Tagged: Chi Onwurah

Some NE Labour support for Jeremy Corbyn

Labour’s Easington representative, Grahame Morris, and Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell, were backing Andy Burnham in the Labour leadership race, but this week ditched him in favour of Jeremy Corbyn.

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, who is one of the last in the region to reveal her nomination, has also announced her support for Mr Corbyn.

The leadership race has so far seen Andy Burnham take the pole position with 53 nominations from MPs, with Yvette Cooper on 46, Liz Kendall on 37, Mary Creagh on seven, and Jeremy Corbyn on 13.

Mr Corbyn, 66, has a track record of rebellion against the Labour party, regularly defying the whip. In January he was among a number of MPs who wrote an open letter to Ed Miliband calling on the party to oppose further austerity.

Ronnie Campbell, who has represented Blyth Valley for Labour since 1987, said: “I’m making a point and Grahame is doing the same and the point is that there are still socialists.

Full story :  http://northstar.boards.net/thread/91/ne-labour-support-jeremy-corbyn

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Newcastle’s Jewish community heckle UKIP parliamentary candidate for ‘xenophobic’ views

A UKIP election hopeful has been heckled for his party’s ‘xenophobic’ policies by leading members of Newcastle’s Jewish community.

 Eric Josephs, a former co-chair of the North East Jewish representative council, shouted at UKIP parliamentary candidate David Robinson Young, ‘that’s xenophobic’ as he outlined his views on immigration at a synagogue in Gosforth, Newcastle during a hustings event.

He was backed up by a man whose family escaped Nazi Germany with three days before war broke out, who said that if there had been UKIP’s favoured Australian style points system in 1939 ‘believe me, I would have died’.

Mr Robinson Young, a leading city barrister running in the Newcastle East constituency , strongly denied the accusation.

He said: “I am not xenophonic and no-one in my party is xenophobic.

“We don’t have a problem with immigration, but we have a problem with the politically motivated immigration system at the moment.”

However German born Walter Knoblauch, who lost his grandmother, aunt and great-uncle in the concentration camps, backed up Mr Josephs’ outburst.

He said:

“What you are saying is abhorrent. If there had been a points system in 1939 when I arrived here, believe me I would have died. I left Germany three days before the war broke out. We did not have time to build up points.”

Mr Knoblauch, who lives in Gosforth, arrived from Munich to Newcastle, with the assistance of Newcastle man Stanley Holmes who worked for the Tyneside Industrial Development Board. Mr Holmes was instrumental in bringing many German Jewish families to Newcastle and invited Walter’s father Herman to set up a shoe businesses, Knorbrit Products, at Orchard Street, Newcastle, and later Laco Shoes.

Walter’s brother John also ran Victory Shoe shops at the Grainger Market, Shields Road and Gateshead High Street before he died in 1982.

Mr Robinson Young said during the hustings event ahead of the General Election that cases where refugees are escaping ‘tyranny’, including current African migration across the Mediterranean sea would be considered in a different light by UKIP if they were to get into power following the May 7 General Election.

He said: “If people are genuine refugees from tyranny by all means lets look at them as this country did for you.”

Liberal Democrat Newcastle city councillor for West Gosforth, Jackie Slesenger, said from the audience that she was immensely proud of the citizenship ceremonies that take place in Newcastle every year with up to a 100 people from around the world who have chosen to make Britain their home and asked Mr Robinson Young to think again about ‘what he says about immigration’.

He said: “No-one thinks carefully about immigration can possibly say they don’t like immigration.

“People who do that are ignorant. I’m not ignorant and we have nothing against immigration, it’s the system. We do not have a race problem, we have a space problem. This country is filling up.”

He also said it was important to focus not just on the number of immigrants coming to the UK, but the quality of the people arriving, and the skills and professions they have to offer the country.

The hustings event organised by the Representative Council of North East Jewry was held at the Synagogue Hall, Graham Park Road.

Also present were Newcastle Central parliamentary candidates, Chi Onwurah for Labour, Nick Cott for the Liberal Democrats and Simon Kitchen for the Conservatives.

