Tagged: April 1

Bedroom tax crime fears

Crime chiefs say the so-called bedroom tax is driving people to ruthless loansharks and committing crime.

Cleveland and Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioners expressed growing concerns over the financial pressures the benefit cut is having on households.

They say it is leading to a rise in crimes like shoplifting and people buying on the black market and worry the benefit cut will drive people to illegal and ruthless money lenders.

> And nobody ever speculated that this would be a likely consequence ? What will they do when they catch on to the effects of  benefit sanctions !

It is after a recent interim Government report on the spare room subsidy.

It revealed that 59 per cent of social housing tenants hit by the bedroom tax nationally have been unable to meet their basic housing costs.

Crime commissioner for Cleveland Barry Coppinger said: “Bedroom tax leaves many in severe hardship and I’m concerned that some families will turn to volatile loan sharks as a short-term solution.

“The pressure increases when they can’t pay what they owe the unlicensed moneylender, particularly if a threat of violence is looming over them.”

He added: “Deep and relentless welfare reforms have a knock-on effect on other crimes, particularly shoplifting, as families turn to the black-market to buy food and other items they can’t afford in the shops.

“I would reiterate the importance of seeking trusted financial advice, accessing credit unions and asking to be referred to a foodbank. Foodbank locations in Cleveland are on the information section of my website.”

And Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said he feared the problem will get worse with further planned welfare reforms.

Mr Hogg said: “We predicted that this tax would cause massive problems for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“With more welfare reform yet to be implemented the situation will only get worse.

“Many in our communities will struggle to put food on the table or pay their utility bills.

“As these financial pressures grow we would encourage the use of credit unions and urge those affected to seek trusted financial advice.”

The bedroom tax came into force on April 1 last year and affects social housing tenants in employment and those in receipt of housing benefits if they have any unoccupied rooms.

Households under occupancy have their benefits cut by around £13 each week for one bedroom or £22 for two bedrooms.

In Hartlepool, 1,581 households have been affected with the average weekly loss of housing benefit of £13.67 a week and the annual value of housing benefit reductions in Hartlepool is £1.123m.

Source – Hartlepool Mail,  31 July 2014

North-East needs a pay rise, says TUC

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady explains why North-East workers need a pay rise.

Next Tuesday, April 1 will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the minimum wage – a historic milestone in British labour history.

Before its introduction in 1999 some workers were being paid as little as £1 an hour. The minimum wage has helped to end such abuse. It has proved to be a vital safeguard for employees across the North-East.

The Low Pay Commission recommends the level of the minimum wage. Its first ever chair Sir George Bain said last month “with more than one in five workers in Britain suffering from low pay, it’s time to talk about how we strengthen the minimum wage for the years ahead.”

Sir George is right. The minimum wage has undoubtedly lifted many out of extreme low pay, but research shows that many employees start work on the minimum wage and then stay there – failing to lift their pay above the minimum even after years at work.

In the North-East over 75,000 workers are on the minimum wage. Many are likely to stay on this rate for a large part of their working lives.

Lifting the minimum wage above inflation as politicians of all parties now support will help these. But many employers could do more by adopting the higher voluntary minimum standard known as the living wage – set at £7.65 an hour.

But it is not just those on low pay who have been left behind. New TUC research shows that the gap between the top ten per cent of wage earners and average pay in the North-East has grown by 5.3 per cent since 2000.

This should worry everyone. Those with the biggest pay packets may dismiss this as the politics of envy, but income inequality is bad for the whole economy. It helped drive the financial crash as banks lent the savings of the wealthiest to those in the middle who took out credit to keep up their living standards.

 For all the talk of economic recovery workers in the North-East are still seeing their pay fall in real terms and are, on average, £40 a week worse off than they were in 2009.

For some the pay squeeze has been even sharper. To take just one example, academic staff at the universities of Durham, Teesside, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland have seen real-terms pay cuts of 13 per cent over the last five years.  And this is just one instance of jobs that were once secure and decently paid slowly being turned into insecure work that can no longer deliver the living standards once thought fair.

This real wage squeeze is a key aspect of a wider cost of living crisis. Energy bills have risen three times faster than inflation over the last decade, while rail fares rose above inflation yet again this January.
Childcare and housing costs have also grown as a share of average income.

People are now spending over a third of their disposable income on essentials such as food and fuel. People think of the cost of living crisis in terms of prices but the main cause of the problem is that their wages are not going far enough anymore.

