Benefit claims double as city's growth arrested in recession

BENEFITS claims in Sheffield have doubled over the last two years, according to a newly-published report which reveals the level of inequality among communities in the city.

The State of Sheffield report, which has been compiled by public sector bodies such as the NHS, council and police, has revealed that the number of benefit claimants in the city has doubled between 2008 and 2010, despite the fact that the economy was "growing fast" prior to the recession and average incomes have increased.

Other findings are equally bleak. Employment growth has relied on the public sector, the report says, but this is "likely to stop" due to huge Government spending cuts. At the same time, jobs are declining in the manufacturing sector.

The report also shows that more than a fifth of children live in homes receiving council tax or housing benefit and about 18 per cent of Year 6 pupils, aged 10 and 11, are obese.

Sheffield Council leader Paul Scriven welcomed the State of Sheffield report but said more still needs to be done for the poorest people in the city.

He said: "This report shows how much Sheffield has changed and we still need to do more to make sure all areas of the city are improved and life gets better for everyone in Sheffield.

"The work we have done to drive up standards in education, improve the economy, ride out the recession, tackle crime and anti-social behaviour can been seen in this report.

"We can also see what we have done to promote fairness and health and community involvement. Now we need to concentrate on doing more to enhance the life chances of everyone, especially those who have the most needs. This is a city where everybody matters."

The report says that the city's population is increasing and is projected to be about 600,900 by 2020, while the number of people aged over 60 will increase by 65 per cent.

Despite council initiatives, Sheffield still has a relatively low number of new businesses starting up, compared to other cities, and only average business survival rates.

Coun Scriven said: "We are doing all we can to make Sheffield the most business-friendly city in the UK, providing jobs and opportunities for real Sheffield people."

The report finds that a large number of people have high levels of education, but there is also a significant proportion who are unskilled.

GCSE results remain below the national average and there is also a higher than average proportion of children with special educational needs

People in Sheffield are also paid less than their counterparts in other "core" cities in England.

Dr Jeremy Wight, director of public health at NHS Sheffield, said: "We have made good progress in preventing early deaths from heart disease and stroke in the city, mortality rates have continued to fall and life expectancy continued to increase in recent years.

"There is still an enormous amount of preventable ill health in Sheffield that we must strive to reduce. Obesity, alcohol and drug abuse and smoking are all contributing factors to the health inequalities that must be addressed."

There is good news, however, in terms of crime and disorder, with a quarter as many burglaries being recorded as there were five years ago.

Chief Superintendent Simon Torr from South Yorkshire Police said: "Vehicle crime is down by a huge 50 per cent and violent crime is now 35 per cent down in the last year alone. Over the past five years we have reduced overall crime in Sheffield by 33 per cent.

"We are also delighted that we are now seeing a reduction in both the number of anti-social behaviour incidents and the improving perception of residents in the way police and partners are tackling the problem, but we are not complacent. We know there is more to do. We are committed to maintaining low levels of crime."