Daniel O’Brien Thompson, the UKIP candidate for Newcastle Central, did not take part in the hustings, but was present in the audience.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Apr 2015

UKIP claims cycle lanes discriminate against the elderly because cyclists ‘are usually young’

Ukip has declared war on cycle lanes in Newcastle – by claiming they discriminate against the elderly.

The anti-EU party has distributed leaflets claiming it’s unfair to spend money on cyclists because they tend to be young.

And while Ukip acknowledges that Newcastle has received a £10m government grant for the lanes, it complains:

“Just because they receive a government grant they don’t have to spend it.”

> Uh, I think they probably do, you know. That’s rather the point of grants.

The leaflet highlights planned cycle lanes in Gosforth High Street, John Dobson Street and other roads in the city.

But it asks: “Are cycle lanes paved with gold?”

The Ukip leaflet continues:

“Cyclists are the chosen people, motorists are just a cash cow and have very few rights.

“How many elderly ladies will get on their bikes on a dark December night in Newcastle? Not many.

“Surely giving all the rights to cyclists, who are usually young people, is discrimination against the elderly and infirm?”

The leaflet goes on to complain that cyclists “carry no number plates or insurance” and suggests the council could improve road safety by ordering cyclists to put bells on their bikes.

But the claims were rejected by Newcastle Central Labour candidate Chi Onwurah.

She said:

“Cycling is a low impact way of keeping fit for people of all ages as well as a green and sustainable means of transport.

“The idea that this discriminates against older people is absurd and implies some kind of battle between cyclists and the elderly when in reality we all benefit from quieter, safer roads.

“Ukip have gone from picking on immigrants to picking on cyclists. Who is next I wonder?”

The leaflet from Ukip 

Earlier this week, Ukip launched its North East campaign and claimed it would be a “two horse race” between Ukip and Labour in the region.

Ukip and the Green Party are fielding a record number of General Election candidates as they seek to prove their credentials as emerging national political forces.

Provisional Press Association figures suggest Nigel Farage’s party is contesting 624 of the UK’s 650 Westminster seats – 66 more than it did in 2010.

Meanwhile the Greens, who have enjoyed a number of strong by-election performances, are putting up hopefuls in 571 seats – more than 70% higher than the 335 it fielded last time.

But in a signal of the dramatic decline of the far-right British National Party as an electoral force, it will be on the ballot paper in only eight constituencies, down from 338 last time.

The total number of candidates appears to have dipped slightly from 4,150 to 3,963 candidates.

A growing number are women – up almost a fifth from 854 to 1,020.

Ukip’s slate however is the only one of the major parties to be more male than in 2010, with only 77 women standing compared with 83.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Apr 2015

Far-right website RedWatch calls for information on anti-Pegida marchers

Police are monitoring a “disturbing” “neo-Nazi” website called RedWatch after images of anti-Pegida protestors were posted alongside a request for information.

Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah is among the people pictured after she spoke at a rally against an anti-Islam demonstration in the city.

The site – run by a far-right group not directly connected to Pegida – brands protestors “degenerates”, claims they were involved in violence and calls on people to provide personal data.

It is believed RedWatch has links to the paramilitary group Combat 18 and many featured on the site fear their names and addresses could be shared with dangerous individuals.

Chi confirmed she was reporting the matter to police, adding:

“The reference to illegal activities appears defamatory as well as an incitement and to call me degenerate and say I was making death threats – which is absolutely untrue – would also appear to incite people to take aggressive action.”

She added: “I think it is disturbing and I have asked the police to keep me informed.”

Pegida marchers, who claim they are trying to defend countries from the spread of extremism at the hands of Muslim immigrants, were outnumbered in Newcastle by counter-demonstrators at a rate of more than five to one. People are calling on Northumbria Police to take action on RedWatch.

Newcastle University student Gary Spedding, another anti-Pegida marcher whose picture features on the site, said:

“I was shocked to discover the website known as RedWatch.

