The number of housing benefit claims made in the North East has almost doubled since 2010, an analysis of Government data has shown.
The Labour Party says low pay and soaring housing costs have led to the sharp rise, and criticised the Tories for allowing the benefits bill to escalate.
Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves said the cost of housing benefit has risen to £1.3bn since 2010.
While London saw the highest rise in the country at 52%, the North East was a close second with 48%.
Catherine McKinnell, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Newcastle North said:
“This government has been content to build an economy based on low paid jobs. Our region has seen a huge increase in the number of working people forced to claim in work benefits to pay housing costs.
“This isn’t the way to build prosperity for the long-term. Labour has a better plan for the North East and will boost pay by increasing the minimum wage to £8 an hour, and by cutting taxes for working people with a lower 10p starting rate.”
While the region still has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 8%, with 103,000 people out of work, the number out of work fell by 15,000 on the previous quarter, representing a general trend.
But Ms Reeves added the quality and pay of jobs was damaging the economy and regions like the North East.
She said: “Since 2010 David Cameron has failed to tackle low pay and high housing costs leading to a 36% increase in the number of working people claiming housing benefit.
“And another five years of Tory failure to tackle high housing costs and low pay will lead to a 20% increase in the number of working people claiming housing benefit, costing £1.3bn. David Cameron’s failure to tackle housing benefit shows the Tory plan is failing.
“Labour has a better plan to control the housing benefit bill and tackle the root causes of rising spending; low pay and high housing costs. A Labour government will raise the national minimum wage to £8 an hour before 2020, give tax rebates to firms who pay a Living Wage and build at least 200,000 homes a year by 2020.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Apr 2015
A new political party campaigning for a regional government has launched its first ever manifesto.
The North East Party, led by the former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, is fielding four candidates at the General Election.
Campaigners want a North East Government to replace councils and the combined authority.
They also want to scrap council tax and replace it with a property tax based on current market value.
The North East Party also calls for £1bn investment in enterprise, raised from a new land tax.
Mr Dawson will also campaign for free care for older people and pledges to secure more money for services if the party is elected.
Violet Rook, Newcastle North candidate, will take on sitting Labour MP Catherine McKinnell at the election in May.
She said: “I have lived in Kingston Park for 30 years and served the NHS for decades as a nurse and midwife throughout the area.
“Standing up for the North East’ means caring for the future of all communities in the region and wanting a fair deal for them now.”
Phil Lockey, the Redcar candidate, who will be fighting Ukip and Labour’s candidate Anna Turley, said:
“Like many thousands from our region, I have experience in the Armed Forces and standing for Parliament in the town where I live is another vital way to serve our Country and our community.
“Leadership is essential and in working for devolution the North East Party seeks to create 2.6 million leaders to take our region forward.”
Susan McDonnell, candidate for Easington, where Labour’s Grahame Morris had a large majority in 2010, said:
“I have lived in Easington almost all my life and consider that we’ve been badly let down by successive Labour MPs every one of whom were men.
“Unlike them, I will not stand for the people of Easington paying higher rates of Council Tax than billionaires living in London.
“I want to represent Easington well and help take the whole area forward , placing many more decisions in our own hands.”
John Tait, Stockton North candidate, added:
“I have spent 19 years as an Independent Councillor in Stockton and I have worked for decades in Higher Education and Industry.
“I want to use the opportunity of devolution and new resources from fair taxation to invest in jobs and enterprise developing ever more successful spin-offs from world class science and technology to benefit the people of Stockton and the North East.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 29 Jan 2015
A “power imbalance” between landlords and tenants has led more households to seek external help to cope in the private rented sector, a Citizens Advice Bureau claims.
In the three months to September 2014, more than 100 people received advice from the Newcastle branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) about problems.
Issues included landlords not repairing leaking roofs, not replacing emergency lighting, the withholding of personal mail and refusals to return deposits.
Nationally, CABs helped people with 14% more repairs and maintenance problems between July and September this year than in the same period in 2013.
