Thousands of Tyneside’s most vulnerable families will go hungry when a voucher support scheme is scrapped because of austerity cuts, leaders have warned.
A scheme which sees supermarket vouchers given to 2000 families in Newcastle to help feed their children over the school holidays has been axed as the Government slash £40m from the city council’s annual budget.
Under Newcastle City Council’s Crisis Support Scheme, families with children aged five and six, who have had their housing benefit reduced by the bedroom tax and are paying council tax for the first time, received Asda vouchers to help feed their youngsters during the Easter, Christmas and Summer school holidays.
But the council say they are forced to slash the service as the Government roll out their next round of cuts.
Leaders warned that cutting the benefit would lead to an increase in the number of people turning to foodbanks for emergency food parcels.
The announcement comes shortly after a teacher made claims some of his pupils returned to school after holidays “visibly thinner”.
Simon Kennedy, from teacher’s union NASUWT, said:
“It’s easy to point the finger at Newcastle City Council and say it’s their fault but this is the coalition government’s fault.
“This Government are hitting the most vulnerable and least well off families. I don’t think we can blame the council. The reality is when you get millions cut from your budget you have to cut it from somewhere.
“On May 7 people will be given the chance to vote and these are the sort of things people will take into consideration.
“We know people are going hungry and it’s not just over the holidays, it’s week in week out. We know that parents are missing meals to feed their kids.”
In April 2013 the Government abolished the Social Fund and asked local authorities to set up replacement schemes for Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants and the council set up the Crisis Support Scheme.
The funding falls under three areas and supports people in crisis, disaster or emergency, provides council tax assistance and did provide meals vouchers to schoolchildren in the holidays before it was cut.
In 2013/14 the council spent £214,000 to spend on the crisis support fund, and a further £173,000 in 2014/15. It will spend £116,000 in 2015/16, which includes a £50,000 overspend from the previous year.
In order to manage the reductions the council said they had no choice but to slash the voucher scheme.
This week letters went out to the affected families as they received their final set of vouchers over the Easter holidays.
Deputy leader of the council Joyce McCarty said:
“We are really disappointed this has been left to the local authority to fund.
“The Government have dumped the austerity cuts with local authorities who can’t afford to pick up the pieces and it’s the least well off in the community that are suffering.”
In Easter 2014 families with one child were awarded a £10 voucher, while families with more than one child were given £20.
A further £40 was handed to families with one child in the summer and an extra £60 to families with more than one child.
And at Christmas 2014 the vouchers were increased to £40 with families with one child and £60 for families with more than one child.
Ms McCarty added:
“It will add to the growing problem. It’s the same families who are struggling, it’s those families having to pay the bedroom tax and it’s things like this that tips people over the edge.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government said they would be unable to offer comment in the run up to the general election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Apr 2015
This article was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st January 2015
George Osborne says the coverage of looming new spending cuts has been “hyperbolic”, but away from Downing Street there is a strong consensus that the cumulative effect of five years of austerity will make the next wave of cuts, in 2015, very painful.
Four more years of austerity is “a price that works for our country”, Osborne said as he outlined his strategy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies responded by warning that “colossal” cuts to the state would take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the second world war. By the end of the process, “the role and shape of the state will have changed beyond recognition”, the think tank said. So far, £35bn has been cut; the plan is to cut a further £55bn by 2019.
If the chancellor remains in post after the general election, Britain will find itself halfway through a nine-year stretch of spending cuts, with the Conservatives determined to shrink and redefine the role of the state. The Liberal Democrats say the Conservative policy is aimed at creating “a smaller state, with many more cuts to come”, giving Britain “austerity for ever”; 2015 will be a pivotal year in the race to reshape the nature of the state.
> Would that be the same Liberal Democrats who are part of the coalition that is making these changes to society ? Sorry, Lib Dems, don’t start wringing your hands now – you won’t get rid of the blood on them that way.
Even if they lose, difficult spending cuts look inevitable. Labour is also committed to ending the deficit, in 2017-18, provided the state of the economy allows it.
