Leader of Brent Council: Why I allowed Panorama benefit cap documentary to focus on the borough

Cllr Muhammed Butt is the leader of Brent Council

Cllr Muhammed Butt is the leader of Brent Council - Credit: Archant

Yesterday evening BBC1’s Panorama programme focused on the effects the benefit cap was having on Brent residents.

The film crew were given access to residents seeking help at the borough's civic centre for six mont

The film crew were given access to residents seeking help at the borough's civic centre for six months - Credit: Archant

The documentary was made using footage shot from the borough’s civic centre over six months.

Under the government’s controversial welfare reforms state handouts are capped at £500-a-week.

Because this includes housing benefit payments and hundreds of affected families are being forced to move out of London to be able to afford their rent.

Lord David Freud, minister for welfare reform, said: “It is not right that some families on benefits were receiving amounts of money that hardworking taxpayers could only dream of and our reforms are working to fix the system.”

According to research conducted by Sheffield Hallam University the borough’s residents will suffer the greatest financial loss in London with an estimated £150million in benefit income being lost a year.

In addition statistics revealed by the Department for Work and Pensions in January, showed more than 1,200 households in the borough have seen their state benefits slashed since handouts.

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This has resulted in Brent being the second most-affected authority in the UK.

Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, has written an open letter to the Times to explain why he agreed to let the camera crews into the town hall.

He said: “The Panorama team approached the council because Brent is the most impacted area in the UK by the coalition government’s benefit cap.

“With energy and food bills, rents and transport fares rising, these are tough times for our borough. Many Brent residents are struggling to find work, whilst others are having to work two or three part-time jobs just to get by. It’s in times such as these that we rely most of all on our families, friends and communities.

“That’s why it’s such a travesty that this government is tearing parents, many of whom are raising their children without the support of a partner, away from the relatives and neighbours who are always there to lend a hand. All the while, it’s their kids, wrenched out of school and away from their friends, who will suffer most as a result of the benefit cap.

“I could have quite easily have said no to Panorama or refused to give their camera crew unrestricted access, but I have always said that I want to run an open and transparent council and to be held accountable for our actions by the people of Brent. We had no control over the programme’s content or how the council was portrayed. I wanted to let people make up their own minds. I watched it for the first time last night along with everybody else.

“We didn’t choose to impose this cruel and unfair policy on Brent residents. And I know the film made for tough viewing, but I am proud that the nation saw just how hard the council’s dedicated housing officers work to support some of the most vulnerable in our community. It can’t be easy to tell people they’re going to have to move halfway across the country, but that’s the cold hard truth imposed on us by the cap.

“The council will continue to work with Brent residents impacted by the cap to help them find jobs and childcare, to put a roof over their heads and – in some cases – to offer them financial support to get through especially hard times.

In the mean time, I’m glad that we’ve played a part in starting a national conversation on this difficult and emotive topic. We may be the borough worst affected by the benefit cap, but we’re certainly not the only ones.”

To watch the programme click here.

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