So can we do something about it? Or is it just an inevitable fact of life that living standards are in decline and that for the first time in history future generations will have lower living standards than their parents?

Economic growth alone is not the answer. The economy has grown by £60bn in the last four years but real household disposable income has barely increased. Disposable incomes have fallen by nearly £500 per person.

A first step is bolder increases to the minimum wage. Had it kept pace with prices since 2007 full-time minimum wage workers would be nearly £800 a year better off. We need to make up this lost ground but also ensure that companies who illegally pay staff less than the minimum wage face the full force of the law – including being publicly named and shamed.

Secondly, we need an increased commitment to the living wage from employers in the public and private sector so that their own staff, as well as those in their supply chains, can have a decent standard of living.

Employers in many sectors can afford to pay more without job losses. That’s why we need to find new ways for employers and unions to work together to set higher wages, agreed at a sector level by modern wages councils, so that workers and businesses can both get a fair deal.

More collective bargaining can stop employers skimping on pay and get wages rising back in line with prices. Even the International Monetary Fund (hardly known for its radicalism) concedes that the decline of collective bargaining has increased wage inequality and reduced wages for ordinary people.

This month the TUC is organising Fair Pay Fortnight – a series events and street stalls throughout the North-East – to raise awareness about Britain’s cost of living crisis.

We need to put fair pay at the top of the political agenda and ensure that policymakers and employers create more high-quality jobs to boost productivity and raise people’s living standards. People need more money in their pockets if local economies are to thrive.

The North-East needs a pay rise.

Source – Northern Echo, 26 March 2014

New North East super council is given the green light

A new super council will be formed on April 1, allowing the North East to compete for millions of pounds in Government funding.

After months of internal rows and territorial battles, the North East’s seven council leaders have secured Government backing to form a Combined Authority.

The move means, for example, that decisions over major transport and jobs investment in Northumberland or Newcastle must be made only after the views of the other council leaders have been taken into account.

There will be no changes to local councils, with voters still electing their local councillor and the same group collecting bins and looking after those in care.

> But we won’t get to vote in matters directly involving this super council ?

But behind the scenes the North East Combined Authority will be seen as the lead voice for the region in Whitehall.

The seven leaders, and their chief executives, will share decision making over skills, transport and investment, have the chance to secure control over any devolved Government budgets and a say in how the region bids for the £2bn Government Growth Fund.

> And no doubt they’ll also share an extra wad in their pay packets.

Cities minister Mr Clark has told MPs he thinks it is “a huge advance in the North East” and called for council leaders, MPs and other jobs groups to come together to formally discuss with him the next steps for the region.

> And will we – those most affected by any decisions – have any input ?

Former regional minister Nick Brown recently secured a series of regular meetings with the cities minister amid concerns the region’s case was not being heard in parliament.

Last night he told The Journal: “If we want access to the money we have to comply with the Government’s preferred structures, and it is very important that members of parliament are involved and can represent their constituents.”

The combined authority sees Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council and Sunderland City Council form a legally binding structure with the power to borrow cash and the responsibility to share risk.

Simon Henig, the Durham council leader set to chair the combined authority, said: “Working together is the best way to promote jobs and growth and to secure devolution of funding, powers and responsibilities from Government.

“We share ambitious plans for the future of our area and we are determined to work together to deliver them.

“We are therefore delighted to receive today’s news from Cabinet Office and look forward to the necessary formalities being progressed so that we can launch on April 1 this year. This is an important and exciting moment in our history and we are ready now to deliver on our ambitious plans.”

Hopes of forming a combined authority had appeared slim earlier this year when  Sunderland Council had halted the process amid concerns that Newcastle would hold too much influence.

Ministers, civil servants and council officials put pressure on Sunderland to drop its objections, but it was only once leader Paul Watson secured a stronger negotiating hand on the leaders’ board that it could go ahead.

There were then further delays when Sunderland decided to hold out for a multi-million pound investment package from the Government for Wearside before going ahead.

This Sunderland City Deal, set to see some £50m spent on a new business park based around Nissan, is now in the final stage of negotiations.

> So it’s all decided, signed, sealed and delivered. You had no input, it doesn’t appear you’ll ever get the chance for meaningful input… but then, this is  all about the really important people, like councillors and businessmen.  Business as usual, in fact.

Source – Newcastle Journal,  06 March 2014