David Cameron’s plans to target benefit cuts at the young and vulnerable have come under fire from within his own party.
Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the health committee, said she did not support scrapping housing benefit for 18-to-21-year-olds, after the prime minister toured the television studios detailing some of the Tories’ proposals to cut another £12bn from the welfare budget.
In a series of interviews, Cameron repeated his pledge to lower the welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000 per family alongside proposals to stop housing benefit for school-leavers. The cap was about a “basic issue of fairness”, he said.
“I don’t think a family should be able to get more in benefits than someone going out to work, working every day, and trying to do the right thing for them and their family,” he said.
> If anyone ever does get more in benefits than someone working (which I doubt) , perhaps it’d be because the wages they are earning are so poor, or they’re only working 16 hours a week.
But in any case, you can only play the hand you’ve got, so if it did happen that you’d get more on benefits than by working…why not ? Cameron & Co probably dodge paying more tax in a year than you’d claim.
“One of the criticisms of the cap set at £26,000, which I have heard all over the country, is that the cap was set too high. We’re responding to that.
“We’re generating these jobs. People listening to this programme don’t pay their taxes to sustain people on welfare who could work.”
> Well actually, yes they do – National Insurance, at least. When working I’ve never grudged paying NI (much) because I paid it in the belief that I could claim some of it back should I become unemployed, and also – and this is an important point – that it should go towards helping others unemployed even if I wasn’t.
He said the country was no longer willing to tolerate people living on welfare as “a lifestyle choice” and claimed Conservative plans would help “young people move into work more quickly”.
> A lifestyle choice ? And I thought it was a survival choice….the choice being survive or die.
However, his proposals on scrapping housing benefit for young people came under fire from Wollaston and a number of charities.
Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes, told the BBC’s Daily Politics:
“That is a policy that I don’t actually support. The point is that there is a debate going forward, I would not support personally taking housing benefit from the most vulnerable. I would not personally support taking away housing benefit from the very young. I think because there is an issue here we need to discuss about intergenerational fairness … There are many policies within parties that we have a debate about.”
Tory peer Baroness Wheatcroft later added that the Conservatives need to “get the tone right” to make sure they sound sympathetic towards those who cannot work.
“I firmly believe there is only one nasty party and it’s a very nasty party called Ukip. What the Conservative party needs to do is to be careful that it does not appear to be in the least nasty, but kind and caring and wants people to work because it is the best possible solution to them as well as the country,” she told the World at One.
> HA HA HA HA HA ! Maybe you’d appear kind and caring if you were kind and caring. No-one who has been fucked over by the Tories is going to forget it.
The warnings came the day after academics from the LSE, Manchester and York published a new study showing the coalition’s cuts are disproportionately hitting families with young children.
Among the charities to issue warnings about the proposed benefit cap were the Child Poverty Action Group. Its chief executive, Alison Garnham, said:
“Let’s be absolutely clear – the benefit cap is at least nine times more likely to affect children than adults, and the majority of adults it hits are lone parents, many of whom have children so young even the government recognises they should not be required to work.
> The parent or the children ? I only ask because the government making small children work just seems so likely…
“On the day that a major programme of research by academics from leading universities shows families with young children have been more impoverished than anyone else in recent years, we have another policy-push that would undercut the most vulnerable.”
Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, weighed in on the issue of housing benefit, saying it would cause further misery for vulnerable young people.
“The 80,000 young people who find themselves homeless will think David Cameron is more focused on May’s elections than the reality that, for the most vulnerable young people in our society, housing benefit is a lifeline, not a lifestyle choice,” he said.
Source – The Guardian, 27 Jan 2015
The number of struggling families sending their children to school without breakfast has increased over the last year, a new poll suggests.
A survey by Kelloggs reveals that 38% of primary and secondary school teachers are seeing children arriving at school hungry every day.
And 21% said the number of kids who arrive at school hungry has increased over the last year, while only 2% said the number had decreased.
Of the 21% who said the situation was worsening, around 69% blamed the global economic downturn, while a shocking 56% put the increase down to benefit cuts.