For many publicly funded services and organisations, 2015 will be the year when their chances of survival become clear. There is an enormous range in the size and the function of services under threat, which makes tracking the scale of the cuts challenging.
Here are just four examples – from the large scale to the tiny, of services that are set to go this year.
In June, the Independent Living Fund, which provides funding for around 18,000 disabled people to work and live in the community, will be wound down. In Liverpool, there will be a decision in early 2015 over whether the council will close a possible 23 out of the city’s 26 Sure Start centres. On a smaller scale, organisations including the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, in north London, which supports around 150 refugees and asylum seekers, providing English classes, faces closure because of cuts to education budgets.
“These are people who come to us on a daily basis who desperately need some kind of support,” project manager Andy Ruiz Palma says. “I would lose my job, but I am more worried about the clients. There is nowhere else for them to go.”
In Ealing, west London, parents are campaigning to save the lollipop crossing role, done for the past 20 years by Eileen Rowles, and now at risk of being discontinued because of council spending cuts.
The Office for Budget Responsibility said in December that the chancellor’s plans would mean one million further government job losses by 2020 (a total fall from early 2011 of 1.3 million), representing a 20% fall in headcount.
Over the past five years, there has been surprise and relief from politicians that public anger about spending cuts has been relatively muted. Aside from a few annual anti-cuts marches in big cities, Britain has not experienced the waves of protest seen in countries such as Spain. Given that those most affected by the cuts are the most vulnerable and disempowered people in society, it’s perhaps not surprising that the response has been muted.
But that could change in 2015. The next stage of cutbacks is likely to be harder to ignore. The easy decisions have already been made; once the low-hanging fruit has been removed, finding new things to cut gets harder, which means the second half of the austerity era is likely to be much tougher than the first.
By next May, government funding for councils will be 40% lower than it was in 2010; and a further 13% will need to be cut in 2015.
“It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people or families scaled back. Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life,” the Local Government Association chair, Tony Sparks, says.
The National Audit Office has warned that more than half of councils currently risk falling into serious financial crisis before the end of the decade. Some may struggle to provide services that they are legally obliged to offer, and this may become apparent in 2015 with more legal action by service users.
Nicola Smith, head of economic affairs at the TUC, says:
“The scale of the spending cuts that the chancellor set out in his autumn statement briefing is truly severe. The public sector has already experienced five years of austerity. The consequences for key services that people rely on are severe.”
Osborne has said that if the Conservatives win the election he will want to cut a further £12bn a year from the welfare bill – on top of the £20m-£25m that has already been cut. He proposes freezing working-age benefits for two years, reducing the overall benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting access to housing benefit for people under 21.
Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, says that the impact of further cuts in this area would be very painful.
“Both the political and public belief is that spending on out-of-work benefits is a large share of overall public spending; it is not. Trying to make large savings from what is really a small share of public spending will require increasingly harsh cuts. We have seen this already through things like the bedroom tax, the imposition of council tax on people with very low incomes, and the greatly increased use of sanctioning. To continue to get more savings from that group will require harsher measures.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 01 Jan 2015
Shocking research published today reveals a sharp rise in the number of under 25’s and working people living in poverty in the UK.
The latest poverty and social exclusion report, written by the New Policy Institute (NPI) in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows how under 25’s and people in work are now more likely to be living in poverty than pensioners.
There are now around 13 million people living in poverty in the UK, with half of those coming from a working family and 1 in 5 are working age adults without children.
In stark contrast pensioner poverty has fallen to a record low under the coalition, according to the report. The decline in pensioner poverty is attributed to targeted government support aimed at protecting older people from the worst austerity cuts.
A changing labour market and the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, part-time work and low-paid self-employment means that moving into employment is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty.
According to the report, there are around 1.4 million zero-hours jobs that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours. Over half of these are in retail, admin, accommodation or the food and restaurant sector.
Around two-thirds of unemployed people who moved into work over the last year are paid below the living wage. And only a fifth of people in low-paid jobs have escaped poverty wages completely within 10 years, according to the report.
Incomes are lower on average than they were a decade ago with the very poorest taking the biggest hit. For the lowest paid men, their hourly pay has fallen by a shocking 70p per hour, while women have seen their hourly rate fall by 40p per hour.