The organisation’s latest Advice Trends report lists difficulties getting repairs and maintenance as the most common problem reported, with the charity having helped in almost 17,000 of these issues over the past year.
The study also claims one in three private rented properties in England does not meet the Government’s decent home minimum standard, while renters have few rights and fear eviction. CABs helped with 20% more issues where people are facing eviction without arrears.
Currently, the CAB-backed Tenancies Reform Bill is going through parliament, with a House of Commons debate taking place last month and another set for January 23.
If it becomes law, the bill would prevent so-called ‘retaliatory evictions’, and has been supported by Newcastle MPs Chi Onwurah and Catherine McKinnell.
Shona Alexander, chief executive of Newcastle CAB, said:
“Many people are finding it tough dealing with their landlords in the private rented sector. We are seeing more private tenants coming to us for help.
“People are living in homes which are damp, in need of repair and in some cases dangerous. But they fear that if they ask their landlord to fix problems they may face eviction.
“The power imbalance between private landlords and tenants needs to change. It’s time for private renters’ rights to be brought up to a decent 21st century standard.”
However, the National Landlords Association (NLA), which promotes and protects landlords, argues bringing in new legislation is unnecessary.
Bruce Haagensen, NLA representative in the North East, said:
“Retaliatory eviction, if and where it does happen, is an unacceptable and completely unprofessional response. Tenants should be able to raise issues with their landlords without the fear of losing their home.
“However, the Tenancies Reform or ‘Revenge Evictions’ Bill is a response more to the fear of it happening than widespread experience and the NLA has always been concerned that there is not the weight of evidence to justify the need for additional legislation.
“Following last month’s events it would seem the majority of MPs share these reservations given that so few were present to vote for it.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Dec 2014
A privately-run jail is using the controversial zero hours contracts to plug gaps in its workforce, a debate in the House of Commons has heard.
HMP Northumberland, which has been described by prison officers as “like a tinderbox”, is using the contracts after cuts stripped away its staff from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery described the measure at the Sodexo-run Category C jail as an “outrage” during a debate on a bill aimed at abolishing the contracts.
“Is my honourable friend aware of the situation at HMP Northumberland, where Sodexo, a French catering company, has privatised the prison and sacked or made redundant more than a third of the work force?
“It does not have enough people to make the prison safe, but it is bringing in people on banked-hours and zero-hours contracts. That is an outrage.”
It comes after a riot at the jail in March and a stash of Class A drugs worth in excess of £100,000 were found last month.
The private members bill, brought by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, is aimed at abolishing zero hours contracts and the debate will continue next week.
MPs heard use of the contracts is rife in the care and hospitality sectors with the average wage of a zero hours worker is £236, – and that this is a figure £246 less than the average worker.
Mr Mearns said:
“Today, I am fighting for the same thing that people of every generation have fought for: the right to decent and secure conditions and terms of employment.
“It is not a great ask. A well-paid and steady job is the bedrock on which people build their lives. It is the starting point for planning for the future, and the platform of stability needed to pay the bills, meet the rent, pay the mortgage and start a family.
“Those are not extravagances, but the minimum that should be available to any person who is prepared to work to pay their way in a wealthy nation such as ours.
“Yet that stability and security is denied to millions of workers in this country. Increasingly, people are finding themselves plagued by job insecurity, not knowing from one day to the next whether they will be working or earning.”
The bill has strong support from North East Labour MPs.
Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, said:
“A constituent who came to see me highlighted just how little economic sense zero-hours contracts make for the taxpayer as well.
“From one week to the next, he may or may not be able to pay his rent and may need housing benefit support.
“That creates a total mess for the support systems that have to provide support to these people on very insecure work contracts. The cost to the taxpayer of sorting out that mess is adding to the problem. Employers need to step up to the mark.”
Conservatives, however, accused Labour MPs of using zero hours contracts themselves.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, denied he was among them, but said Labour-led councils need to do more.
