POOR people in Barnsley are being 'demonised' as sweeping changes to the benefits system begin to bite, a council watchdog has said.

The claim was made at Barnsley Council's community and well-being scrutiny meeting last Wednesday.

Councillors and representatives from groups such as Citizen's Advice, DIAL and the Methodist Circuit met to discuss the impact benefit changes, council service reductions and the economic climate is having on the borough's most vulnerable people.

They also looked at whether enough is being done to protect those people.

Pat Heath, the chief executive of Barnsley CAB, said a big concern was the growing negative attitude towards poor people who, he said, are being demonised for claiming benefits.

"One of the biggest causes of anxiety at CAB is the demonisation of poor people, and the language used to describe them by politicians, the media and people on the street themselves," he said.

"I have lived through hard times myself but it wasn't as vile and vitriolic as it is now, blaming the poor for the situation they're in. We need to change this concept that they are 'scroungers'."

Cllr Tracy Cheetham, who sits on the watchdog, also has 'a real issue' with the labelling of people on benefits.

"People aren't defined by the benefits they claim and that's something we need to get away from," she added.

Cllr Joe Hayward, said: "The people paying for all this is the bloody poor people, not the rich. It is going to rip communities apart."