The prospects for self-employed people isn’t any better either, because analysis shows they earn 13% less than they did just 5 years ago.
Failure of the welfare system means Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants on the government’s controversial Work Programme are more likely to be sanctioned, or have their benefits docked/cut, as they are to find a job through the back-to-work scheme. And 60,000 disabled people are having to wait 6 months or more for their sickness benefit claim to be fully processed.
The report also highlights a ‘welcome’ drop in the number of people classed as unemployed. However, Welfare Weekly recently reported that as many as 500,000 job seekers could be ‘disappearing’ from official unemployment figures, due to cruel and unjust benefit sanctions.
Children in receipt of free school meals fail to attain five ‘good’ GCSE’s, highlighting a lack of social mobility among children from poorer families.
The report also reveals more people living in poverty in private rented housing. There are now as many people living in poverty in the private sector as in social housing, according to the report. Private landlord repossessions are now more common than mortgage repossessions – 17,000 compared to 15,000 in 2013/14. Private landlord repossessions are the most common cause of homelessness in the UK, say JRF.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of JRF, said:
“This year’s report shows a real change in UK society over a relatively short period of time. We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have so many people living in poverty. It is a risk, waste and cost we cannot afford: we will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet.
“A comprehensive strategy is needed to tackle poverty in the UK. It must tackle the root causes of poverty, such as low pay and the high cost of essentials. This research in particular demonstrates that affordable housing has to be part of the answer to tackling poverty: all main political parties need to focus now on providing more decent, affordable homes for people on low incomes.”
Tom MacInnes, Research Director at the NPI, said:
“This report highlights some good news on employment – but earnings and incomes are still lower than five years ago, and most people who moved from unemployment into work can only find a low paid job. Government has focussed its efforts on welfare reform, but tackling poverty needs a wider scope, covering the job market, the costs and security of housing and the quality of services provided to people on low incomes.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“This report highlights once again how ordinary working people are being excluded from the recovery and are becoming poorer in real terms.
“Our economy has become very good at creating low-paid, insecure jobs which are trapping more and more families in working poverty.
“The situation looks particularly bleak for young people – many of whom face decades of private renting and diminished career prospects.
“Without more affordable housing and quality employment opportunities, living standards for the many will continue their steep decline.”
A Government spokesman said:
“The truth is, the percentage of people in the UK in relative poverty is at its lowest level since the mid-1980s and the number of households where no-one works is the lowest since records began.
“The Government’s long-term economic plan is working to deliver the fastest growing economy in the G7, putting more people into work than ever before, and reducing the deficit by more than a third.
“The only sustainable way to raise living standards is to keep working through the plan that is building a resilient economy and has enabled us to announce the first real terms increase in the minimum wage since the great recession.”
> By the end of the statement, Government Spokesman’s nose had grown several inches longer…
Source – Welfare Weekly, 24 Nov 2014
Hundreds of council jobs are at risk as borough bosses prepare for the next round of austerity cuts.
Letters will be sent out to hundreds of Gateshead Council workers next Thursday as the authority slashes £25m from its budget over the next 12 months.
A specialist home support team could be axed under the proposals, while cleaning services at some council-run buildings are expected to be reduced.
Union leaders say private companies might now be brought in to complete tasks that used to be carried out by in-house staff.
More than 650 people are currently employed within the affected departments, according to the council.
Hundreds of staff have already had a verbal briefing, with letters due to be posted home to workers on October 30.
The council has said it does not know final numbers at this stage, however the unions expect several hundred jobs to be under review.
Unison expects jobs to be axed from the council’s library, leisure and housing services, as well as its support provision for older people.
However this could change as the council prepares its draft budget proposals. More details will be heard at the council’s cabinet meeting on November 4.
Dave Smith, branch secretary for Gateshead’s Unison branch, said for some of his members this was the third year in a row they had been told their job is at risk by being sent what’s known as an ‘188 at risk’ letter.
“This is the first time the home support service has been looked at because that’s part of services for vulnerable people.