“I absolutely do not use zero-hours contracts. I think part of the problem is that many local authorities do not have tight enough procedures with subcontractors; I would encourage them so to do.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 22 Nov 2014
Saving councils cash is driving a rise in fast-track child adoptions in the North, an MP has claimed.
The British Association of Social Workers has launched an inquiry into why adoption in the North East has shot up by 26% in the last year after Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell highlighted concerns about the issue.
He believes dwindling numbers of under-pressure social workers are spending less time trying to keep families together and that councils, navigating central Government cuts, are pushing adoptions.
It comes as the Department for Education revealed the number of adoptions increased to 390 in 2013/14 from 290 the previous year.
Local authorities say they are doing all they can to keep parents and their children in a unit, and any claim adoption was used as a money-saving measure is “completely wrong”.
Mr Campbell said:
“I think it is about money at the end of the day. It is cheaper to adopt than it is to foster a child.
“We should be helping parents to get back on the straight and narrow.
“I have seen parents who have turned themselves around.
“Because of all the cuts, social services don’t seem to be there to help anymore. I don’t see why adoption has to be the be all and end all.”
He added social workers may also be afraid to manage intervention in the wake of some high profile cases, such as the failure of Haringey Children’s Services in the lead up to the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, who suffered appalling abuse at home.
Mr Campbell said:
“With Baby P and everything that came out, I think our social workers are frightened of their own job.
“Adoption is the easy option and it doesn’t cost the council anything. If you foster a child it is costing rate payers £500 a week. Why can we not try and keep the family together and help the mothers to bring themselves round.”
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said quick decisions were being made to get children out of the public care system.
“Due to the impact of austerity, many services which have been around in local communities to support children and their birth families are no longer around as they have closed due to lack of money. This makes it harder to provide the help those families need to stay together.
“Our current UK adoption legislation enables children to be adopted without the consent of their parents. This aspect of the legislation is being increasingly used to speed up the adoption process. While there are extreme circumstances where this may be necessary, its widespread use is causing us real concern as a profession.”
In Gateshead the number of looked after children adopted leapt from 15 in 2013 to 35, while there was an increase of 25 looked after children adopted in Newcastle to hit 60 in 2014.
In County Durham, adoptions shot up to 75 from 40, while in Middlesbrough, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland the figures remained the same.
In Darlington, the number of adoptions doubled from 10 to 20, while the number rose by five to 15 in both Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland. In Stockton-on-Tees, the number rose by ten to 30.
Councils stressed adoption was a last resort and had to be agreed by a court.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman admitted all services were coming under pressure, but said:
“It is totally wrong and misinformed to suggest that adoption is in some way a replacement for adequate social care support to families. Adoption is a way to provide a loving family home for children who cannot be cared for by their natural parents for a whole host of reasons. For many of these children the alternative would be a childhood spent in local authority care. Newcastle City Council is proud of the fact that it is giving more children the best possible start in life by increasing the numbers of adoptions, and this is something we will continue to try to do.
“At the same time, through the Newcastle Families Programme, the council is working with a range of partners in the city to provide intensive support to families who find themselves in trouble, providing the help and challenge they need to turn their lives around. The programme is one of the most successful in the country – helping around 300 families a year to overcome difficulties and get back on the right track.
“Government cuts and rising costs are forcing councils to make difficult decisions about services. Newcastle City Council has ensured that service to vulnerable people have been prioritised to avoid the deepest cuts, but it is true that these services are coming under increasing pressure.”
Karen Robb, strategic manager, looked after children and permanence at Durham County Council, said:
“We will always work with families to see if the children can remain with their parents or another family member. Where this is not possible children are only adopted after we have received a mandate from the courts where they are satisfied that there is no possibility of the birth parents or extended families being able to provide satisfactory care.
“We actively ensure that children who cannot live within their own families are placed permanently with their new families as quickly as possible.”