“The police informed me that my image, and those of a number of others that I know personally, had recently been uploaded to this neo-Nazi site following Newcastle Unites highly praised and successful rally against Pegida in Newcastle last month.

“The modus operandi of RedWatch, uploading images of anti-fascist individuals and groups in order to identify them and gather our personal details including telephone numbers and home addresses, is something I find to be sinister, creepy and potentially criminal.

“Publishing the image, personal details and contact number of individuals with implied intent to incite violence against them is possibly a breach of the Electronic Communications Act (2000).

“RedWatch is a far-right platform with strong ties to a paramilitary group known as Combat 18 – the publishing of personal details on the website has previously resulted in actual violence towards people at their home addresses and even death threats to elected representatives, including members of parliament and their families.

“I would urge those who may have had their images and personal details uploaded to the website to be vigilant and report the website – along with any out of the ordinary occurrences such as no caller ID phone calls – to the police as soon as possible.”

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said:

“We have been made aware of this website and are currently making inquiries into this matter.”

The people who run the site use this introduction:

“This is a site designed and intended for people who are involved in the struggle against the spread of Marxist lies in the UK.”

> Nothing actually new – RedWatch has published photos and requested info on protestors at protests in Newcastle and Sunderland before. 

Though undoubtedly they are sinister, creepy and potentially criminal.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Mar 2015

Newcastle : Thousands turn out as counter-march outnumbers Pegida protest five to one

Newcastle stood united against hate as thousands of anti-Pegida protestors marched through the streets of the city yesterday.

The German “anti-Islamisation” group’s first visit to Britain was outnumbered by more than five to one as families, anti-fascists, trade unions, religious and community groups all turned out in opposition.

And though five people were arrested the potential powderkeg passed off relatively peacefully.

But Pegida have vowed Saturday was only its “first of many” appearances in the UK.

> And the first of many humiliating put-downs…. the standard has been set.

I wish this hadn’t been necessary,” said Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, who spoke at the counter protest.

“What we would have liked is for Pegida to have not picked our great city to march in in the first place.

“But to see people of all cultures and backgrounds, from across the political spectrum and including many football fans, turn out really showed that Newcastle is united against these outsiders.”

Official figures from Northumbria Police suggested 2,000 people had turned out for the Newcastle Unites counter protest, which marched from the gates of the city’s Chinatown, down Gallowgate before rallying before a stage on Newgate Street.

Among them was record dealer Adrian Farquhar, from Gateshead, and Katherine Reed, a carer, who said they felt it was important to show their son the importance of standing up to groups like Pegida.

We came for our seven-year-old son,” Adrian said. “We can’t let these people like Pegida dictate the kind of world he grows up in.”

The demo was also attended by Respect MP George Galloway, a number of Newcastle councillors, Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, and German MEP Arne Lietz, who travelled from Gelsenkirchen.

“For me it was very important to show solidarity and that we are together as Europeans against hate,” said Arne.

This Pegida protest will have attracted other groups or individuals who will have called themselves Pegida, but many of whom are right wing and nationalist, and who’s hate speak we don’t want to see in the European Union.

“I come from East Germany when I grew up we were singled out for being Christians under the Communist regime. I now want to ensure that we live in a fair Europe with the liberties denied to my own parents.”

George Galloway said:

“All right-thinking people in Britain condemn the idea of a German Nazi group coming to the North East of England trying to stir up trouble.

“The vast majority of British people respect that and the people who are on here on the counter-demonstration are representing millions.

“We have problems in Britain without racism and Islamophobia being further stoked.”

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who joined the counter-rally, said the number of people at the Newcastle Unites march was “fantastic.

 

“It really shows the solidarity among the people of Newcastle and the North East, and from the perspective that the Pegida protest only had numbers in the low hundreds, and the counter protest had thousands it’s very encouraging,” he said.

But what I can’t understand is among the Pegida rally there will have been British Nationalists demonstrating alongside proud Europeans – it doesn’t make sense.”

> Well, clear-thinking was never their strong point… or indeed thinking at all.

