Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe has told local residents that “thousands” of people in the borough would be affected by welfare cuts coming into force next month.
At a public meeting on Tuesday, held by the North London and Stoke Newington Labour Party, Pipe told the audience: “Normally, a Tory Government in this much chaos would be welcomed by me, but not this time.”
“We’re not talking about tens of people [in Hackney], or hundreds: we are talking about thousands being affected.”
The changes to welfare, which include the “bedroom tax” and reductions in council tax benefit, will be introduced in April. They will be followed by the implementation of Universal Credit, a system currently being piloted in Croydon, Harringey, Bromley and Enfield, in the autumn.
Pipe said that the online-only methods of applying for benefits under the new scheme will cause problems for claimants in Hackney, where 26 per cent of residents do not have access to computers or the internet without visiting a public library.
One local resident attending the meeting asked if Hackney’s services would face further cuts to funding and administration.
Pipe said that frontline services in the borough were expected to be protected until 2014, describing them as “the face” of Hackney Council.
“Councils are getting creakier and creakier, and there will be mistakes. I’m determined that those mistakes will be on things like the issuing of parking permits, and not on social care for children.”
Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Dianne Abbott, also spoke at the meeting, urging people not to allow the impact of the cuts to cause racial tension in the community.
“In austerity, people turn against outsiders,” she told the audience, comparing the current global recession to that of Germany in the run up to World War II.
“We as a community need to be very wary of any narrative that tells us that the problem is outside us.
“I am tired of hearing that immigrants are a drain on the public sector. Think about the public sector here in Hackney and think that it is the children and grandchildren of immigrants that have made that public sector possible.”
Both politicians said they support suggestions of a “rent cap” across the capital to avoid the private rental market becoming unaffordable for those on low incomes.
Abbott said that if a cap was not introduced imminently it would “drive not only poor people, but middle class people, out of zones 1 and 2.”