Councillor Angela Douglas, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Gateshead added:
“We are committed to achieving the best outcomes for our children and young people and we know that for some children the best way to achieve this is through providing new forever families.
“Placing a child with adoptive parents only ever happens if it is felt by everyone that this would be in the best interests of that child. No other factors are involved in that decision.
“To suggest that adoption is taking place as a money-saving measure – and that the specific needs of that child are therefore being ignored – is completely wrong.”
Newcastle MP Catherine McKinnell said:
“There’s no doubt that the number of children in care in the region has risen over recent years, with over 500 children in the care of Newcastle Council alone.
“This comes at a huge cost not just to the local authority and society at large, but also to the children themselves as those who’ve grown up in care have historically had significantly worse outcomes.
“Clearly, it’s vital for local authorities and other organisations to provide early intervention services to support troubled families, in order to prevent family breakdowns and children being taken into care in the first place.
“But for those children already in care, I support moves to help them find permanent, secure, loving and stable families, and an increase in adoption rates – where it is appropriate for each individual child – is a positive step.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 16 Nov 2014
MPs have spoken out to back firefighters, following a four-day strike over pensions.
Labour MPs from the North East urged Ministers to negotiate with firefighters.
And Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, hit out at plans to make firefighters work until they are 60 before they can receive their pension.
Currently, firefighters can retire at 55 but plans to make them work another five years are one of the contentious issues that have led to the strike.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Campbell said:
“I worked down the coal mine for 29 years, and I watched old men of 60 struggling at the coal face. What must it be like for firemen of 60 trying to save lives from fire and flood?”
He was answered by local government minister Penny Mordaunt, who said:
“We need older workers to stay in the fire service because they have great expertise. By offering protections on pensions and jobs for older workers and good practice for fire authorities to follow, we will ensure that in future they have the protections that Labour did not introduce.”
> Sounds like “we need to keep on older workers because we can’t be arsed to train younger ones.” ?
The last Labour government raised the retirement age to 60 for people becoming firefighters after April 2006. The Government’s plans would increase the retirement age for every serving firefighter, including those who expected to retire at 55.
Other changes include changing the way pensions are calculated, which effectively means people will receive less, and increasing contributions.
Fire Brigades Union members began a four-day strike at the start of the end of October .
North West Durham MP Pat Glass asked:
“We have just come through the longest firefighters’ strike in 38 years. When will the Government stop their politically motivated and disingenuous behaviour in this dispute and genuinely sit down with the Fire Brigades Union to settle this, as the Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are doing?”
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell asked the Minister:
“Why does not she treat them with the respect that they deserve?”
And Stockton South MP Alex Cunningham highlighted a letter from Mrs Mordaunt to a Labour MP in which she said:
“I am conscious that we will only have the ideas for the service to meet future challenges and aspirations if firefighters are engaged and feel an ownership for the service. Trust and good morale are key to this.”
He asked her:
“How does refusing to change a single word of the regulation improve morale, and how does refusing to negotiate improve trust?”
The Minister insisted that firefighters received “one of the best schemes in the public sector”.
“There has been extensive debate and consultation on these matters. I have dealt with any outstanding issues in the past few months, including those of the transition of armed forces pension schemes into the firefighters’ pension scheme and fitness protections.
“The regulations have now been laid, and it is evident from the questions coming from the Opposition that they do not understand the scheme. It is an excellent scheme, and to say otherwise would be to do firefighters a disservice.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Nov 2014
> Comedy time at the House of Commons…
North East industry is thriving, a Conservative MP has told the House of Commons.
And the Government has created jobs in the region – while Labour was happy to concentrate prosperity in the south of England, according to the Prime Minister.
But the bold claims from the Tories sparked an immediate backlash from Labour, which claimed the Government had failed to tackle the region’s high level of unemployment.
Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, highlighted what he said was the region’s strong economic performance as he questioned David Cameron.
“Is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start ups outside of London, and the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the North East of England?
“And does he agree with me that we should stick to the long term economic plan so that we all have the benefits?”