One hundred yards in front of them, on the other side of a large police cordon filled with scores of uniformed police and mounted officers, around 375 Pegida supporters congregated in the Bigg Market.

Among the German-founded group, which insists it is neither fascist or racist, banners supporting the English Defence League and National Front could be seen.

One male supporter said:

“This has nothing to do with race. It is about Islamification of our country and nobody is doing anything about it. We want people to integrate when they come here and that is not happening.

“When we bring up these issues we are called bigots and racists but we just want to protect our heritage.”

Speakers at the one-hour gathering, which called for an “end to Islamification of the west”, had called for a peaceful protest but some supporters attempted to break through the police line after the Bigg Market demo closed, and around 100 Pegida supporters formed a line at Grainger Street in an effort to goad those on the Newcastle Unites side.

However police officers and mounted units swiftly moved in to prevented further disorder.

> Meanwhile, Pegida tried to put a positive spin on their laughably pathetic turn-out by blaming – wait for it – transport problems, without which there would have been an extra thousand there, honest.

Pegida said: “Thank you all for the first peaceful Pegida rally in UK today!

“The early hour made us lose about 1,000 people that had booked transport for 1pm which was our goal.”

> Which suggests that the extra thousand would have been rent-a-mob bused in from elsewhere.

Though it does beg the question why – since the time of the demo was known for some time – they couldn’t change their travel times.

Of course, it’s more likely they never actually existed at all, and so the non-racist Pegida had to rely on the like of the EDL to boost their attendance to the heights of, er, 375.

Newcastle Unites: Thousands turn out for counter-march against Pegida protest in Newcastle

Newcastle stood united against hate as thousands of anti-Pegida protestors marched through the streets of the city this morning.

Anti-fascists, trade unions, religious and community groups, and politicians all turned out to oppose the German “anti-Islamisation” group’s first visit to Britian.

“I wish this wasn’t necessary,” said Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, one of the speakers on the march.

“What we’d like is for Pegida to have Newcastle Unites: Thousands turn out for counter-march against Pegida protest not picked our great city to march in.

“But to see people of all cultures and backgrounds, from across the political spectrum and including many football fans, turn out really shows Newcastle is united against these outsiders.”

Charlie Trotter, 21, a waiter from Morpeth in Northumberland, was among a group carrying a Morpeth 4 Peace banner.

“I came down to help make it known that the people of the North Eats are comfortable with immigration and people of different backgrounds and to show that we need to stand up to the far right,” said Charlie.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said the number of people at the Newcastle Unites march, which travelled from the gates of the city’s Chinatown, down Gallowgate, and down Newgate Street, was “fantastic.”

“It really shows the solidarity among the people of Newcastle and the North East, and from the perspective that the Pegida protest only had numbers in the low hundreds, and the counter protest had thousands it’s very encouraging,” he said.

But what I can’t understand is among the Pegida rally there will have been British Nationalists demonstrating alongside proud Europeans – it doesn’t make sense.”

Among the speakers who took to the Newcastle Unites stage was German MEP Arne Lietz, who travelled from Gelsenkirchen.

“For me it is very important to show solidarity and that we are together as Europeans against hate,” he said.

This Pegida protest will have attracted other groups or individuals who will call themselves Pegida, but many of whom are right wing and nationalist, and who’s hate speak we don’t want to see in the European Union.

“I come from East Germany when I grew up we were singled out for being Christians under the Communist regime. I now want to ensure that we live in a fair Europe with the liberties denied to my own parents.”

The Newcastle Unites march on Newgate street and the Pegida protest on the Bigg Market were kept around 100 yards apart by police cordons and scores of uniformed officers enforcing a “sterile zone.”

It is not yet known if any arrests were made at either protest

> I had hoped to attend myself ( the Newcastle Unites rally, in case you were wondering !) but  the effects of bronchitis made worse by a heavy cold dictated otherwise.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 28 Feb 2015

> Pegida supporters (for today, anyway – back to EDL tomorrow). As one comment for this video put it: “Never seen so many inbreed sister fuckers in one place, look like scum sound like scum tramps get a life..”

