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Work Book Project – calling those on Workfare / MWA

I’m writing a book about work and am looking for people who are willing to share their experiences of Workfare or Mandatory Work Activity.

The book is called *All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work*, and it
will come out from Profile Books next spring, before the election.

I’ve been visiting and interviewing people all over the country about their work – potters in Stoke on Trent, call centre workers in Hull, ballerinas at
Covent Garden – and I want to include the experience of someone who has
been on the government’s work programmes.

I’d like to find out a bit more about what the work was like: What did you do? How did you feel about it?  How did the workers around you react?  Anonymity and discretion guaranteed.

I’m a writer for the *London Review of Books* (where I also work), the
*Observer*, the *Sunday Times* and the *New Yorker*.

I can be contacted on
ukworkbook[at]gmail[dot]com.

Many thanks
Joanna Biggs

South Tyneside – Food banks and advice services feel brunt of welfare reforms

Rising rent arrears, increased use of food banks and soaring demands for advice services are revealed in a shock new report focusing on the impact welfare reforms are having in South Tyneside.

 The Coalition Government’s welfare reform programme represents the biggest change to the welfare state since the Second World War with a raft of changes to benefits and tax credits to help cut spending and streamline services.

A new report by Helen Watson, South Tyneside Council’s corporate director for children, adults and families, outlines the human impact reforms are having in the borough.

It says that, within six months of the bedroom tax being introduced, rent arrears in the borough rose by 19 per cent – £81,000.

In total, South Tyneside Homes rent collection rates have fallen by 21 per cent over the last year, resulting in a loss of £331,000.

There has also been a 20 per cent increase in the demand for advice services since April last year.

Over the same period there has been a big rise in people using the borough’s three food banks, with a 50 per cent hike in referrals over the last 12 months.

There are 2,770 residents affected by the bedroom tax, with Tyne Dock, Victoria Road and Laygate, all South Shields, and The Lakes and Lukes Lane estates, in Hebburn, most affected.

Meanwhile, the number of out-of-work benefits being paid in the borough has been reduced in recent months, with a 22 per cent fall in claims for Jobseekers Allowance since April – 1,556 claimants.

The report makes grim reading for Coun Jim Foreman, the lead member for housing and transport at South Tyneside Council.

Coun Foreman believes the welfare reforms are having a “tsunami effect” and says the Government is “burying its head in the sand” by denying any direct connection between rising rent arrears and food bank usage and the welfare reforms.

He said: “The Government says there is no correlation between benefit cuts and the rise in food banks but they are just burying their heads in the sand.

“People don’t go to food banks out of choice. They go there because they are living in poverty. Having to use them is an attack on their pride and their resilience.”

Coun Foreman also expressed admiration for the “phenomenal work” being done by borough Citizens Advice Bureau staff and the South Tyneside Homes’ Welfare Reform team in a bid to minimise the impact of reforms.

He added: “It is not just a matter of the benefit cuts themselves but also the sanctions that are imposed if claimants turn up five minutes late for an appointment or don’t fill in a form or don’t make 15 applications for work in a week.

“All this is having a massive impact on the ability of people to provide for themselves and their families.”

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, the driving force behind the welfare reforms, has claimed increased publicity over food banks was the reason for their rising popularity.

He said: “Food banks do a good service, but they have been much in the news. People know they are free. They know about them and they will ask social workers to refer them. It would be wrong to pretend that the mass of publicity has not also been a driver in their increased use.”

The welfare report is due to be presented to the council’s Riverside Community Area Forum at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday.

Source – Shields Gazette  22 April 2014

North East could be ‘at greater risk of postal vote fraud’

Postal voting is far more popular in the region than in the rest of the country, and ‘experts’ fear voting in the North could be left open to greater risk of fraud as a result.

Figures released by parliament reveal that the top eight constituencies in the UK for using the system are all in the North. But fears have been raised that postal voting systems are more susceptible to rigging.

Richard Mawrey QC, who tries cases of electoral fraud, has criticised the ‘on demand’ postal voting system and has called for it to be scrapped.

“Postal voting on demand, however many safeguards you build into it, is wide open to fraud,” Mr Mawrey – a deputy high court judge and election commissioner – said last week.

“It’s open to fraud on a scale that will make election rigging a possibility and indeed in some areas a probability.”

He added that postal voting can be easily manipulated and people can be forced into voting for a particular candidate.

Four North constituencies – Houghton and Sunderland South, Washington and Sunderland West , Newcastle and Sunderland Central have more than half of their voters taking part by post, the highest numbers in the country.

Four others – South Shields, Newcastle central, Blyth Valley and Jarrow – are also in the top ten nationally for postal voting.

And across the region 17 other constituencies, from Stockton to Tynemouth, have at least a quarter of voters choosing to vote by post. The average uptake of postal votes across the UK was just 18.8% of voters, up from 15% in 2005.

Dr Alistair Clark is a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, specialising in electoral integrity.  He believes that the postal voting system in the UK has fundamental problems.

“There are difficulties with the system, particularly since the extension of it to being on demand,” he said. “The main difficulty relates to the security of the ballot – we have no idea who is actually completing the ballot papers – anyone could be filling them out.

“Although signatures have to be provided and matched up, signatures can change over time, and this creates a whole level of additional difficulties for election officials.”

A postal voting-only system was trialled by many North constituencies in the early 2000s, which is the likely reason why the proportion of take up in the region is so high.

But Ronnie Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley – where 46% of ballots were posted – believes there are also other factors.

“We have a very ageing population but we also have a lot of younger people,” he said.

“The older people might not want to leave their homes to vote while the younger people might be away working outside of the North East.”