“It’s just a treadmill, it’s cut after cut after cut. For some people they have had three ‘at risk’ letters over the past three years.
“How do you plan anything? If you’re at risk on a 188 letter, that affects your mortgage as you’ve got to declare it. This has a huge impact on people’s lives.
“Christmas will be cancelled yet again.”
However he said there was always a big difference between the number of people getting letters of being ‘at risk’ and those who will eventually lose their jobs through compulsory redundancy.
One worker, who works within the home support service, said:
“This service is needed. I don’t understand how people can just come in and take it away.
“It’s absolutely shocking. It could happen as soon as January and once we get Christmas out of the way that will be it.”
In 2012 the council scrapped 1,000 jobs, however the announcement for 2015-16 is expected to be considerably less.
A spokesperson for Gateshead Council said:
“Due to reductions in Government funding, Gateshead Council has an estimated funding gap of £46m over the next two years.
“We are in the process of drafting proposals that will be put forward to Cabinet on Tuesday, November 4, to consider beginning formal consultation on the draft proposals.
“However, no decisions will be made until our budget is agreed at the end of February 2015. When we are facing funding pressures of this scale, it is highly likely that a number of employees will be directly affected by the draft proposals.
“Where this is the case, every effort will be made to limit the number of compulsory redundancies.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Oct 2014
Newcastle City Council it to slash its budget by £40m as a new set of cuts is drawn up to meet the Government’s deficit reduction plan.
The multi-million pound cuts will result in another round of staff redundancies, services being further cut and some mothballed.
The council is already in the middle of implementing a £38m cuts package for this year.
But council leader Nick Forbes and chief executive Pat Ritchie took the rare step of outlining the financial plans for 2015/16, which will have to be formally ratified in March next year.
Coun Forbes said: “Normally we wouldn’t get into budget conversation until much later but we’re doing a lot of early thinking because of the scale of the challenge we are facing.
“We want to have an honest conversation with people in the city about the impact of austerity cuts and what they mean for the services they enjoy and have come to rely on.”
Coun Forbes and Ms Ritchie would not specifically identify how many jobs would go and which services were under direct threat, with firm plans not likely to be announced until the autumn, after consultation with staff and council partners on how best to proceed.
But in a grim warning of what was to come, Coun Forbes said that so far the council has only achieved 40% of the budget savings required by the Government.
“The level of cuts are so severe that there are no areas we’re not looking at and trying to find alternative ways of funding,” he said. “The pace and scale is so great the council will have to do less in the future.”
He added: “The challenge is the council has statutory obligations and can’t simply stop, for example, looking after children at risk of sex or violent abuse or caring for old people in their own homes. We have a legal obligation to fund concessionary travel so our strategy is partly to work with other partners to reduce cost pressures.”
While not giving specifics, Coun Forbes hinted at some areas that were in the spotlight, saying: “If we don’t have an indication of a change of heart by later this year, many services aimed at supporting children and families as well as the help that keeps older people out of hospital are likely to be at risk.”
Street cleaning and environmental services are another area under the microscope, and the council leader said: “Unless we can change the behaviour of the minority of people who drop litter, fly tip and allow dogs to foul pavements, the council won’t have the resources to clean this up in the future. There is no doubt our city will get dirtier as a result.”
Coun Forbes added: “We will be straining every sinew to protect job numbers but there will inevitably be some redundancies. We will endeavour for them to be voluntary but we have no figures in mind yet. We will mothball some services with the intention of growing them again in future years. Austerity will pass. There is a growing clamour from local government to the present government for change.
“We hold onto the hope a future Government would take a different approach. But the next two or three years are going to be extremely tough for every council.”
Coun Forbes said there won’t be the repeat of two years ago when the council talked of a 100% cuts in arts funding then made a U-turn to 50% and set up a culture investment fund.
Coun Forbes said: “It was controversial at the time, in the long term it will be seen as the step which protected arts from continued cuts.”
But he said that if the scale of cuts continues, there are projections that by 2018 the council will not be able to fulfil its legal obligations in funding services and that it would become “unviable”.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 June 2014