48% said parents were struggling to find full-time work that paid enough to give their children breakfast.
However, 38% of teachers said long working long hours for some parent meant breakfast was no longer seen as an important meal.
Almost a third of the 873 teachers surveyed by YouGov, on behalf of Kelloggs, said they has witnessed a child fall asleep a class, blaming tiredness or fatigue caused by hunger or thirst.
The survey reveals that hunger is having a detrimental effect on the ability for children to learn. 75% of teachers said hunger was making children lethargic, while 62% said it left them unable to learn.
Almost 48% said hungry kids were more disruptive in class and 83% said children couldn’t concentrate in class. Only 1% said skipping breakfast made children better behaved in school, says Kelloggs.
Jill Rutter, head of research and policy at the Family and Childcare Trust, said:
“In one of the world’s richest nations it is disgraceful that nearly 40 per cent of teachers report having children arriving hungry at school every day.
“Missing breakfast has huge impact on children’s ability to concentrate, learn and behave, which affects their results and long-term outcomes.
“Governments in all parts of the UK now recognise that breakfast is essential, but there are too many children who still miss out.
“We are concerned that a third of teachers have felt compelled to bring in food for children who haven’t had breakfast.
“The Family and Childcare Trust encourages schools to take up the opportunities offered by Kellogg’s and set up a breakfast club. Such a small investment can make a real difference for our children, today and in the future.”
Kelloggs said they are increasing efforts to provide breakfast clubs to low-income families in deprived areas.
Paul Wheeler, a Kellogg’s spokesperson, said:
“It’s a crying shame that so many children are going to school without having eaten a basic breakfast.
“When your stomach’s rumbling it’s hard to concentrate on anything else, so it’s no small wonder we’re hearing about children becoming badly behaved and unwilling to learn when they’re hungry.
“That’s why over the past 16 years, Kellogg’s has set up more than 1,000 new breakfast clubs in some of the country’s most deprived areas.”
According to Kelloggs, around 85% of schools now have a breakfast club, with 54% saying the primary reason for setting one up is because of kids going to school hungry.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 09 Jan 2015
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 19th November 2014
The government has been accused of ignoring evidence of the distress caused by its welfare reforms following publication of a report which directly links cuts to benefits with a massive rise in food bank use.
The study found that cuts and changes to Britain’s increasingly threadbare social security system are the most common triggers of the acute personal financial crises that drive people to use food banks..
At least half of all food bank users are referred because they are waiting for benefits to be paid, because they have had benefits stopped for alleged breaches of jobcentre rules or because they have been hit by the bedroom tax or the removal of working tax credits, it finds.
The study, the most extensive research of its kind yet carried out in the UK, directly challenges the government’s repeated insistence that there is no link between its welfare reforms and the huge increases in charity food aid.
The study was commissioned by the Church Of England, the Trussell Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group.
It calls for urgent changes to the “complicated, remote and at times intimidating” social security system to stop people falling into poverty, including a less punitive sanctions system and speedier processing of benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report, claiming the research was inconclusive.
“The report itself concludes it can’t prove anything – it uses self-selecting data and recognises there are complex underlying issues. We have a strong safety net in place, spending £94bn a year on working-age benefits, and we provide a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.”
But the report was welcomed by Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, who hosted its launch at the House of Commons on Wednesday. He said it was an important study that chimed with his experience as an MP in his surgery. He said its recommendations for change, including a review of sanctions policy, would make a practical difference to the lives of many of his distressed constituents.
“There is no doubt from this report that there are certain elements of welfare that make things more difficult, without doubt. These are not the headline things like the benefit cap, but things like sanctions, the smaller things that go below the radar where people cannot get any kind of help.”
> Blimey ! Even tory MPs are starting to notice !
The report’s lead researcher, Jane Perry, an independent social research consultant and former DWP official, defended the scope and methodology of the research, which she said accorded with official government social research quality standards.
The bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, said he was disappointed by the DWP’s dismissal of the report, which he described as “an appeal to people of goodwill” to address an important social issue. He urged dialogue with ministers over the problems the report highlights and added: “I think they [the DWP] possibly need to read the report.”