Newcastle: ‘Stay out of our city’ Final message to Pegida ahead of Tyneside demo

You are not welcome in our city.

That was the overriding message from residents, community leaders, political parties and union bosses just 24 hours before an “anti-islam” protesters arrive in Newcastle city centre.

Under the banner of ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’, Pegida supporters will be taking to Tyneside’s streets amid claims they are trying to defend countries from the spread of extremism at the hands of Muslim immigrants.

Saturday, will be the first UK demonstration by the British branch of the organisation.

A growing counter-demonstration, now expected to attract in excess of 2,000 people, will simultaneously march through the city centre in protest over Pegida.

The counter-demo, organised by Newcastle Unites, is also aiming to attract a string of high profile speakers including George Galloway MP.

 

Police said they were fully prepared to cope with the extra influx of people into the city centre just hours before Newcastle United kick off their home match against Aston Villa.

Today, opponents to Pegida made one final rallying call.

David Stockdale, councillor for Blakelaw, who will also be speaking at the meeting, said:

“Newcastle is a friendly, tolerant and inclusive city of sanctuary. We thrive on the diversity of our communities which make our city one of the truly great cities of the world.

“We have a proud history of standing up to intolerance and hate and to groups like Pegida who seek to do harm to our Muslim sisters and brothers.

“Pegida paint a brutal misrepresentation of Islam. It’s important to stand up to that and for me as a non-Muslim it’s important to speak out against Pegida’s twisted prejudice.

“The Newcastle Unites counter-demonstration will show Newcastle at its best. Islamophobia targets Muslims but it hurts us all and I’m so proud of how our wonderful city has come together to march in peace and solidarity against Pegida and everything they stand for”.

The Pegida movement started in Germany but has reportedly launched a number of other European off-shoots in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

Jeremy Beecham, former leader of Newcastle City Council, said:

“This city has a deserved reputation for welcoming people and for good relations between the communities which enrich its life.

“It has welcomed the contribution made by people from a variety of cultures across a range of activities, from the NHS to St James’s Park. Pegida is an extreme right wing movement driven by hatred of Muslims, on whom they have focussed their resentment for problems they perceive in Germany.

“Their Islamophobia is totally unacceptable, and it’s difficult to understand why Newcastle has been singled out for their malign attention. I hope the people of this city will unite to reject the message of division which they seek to bring to our streets.”

David Kelly, 33, from Newcastle, will be part of the counter-demo.

He said: “We don’t want these people in our city. They don’t belong here. We are a friendly, tolerant and welcoming place.”

Pegida claim to have chosen Newcastle for their first UK march due to having already established a following in the city.

 

Chi Onwurah,  Newcastle MP, said:

“We are a city of diverse communities and shared values where we both respect and look out for each other. We have a history of facing hard times together and growing stronger.

“People coming from outside to spread a message of division and hatred are not welcome. Pegida is targeting Muslims in our community and we have to stand up and say it is wrong, Islamaphobia is wrong, anti semitism is wrong, all racism is wrong, we can do better than this, we have done better than this when we saw off the National Front and the BNP.

“The idea that there might be children in Newcastle who feel unwelcome or unappreciated because of the religion they practise I find absolutely obscene. That is why I’ll be there on Saturday.”

Police say they have had open dialogue with parties from both demonstrations and say they are satisfied the demos will pass “peacefully”.

Chief Superintendent Laura Young, from Northumbria Police, added:

“I have had guarantees from both organisations that this will be a peaceful demonstration.

“People should not be put off coming into the city centre on Saturday. People will still want to come shopping, there is a football match on in the afternoon and people will be coming for other events.

“I would just say that they should give themselves some extra time to get in and out of the city centre as there have been some road closures.”

The march, which will begin at 10.30am, has attracted national, and international interest.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Feb 2015

Newcastle MP who criticised ‘pinkifcation’ of girls’ toys defends Labour’s pink bus

Harriet Harman launches Labour’s Woman to Woman election campaign bus at ASDA supermarket in Stevenage

A Tyneside MP who criticised the ‘pinkification’ of girls’ toys has leapt to the defence of Labour’s decision to use a pink bus to win women’s votes.

