative, potentially criminal activities' to see them through to the end of the month.

And he finished his letter with a stark warning.

He accused the government of passing responsibility for the effects of welfare changes on to the police without giving them the means to deal with it.

Mr Bett said: 'I can't fund the chief constable to serve adequately with budgets that are then capped by ministers who have passed on accountability without adequate powers to discharge those responsibilities.'

Mr Bett was the Conservative chairman of Norfolk's Police Authority for six years, but quit the Conservative group on Norfolk County Council and the North West Norfolk Conservative Association to stand as an independent candidate for November's inaugural PCC elections. He raised the amount households paid to the police as part of their council tax precept by 2pc in February.

Mr Bett has asked the MPs to respond to his comments and said he would post their replies on his website.

The government hopes to save £465m a year through the 'bedroom tax' and announced concessions earlier this month to the vulnerable.

Families who show their children need two bedrooms because one is disabled will now be exempted from the changes as will foster carers and parents who have teenage children in the armed forces.

But it is estimated 10,000 people across Norfolk and Waveney will be hit by the reforms.

Under the plans anyone living in an 'oversized' home will have to undergo an assessment with their council to see if they qualify for an exemption.

The new policy will allow one bedroom for each person or couple. Two children aged nine or under would be expected to share a room.

Two youngsters between aged nine and 15 would also be expected to share, though only with a child of the same gender.

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