It is understood the DWP was offered a seat on the study’s advisory committee prior to the research but declined. The department was shown a draft copy of the report a month ago but did not raise any objections to its methodology.
In another twist, a DWP minister, Steve Webb, whose officials had apparently agreed for him to respond in person to the report at the launch, pulled out at the last minute, without giving a reason. David McAuley, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said he was frustrated that the DWP had not attended, and accused them of not wanting “to hear the story.”
The study says it wanted to examine practical ways of preventing the further expansion of food banks, and warned the government against reliance on charity food to fix holes in the welfare state.
“The promise of a social security safety net that is there to protect people at times of crisis is something that can and must be preserved and protected. Food banks, whilst providing a vital and welcoming lifeline to many, should not become a readily accepted part of that formal provision,” the report says.
> But surely that’s exactly what they do want – Cameron’s Big Society (remember that ?) seemed to be all about charities and individuals doing the work for nothing, allowing public money to be diverted to more important things…such as into the pockets of the already-rich.
There are no official statistics on the use of food banks, but the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 food banks in the UK, says 913,138 people were given food parcels by its volunteers in 2013-14 – almost a threefold increase on the previous year, and likely to be a fraction of the total numbers of people experiencing food insecurity.
The research, which examined why people were referred to food banks, combined 40 in-depth interviews with clients at seven UK food banks, analysis of data collected on 900 clients at three of those food banks and a caseload of 178 clients at another.
The authors accept that the research, while wide-ranging, cannot prove definitively why people use food banks or how many use them, but argue that it provides an initial indicator of the scale and prevalence of issues leading people to accept charity food, and call on ministers to commission more authoritative data on food insecurity, as happens in the US and Canada.
The government has struggled to explain why food bank use has risen, though its has denied that welfare cuts are a factor. Lord Freud, the welfare minister, notoriously insisted that demand for food had risen because it was free, while the former education secretary Michael Gove suggested people turned to food aid because they had poor financial management skills.
However, the study found that in most cases people used food banks because they were tipped into financial crisis by events that were outside their control and difficult or impossible to reverse, such as benefit cuts and delays, bereavement or job loss. Most people said they used food banks as a desperate and shaming last resort.
Almost a third of food bank users interviewed for the study who had experienced problems with the benefits system said they had been sanctioned by social security officials and left penniless for weeks on end, while a further third were left unable to put food on the table because of lengthy delays in benefit payments. The report says the current sanctions policy is causing hardship and hunger.
The government has self-imposed targets for processing benefit claims within 16 working days. However, the report says this period is too long a wait without income for vulnerable people, and in practice many claimants wait longer than this. There are concerns that the five-week delay before jobless people can sign on under a future universal credit system will cause hardship.
Formal state crisis support available to people who are left without income because of bureaucratic delays in the processing of benefits was often inadequate or non-existent, the study found. As a result, many people entitled to state help were forced to sell possessions, go without food, or take out expensive credit to buy essentials such as food and rent.
Many people who used food banks lived in or were close to poverty and were attempting to cope with the “ongoing daily grind of living without sufficient income to make ends meet each month”. Many worked, but in jobs that were low-paid and insecure. Often they were also coping with mental and physical ill health and bereavement.
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“Food banks have boomed not because they‘re an easy option but because people haven’t got money to eat – often because of problems with claiming and the payment of benefits.
“A delay in a benefits decision or a period pending a review can force hunger and humiliation on families, leaving them no option but the food bank. Rather than protecting these families from poverty at the time when they most need help, the system leaves them with almost nothing to live on.”
“This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a life shock or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness.”
The study will feed into an all-party parliamentary group inquiry into hunger and food poverty, chaired by the Labour MP Frank Field, which is expected to report before Christmas.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Nov 2014
This article was written by Tom Clark, for The Guardian on Tuesday 4th November 2014
The occupational pensions of MPs, ministers and the prime minister could be classified as welfare spending in the tax transparency statements that George Osborne has promised every taxpayer.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is writing to millions of tax-paying households with detailed figures on how the government spends their income tax and National Insurance contributions. Welfare is recorded collectively as the single largest expenditure, consuming nearly one pound in every four.