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah said the colour has been “stolen by the toy industry as a badge of girlhood” but it would have “patronising and defeatist” not to use it for the party’s ‘Woman to Woman’ campaign.

The Labour MP says the colour of the bus is the same as that used by leader Ed Miliband for his ‘One Nation’ conference speech.

She also says it is “ridiculous” for political opponents to link her views on children’s toys to the party’s campaign bus.

She said:

“Nine million women did not vote in the 2010 election, almost 400,000 in the North East. Women have been hit hardest by this Conservative Lib Dem Government and the Woman to Woman bus tour is part of putting women’s concerns at the heart of our Election campaign.

“The colour of the bus comes from the One Nation colour scheme – see Ed’s speech at last conference – and it would have been patronising and defeatist to avoid it because it has been stolen by the toy industry as a badge of girlhood.

“That said the controversy has raised the profile so a lot more people know about the bus and that’s great.”

 

MPs will take the pink ‘Woman to Woman’ bus on tour across the country in a bid to engage women and is due to reach the North East in March.

Ms Onwurah, who is a trained engineer, still has strong views on pink toys for young girls.

“I have and will continue to campaign against the pinkification of girlhood because I want choice for girls and for boys, to let colours be colours,” she said.

“But the idea that I am or ever have argued for some kind of colour bar against the particular collection of unsaturated wavelengths that comprise pink is ridiculous.

“It’s not the colour it’s the issues that impact women and girls that matter – like equal pay, public services, child care and gender stereotypes about what toys girls should play with.

“Equally in March when the pink and grey of Eastcoast is changed for the red of Virgin I will certainly not be celebrating.”

Simon Kitchen, the Conservative challenging Chi for the Newcastle Central seat, is among those who criticised Labour for the bus.

He said:

“The launch of Labour’s pink bus after Chi Onwurah criticised Geordie girls for playing with pink toys just highlights the double standards and muddled priorities of the Labour Party.

“It is patronising to pigeonhole ‘men’ and ‘women’ issues. This is clearly just another divisive gimmick that the electorate will see through.”

Nick Cott, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Newcastle Central, added:

“The Labour party is inconsistent. On the one hand, we have Chi Onwurah, challenging gender stereotypes whilst Harriet Harman seems to happy to play to them.

“I actually think there is election gimmickry in this debate. Gender inequality goes much deeper than commentary on blue and pink toys and creating pink battle buses.

“Labour politicians ought to take the issues more seriously and rightly deserve criticism.”

> Actually, I think it’d probably not gender stereotyping at all, merely Labour’s new colous – watered down red.  Though possibly mauve (pink with a hint of blue) might be more appropriate.

Anyway – housing, homelessness, poverty education, austerity, cuts, more cuts… it’s good to know that,  despite all those distractions,  the three main parties have found something really important to debate… the colour of a bus.

Really, polling booths should have “abandon hope all ye who enter here” set over them.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Feb 2015

Dave Prentis: Unison reps have more standing than Conservative MPs

A union chief claims his reps have more standing than the MPs calling for reform.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the country’s biggest trade union, Unison, slammed Tory plans to make striking harder . . . and said millions of paid up members give union chiefs more clout that politicians.

He was speaking as of the Northern TUC held a Public Services Alliance Emergency Summit in Newcastle over what unions brand a “constant assault on the public sector”.

David Cameron’s party wants to raise the strike ballot threshold to a 40% turnout, end a ban on using agency workers to cover strikers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for strike action to take place and curb picketing.

Today, a strike is valid if it achieves a simple majority.

Defenders of the proposals – which form part of the Tories’ election manifesto – say strikes with low turnout among supporters are not legitimate.

But Dave Prentis said his union has the backing of its 1.3 million members, adding: “As public sector workers, we need to be able to take many forms of action or employers will be able to do whatever they want to us.