The Prime Minister told him:
“It is notable that when we look at things like small business creation, exports, investment, the growth is coming from around the country including the North East – and that is a huge contrast.
“Under 13 years of Labour, for every 10 jobs created in the south they only created one in the North. That is the record of the last Labour government.”
“What we need to do is to increase entrepreneurship and start ups in every part of the country . . . there is a new spirit of entrepreneurship in Britain and this government is backing it.”
Mr Opperman was referring to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce which found there were more than 300 high tech and digital businesses in the North East, and that only London has a higher rate of tech start ups in the UK.
He also highlighted the Lloyds Bank Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures business activity in each region and shows that the North East has the highest rate of growth over three months. The latest index, published on October 13, shows activity in the North East growing in line with the national average, although faster than London.
And in September, official figures showed total value of exports in the North East had risen by 2.32% over a year – the highest figure recorded by any English regions.
Second quarter statistics for 2014 showed £3.102bn worth of goods were sold to foreign markets from the region, up by 9.66% compared to the same period last year.
But Labour pointed out that the North East still had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Most recent figures show unemployment in the region is 9.3%, worse than any other region of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The overall UK rate is 6%.
Newcastle North MP and Shadow Treasury Minister Catherine McKinnell, questioning Chancellor George Osborne in the Commons, said:
“Whilst he’s been shifting funds from Northern cities to wealthier parts of the country, unemployment in the North East is the highest in the country; wages for working people in the North have fallen by even more than the national average; and, across the North, the number of young people unemployed for over a year is up 62% since the election.
“Why won’t he match Labour’s plan to devolve real power and £30billion of funding, not just to the North but to all city and county regions?”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Nov 2014
A low pay epidemic is sweeping the North East, it is claimed, as new figures reveal one in four are paid below a living wage.
A report released today by KPMG estimates that well over a quarter of a million workers receive less than the £7.65 per hour experts say is needed for the basic cost of living in 2014.
The TUC claim that some businesses can afford to pay the living wage, calculated by Centre for Research in Social Policy, but are refusing to do so – and the regional economy is suffering as a result.
The North East Chamber of Commerce, however, says there has been progress and last week published a survey which shows 35% of firms increased workers’ pay above inflation last year.
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat called for a bigger commitment. She said:
“People deserve a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
“But low pay is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of families in the North East. And it’s adding to the deficit because it means more spent on tax credits and less collected in tax.
“We have the wrong kind of recovery with the wrong kind of jobs – we need to create far more living wage jobs, with decent hours and permanent contracts.
“The fact is there are employers out there in our region who can afford to pay living wages, but aren’t.
“It is now time for all responsible employers to commit to adopting this standard, which enables workers to earn just enough to be able to live a decent life.”
Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, will speak at the Living Wage Summit at Newcastle’s Centre for Life on Thursday as part of a week of action on low wages by the TUC.
Newcastle City Council became the first to introduce a living wage and the authority boosted this to £7.55 in April, and South Tyneside has announced it is to follow suit. Councils in Gateshead, Northumberland and North Tyneside all set up working groups to explore the issue earlier this year.
Ms McKinnell, Labour’s Shadow Economic Secretary, said:
“People in the North East are really struggling with the cost of living crisis and with around one in four workers in our region paid less than the living wage, more must be done to tackle the problem of low pay.
“Finding ways to support and encourage employers to pay the Living Wage is a major part of that.
“It is fantastic to see more businesses and Labour-run councils in our region seeing the benefits of adopting the Living Wage, but it is important that we continue to demonstrate the value, both to employers but also to our region as a whole.”
The Living Wage Summit will also hear from local authorities, trade unions, voluntary and community agencies, such as the Child Poverty Commission and employers.
Speakers include James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, Sarah Vero from the Living Wage Foundation, Reverend Simon Mason and Matt Stripe, HR director for Nestle, who are a committed Living Wage employer.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Nov 2014
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014