This presentation has been criticised as a politically motivated departure from Treasury officials’ original plan to break down social security into the components paid to different parts of the population, such as elderly, disabled and unemployed people.
By revealing that payments specifically earmarked for the unemployed, for example, represented only 3% of the total, this approach may have set back Osborne’s case for a fresh £12bn in benefit cuts.
Now experts are drawing attention not only to the lack of differentiation in the welfare chunk of spending but also to the inclusion of substantial elements of spending that would not normally be considered welfare at all, notably personal social services and public sector pensions. Even ministerial pensions are likely to be covered.
The Treasury said: “The headings in our tax summaries are based on internationally recognised (UN) definitions.” But in a briefing note published on Tuesday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies detailed how the welfare total included £28.5bn on “personal social services”.
“This is a number that in many analyses one would want to report separately from other welfare spending,” the IFS said. “Unlike other elements of ‘social protection’ it is not a cash transfer payment and in many ways has more in common with spending on health than spending on social security benefits.
“Another £20bn of the spending counted under welfare is pensions to older people other than state pensions. That includes spending on public sector pensions – to retired nurses, soldiers and so on. This is not spending that would normally be classed as welfare.”
Declan Gaffney, a social security researcher, said the inclusion of public sector pensions was bizarre.
“The Treasury needs to clarify exactly how it arrived at these figures, and publish the workings – spelling out exactly whose pensions it included. Does it, for example, include MPs and the prime minister himself?”
Gaffney has used IFS tables to calculate a more conventional figure for total welfare less state pension expenditure, and concludes that the government’s choice of definition inflates the published welfare spending total by around 40%.
The Treasury did not respond to a question about whether the pensions of MPs, ministers and the prime minister would be classified as welfare.
A spokesman for PCS, the civil service union, said:
“Tens of thousands of civil servants work hard to deliver social security support and they know how important and necessary it is. For their pensions to be hijacked as part of the government’s latest political attack on our welfare state is absolutely disgusting and it exposes just how far ministers will go to poison the well of public opinion.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 04 Nov 2014
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
27 church leaders, including a number of Anglican bishops, have slammed coalition benefit cuts and “punitive” sanctions in an unprecedented attack on the government’s welfare policies.
In a letter to the Daily Mirror, the church leaders warn that “one in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children” and others are having to face the unenviable decision between eating and heating as “food prices have gone up 30% in just five years”.
The church leaders argue that half a million people are having to turn to food banks to feed themselves as their families, and that it was time for society to “face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cut backs and failures in the benefit system”.
According to the signatories of the letter “5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year”.
They say that there is a “moral imperative” for society and the coalition government to act on food poverty and take immediate action to “make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger”.
The letter sent to the Daily Mirror reads as follows:
“Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry.
“Half a million people have visited food banks in the UK since last Easter and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year.
“One in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children, and even more families are just one unexpected bill away from waking up with empty cupboards.
“We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must “heat or eat” each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30% in just five years.
“Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.
“On March 5th Lent will begin. The Christian tradition has long been at this time to fast, and by doing so draw closer to our neighbour and closer to God.
“On March 5th we will begin a time of fasting while half a million regularly go hungry in Britain. We urge those of all faith and none, people of good conscience, to join with us.
“There is an acute moral imperative to act. Hundreds of thousands of people are doing so already, as they set up and support food banks across the UK. But this is a national crisis, and one we must rise to.
“We call on government to do its part: acting to investigate food markets that are failing, to make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 19 Feb 2014
The truth is that it doesn’t really matter anymore. The end result of his policies will be the same whichever is the case. A result as tragic as it was predictable, as poverty not seen in generations returns to the UK.
The recent case of Tim Salter, who committed suicide after benefits were stopped due to the brutal Atos assessment regime, is far from the first death directly linked to welfare reforms. At the end of last month two suicides linked to Atos assessments were reported in just one week. Also reported just before Christmas was the death of Denis Jones, a disabled former soldier who died alone five weeks after his benefits were stopped. Whilst his death was recorded as natural causes…
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