“If we do get another five years of this coalition, public services will shrink back to 1930s levels and the trade unions will be hit more than anybody else.

“We represent 1.3 million public sector workers and I really do think that trade unions and their representatives have got more standing than the politicians putting forward these proposals.”

The union chief is lashing out after a long period of discontent which has seen dozens of strikes across the public sector over job losses and pay cuts.

He added the reforms put unions in an impossible position.

He said: : “Turnout is about 25% to 30% throughout the country but we do want to encourage people to vote.

“We spend millions of pounds sending out voting papers to home addresses when life is different now. You can vote electronically and in many different organisations you use email or mobile phone but we can’t do that.

“We are willing to fund a ballot box near workplaces to do a vote just like in a general election, but because of legislation we can’t do these things.

“The only means our members can vote is a postal ballot. This puts us in an impossible position.”

The Emergency Public Services Summit is being held at the Thistle County Hotel in Newcastle city centre on Saturday.

It is chaired by Clare Williams, chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance, and other speakers include Tyneside Labour MPs Dave Anderson and Chi Onwurah.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Jan 2015

Benefit sanctions raised in Commons by Hartlepool MP

> Part 93 of the ongoing Labour MPs Suddenly Discover Sanctions series….

THE cases of a Hartlepool benefits claimant whose money was cut because she missed an appointment due to roadworks and another who did not turn up for an appointment which had been cancelled have been raised in Parliament.

MP Iain Wright was speaking in a Commons debate on the effects of the DWP’s benefits clampdown on claimants across the North East, prompted by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah.

Mr Wright said he accepted the need to tackle fraud, but the system had to take account of people who had genuine reasons for falling foul of the rules.

“Most people would accept the principle that if people flagrantly and persistently fail to adhere to mutually accepted requirements, they should face consequences,” he said.

“However, I have noticed a large increase in the number of sanctions imposed, often for a first or light transgression, and often with no regard to the context.”

Cases of people who had seen their benefits suspended unreasonably included:

– A man who realised he had missed an appointment, contacted the Jobcentre immediately and went in the next day, only to be informed by post that his benefits were being cut for a month;

– A woman sanctioned because she was late after her bus got delayed by roadworks in the centre of Hartlepool;

– A woman who was told her appointment for a work capability assessment had been cancelled who was then sanctioned for failing to attend;

–  And a woman who was sanctioned for a month because she missed an appointment to attend her grandfather’s funeral.

In all those cases, and in others, I have been able to get the sanctions overturned; but that itself raises some issues,” said Mr Wright.

“Is it an efficient use of taxpayer resources to apply a sanction, only for staff time to be employed in overturning it? How robust, efficient and effective is the process if that continues to be the case?”

The culture in JobCentres needed to change, he said:

“Front-line staff do not have any flexibility to determine whether a benefit claimant has failed to comply with a requirement. They have to see things in black and white and they cannot provide personalised support.

“The system is geared not to help individuals, but merely to process them.

“Claimants can suffer appallingly as a result of their treatment.”

The system was also failing to help workers whose traditional skills were not suited to the modern jobs market.

The JobCentre is simply not interested in helping them secure a new job,” said Mr Wright.

Through its indifference and latent hostility, it is consigning my constituents to the scrap heap long before their time.”

He highlighted the case of a former factory worker who had been told to apply for benefits on-line despite not owning a computer and never having used one.

“There are many people like my constituent in Hartlepool and the North East. The digital divide is creating social exclusion that is affecting the most vulnerable people,” said Mr Wright.

My constituents deserve better, as do many others in the North East and elsewhere.

“They are treated shabbily and with contempt.”

Work minister Esther McVey defended the Government’s record and told the debate the sanction rate for Jobseeker’s Allowance was between five and six per cent a month and less than one per cent for Employment and Support Allowance.

> Presumably depending on what targets for sanctions Jobcentre managers have set their staff….

In the past year, the number of people sanctioned actually decreased,” she said.

Source – Hartlepool Mail,  10 Jan 2015