He doesn’t believe there is too much cause for concern, saying: “I think postal voting is handy and it does work.

“It’s got to be well marshalled though because we’ve seen it fiddled in other parts of the country in the past.

“There is a security risk and we have to be vigilant about it.”

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West – where 50.8% were posted – is also in favour of postal voting.

“While we should always look at how we can increase security, the experience in Sunderland and across the country is that postal voting allows and encourages more people to use their vote at local and national elections, which is good for democracy,” she said.

“Of course, any abuses of the system should always be investigated, and perpetrators prosecuted, but there’s no reason whatsoever to throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Since 2001, anyone on the electoral roll has been able to apply for a postal ballot.

The Electoral Commission said it would not be “proportionate” to end postal voting altogether, and the government has no plans to abolish the current system, saying it had made it easier for many people to vote.

However, from June this year, anyone who wants a postal vote will have to apply individually and prove their identity, as the government is introducing individual electoral registration which ministers say will help stamp out some abuses.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  23 March 2014

Anarchists and work camps in 1930s Britain

thelearningprofessor

Image Red Clydeside collection: http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/redclyde/

This leaflet comes from the Glasgow Digital Library, a fabulous mine of information and collection of resources for teaching. It must date to around 1933-34, when the Left was campaigning vigorously against what became the 1934 Unemployment Act. The National Government introduced the Act in order to restructure poor relief and bring unemployment benefits under central control. It also contained a clause which combined the old poor law requirement of the ‘work test’ with existing powers to compel claimants to undertake training.

The campaign against the Bill was enormous, and the historian Neil Evans describes it as the most-discussed piece of legislation in inter-war Britain. Most of the agitation was led by the Labour Left (including the Independent Labour Party) and the Communist Party. But others were involved as well.

This flyer was published by a group calling itself the Workers’ Open Forum, a Glasgow-based network…

View original post 235 more words

250th anniversary of birth of Earl Grey goes almost unmarked in the region

He is one of the most significant figures in British political history, with a monument in his honour in the centre of Newcastle and a number of stately homes linked to his life in Northumberland.

Yet the 250th anniversary of the birth of Earl Charles Grey is set to go almost unmarked in his home region with just a solitary event planned – and that marking the blend of tea which takes his name.

Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born and bred in Northumberland, and a statue of him sits on top of the monument erected in his honour in the heart of Newcastle. Grey Street – once voted the finest street in the UK – is named after him, as is Grey College at Durham University.

During his four-year spell as Prime Minister, he was responsible for fundamental changes in British society, including the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the Great Reform Act of 1832 which is credited as launching modern democracy in Britain.

And yet today, exactly 250 years on from his birth, the only event planned in the region to celebrate Earl Grey is a two-day event in June organised by EAT! NewcastleGateshead Initiative.

Last night, the current resident of Earl Grey’s birthplace, Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, said she felt a sense of personal “guilt” that the milestone is being allowed to pass by and large unmarked.

Lucia Bridgeman said: “Who is the person who has got the resources and contributes the imagination to create something out of a historical moment?

“We have got the do-gooders in the villages doing magazines, we have got the county council that has got no money, we have got other people who are too busy doing their jobs.

“In a sense Northumberland owes the Greys a huge amount but there are not many Greys left, it is a family that has died out. That might be the reason his memory has faded locally, his family has faded with him.”

Mrs Bridgeman said Earl Grey was part of a “great political family” and argued his memory lives on regardless of a lack of fanfare.

She said: “I think just the Grey family have had a huge impact on Northumberland and the county which is acknowledged because of the statues and other physical memories of them. It is no disgrace to their name that this is not being acknowledged.”

The solitary event in commemoration of Earl Grey is inspired by the tea which was named after him.

Tea and Cake Planet, A Weekend Adventure in Brewing and Baking, runs at The Boiler Shop, Newcastle, on June 28 and 29.

Northumberland Tourism, the body responsible for attracting visitors to the country, did at least put out a press release flagging up the anniversary and encouraging people to visit the gardens and arboretum at Howick Hall near Alnwick, where Earl Grey lived and where the tea that bears his name was dreamt up.

In the release, the organisation’s Jude Leitch said: “Earl Grey is one of Northumberland’s favourite sons and his classic tea blend is enjoyed around the world.

“Many tea-lovers have already made the pilgrimage to his birthplace at the beautiful Howick Hall Gardens and we’re sure more will follow in 2014, the 250th anniversary of his birth.”

The Northumbrian who ended slavery

Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born at Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, on March 13, 1764, before moving to nearby Howick Hall.

Grey was elected to parliament for the then Northumberland constituency in 1786, aged just 22.

He became a part of the Whig Party, the origins of which lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule.

In 1806, Grey, by then Lord Howick, became leader of the Whigs. A year later, he entered the Lords, succeeding his father as Earl Grey. In 1830, the Whigs took power, with Grey as PM.

Under his leadership, the government passed the Reform Act 1832, which saw the reform of the House of Commons, and the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.

In 1834 Grey’s spell as Prime Minister ended. He died in 1845 and was buried at Howick.

Earl Grey Tea is named after Charles. The tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for him, to suit the water from the well at Howick, using bergamot in particular to offset the taste of the lime in it. Twinings came to market the product and it is now sold worldwide.

Grey’s Monument in Newcastle was built in 1838 in recognition of his passing of the Reform Act. .

The Greys were a sprawling political dynasty. One descendant, Sir Edward Grey, was Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War. His role in attempting to head off the conflict was dramatised by the BBC earlier this month, witn Ian McDiarmid playing Grey.

Source – Newcastle Journal,  13 March 2014