CONTROVERSIAL changes to the welfare system are forcing vulnerable people in Bournemouth and Poole to make life-changing decisions, a poverty summit has heard.

Richard Bristow, the manager of Poole Citizens’ Advice Bureau, cited a case where a man with learning disabilities was living on a paste made from flour and water after his benefits were suspended and another where a woman with breast cancer was forced to stop chemotherapy because she was assessed as ineligible for benefits.

He told the audience at Bournemouth University that CAB staff regularly saw Bournemouth and Poole residents who were facing an endless battle to make ends meet.

He said: “Some aspects (of the benefit system) appear to penalise anybody who requires help from the state.

“The bedroom tax in particular is having an insidious impact, especially when there’s no accommodation people can move into.

“The welfare state is meant to offer a safety net but the holes appear to have got a lot bigger in recent years.

“When it’s acknowledged that some people will never work because of health problems, I feel they should be treated differently and allowed to have a decent standard of living.”

Mr Bristow was a keynote speaker at ‘Local Poverty – Reality and Response,’ a Bournemouth University Festival of Learning event. He told the audience that Bournemouth and Poole CABs deal with around 25,000 problems each year.

He said there were officially 4,350 children in poverty in Poole, 5,625 in Bournemouth and that last year, more than 14,000 people turned to one of the area’s main food banks for assistance.

“Food banks have become an essential part of the safety net for local people in recent months,” he said. “Without them many people would go hungry.”