Tagged: Child Poverty Action Group

Child poverty on course for biggest rise in a generation

Child poverty is on course for the biggest rise in a generation, reversing years of progress that began in the late 1990s, leading charities and independent experts claimed on Saturday.

The stark prognosis comes before the release of government figures which experts believe will show a clear increase for first time since the start of the decade.

Key policy decisions in the second half of the last parliament, including the introduction of the bedroom tax and cuts in benefits between 2013 and last year, are blamed for fuelling the rising number of families whose income is below 60% of the UK average – the definition of relative poverty.

Calculations from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have suggested that progress between the late 1990s and 2010 has been reversed and that the number of children living in relative poverty rose from 2.3 million in 2013 to 2.6 million in 2014.

The Child Poverty Action Group says that with the government committed to implementing a further £12bn of benefit cuts in a new round of austerity, the problem of children living in poverty looks certain to grow for several more years.

Tens of thousands of people joined an anti-austerity march through central London on Saturday, Alison Garnham, the charity’s chief executive, said ministers were failing too many children in low-income families.

The government can no longer claim that deficit reduction is about protecting children’s futures now that it’s being made to confront a child poverty crisis, with the biggest rise in a generation now expected of its own making,” she said.

“With child poverty expected to rise by nearly a third in the decade to 2020 as a result of its policies, it’s clear the government’s approach is failing.”

Full story :   http://northstar.boards.net/thread/109/child-poverty-course-biggest-generation

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Poverty – And Child Poverty In Particular – Is Rising

Poverty in the UK is increasing after two years of heavy welfare cuts have helped to push hundreds of thousands of people below the breadline, according to an independent study of the coalition government’s record.

Although middle-earners saw incomes rise marginally after 2013, policies including the bedroom tax and below-inflation benefits rises have reduced incomes for the poorest, pitching an estimated 760,000 into poverty since the last official figures were produced, according to the New Policy Institute (NPI) thinktank.

Child poverty showed the biggest increase, with 300,000 youngsters moving into hardship, reversing a fall in the headline figure recorded in the coalition’s first year. NPI estimates 29% of UK children are in poverty after housing costs.

The study challenges Tory claims that child poverty has been reduced by 300,000 on the coalition’s watch. While that figure is officially correct, NPI says, the data on which it is based only applies to the three years between 2009 and 2012.

“The clear conclusion is that poverty in the UK is rising among all age groups,” the NPI’s research director, Tom MacInnes, told the Guardian.

“The trajectory over the second half of the coalition’s term has been a bad one. The next government, whoever wins next week, will be dealing with worsening, deepening poverty.”

NPI undertook the study after the government refused to bring forward the publication of official data which would have shown the impact on poverty figures of the major welfare reforms introduced in 2013, and enabled the coalition’s record to be properly scrutinised before the election.

Official poverty data for 2013-14 will not be published until June, while figures showing the coalition’s record in the final year of the parliament will not be available until June 2016.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group charity said:

“This important analysis shows the weakness of the claim being put about by ministers that they have got child poverty down despite making wide-ranging and deep cuts to benefits and tax credits.”

Responding to the report, a Conservative spokesman repeated the claim that there were fewer people in poverty compared to 2010.

“The truth is that the best route out of poverty is work, and there are now a record number of people in work – 2m more since the last election and 700,000 fewer workless households.”

Labour’s shadow welfare minister, Helen Goodman, said:

“This report shows that increasing levels of poverty under this Tory-led government are leaving millions of families struggling to make ends meet.”

Child poverty fell in the first year of the coalition, under the tax and benefits framework inherited from Labour, and remained stable for two years as median incomes fell, the study says. It started to rise again after April 2013 when a series of benefit cuts were introduced, alongside increases in tax allowance.

The median weekly income fell from £425 in 2009-10 to £392 in 2012-13, inching up to £395 by the end of the parliament, says NPI, largely as a result of increased tax allowance and rising employment. But the weekly income of the poorest 10%, which was £174 five years ago, has fallen to £160.

The upward trend in relative poverty over the past two years has affected all groups, the study finds, including working families and pensioners, while the numbers of people identified as being in severe poverty also rose.

The Child Poverty Act requires the government to reduce relative child poverty to below 10%. Latest official figures, which differ from the NPI model in that they measure poverty before housing costs are taken into account, show that 17% of children are below the breadline.

Labour says it will keep the target, though admits it is “very unlikely to be met”.

The Conservatives say they will “work to eliminate child poverty”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that child poverty will rise to 23% by 2020.

A person is defined as in poverty if their household income is below 60% of the median, while “deep poverty” refers to people in households where income was less than 50% of the UK median.

The study, using a model developed by NPI, estimates income and poverty levels for 2013-14 and 2014-15 using 2012-13 data adjusted for changes in population, employment, earnings, benefits and prices.

According to NPI, the government said the decisions on publication dates were not political. But a spokesman for NPI said:

Given the significance of recent policy changes and welfare reform to the poverty landscape, not publishing official statistics before the election is also political”.

Source – The Guardian, 29 Apr 2015

 

How The Tories Dehumanise Low-Paid Families – Or Should I Say ‘Benefit Units’

Do you ever miss the era when you didn’t know what a benefit sanction was?

That innocent time, before the Department for Work and Pensions renamed a family a “benefit unit”?

One of the great luxuries of no longer having a Conservative-led government would be not having to learn any more about their intricately boring, functionally brutal social security innovations.

Look, I’m no Pollyanna. There are clearly question marks over a possible Labour/SNP coalition: how is it going to work, for a start, now that Labour has explicitly promised not to talk to the SNP? Prime minister’s questions would look like a cocktail party with two exes blanking each other. We’ll know they’re in love, but they’ll be too angry to see it.

And what, exactly, is Ed Miliband’s rent capping idea?

The beginning of a new courage, as he sets his face to the blizzard of the rentier economy?

Or a canny bid for the votes of people who don’t think any politicians are capable of anything?

These are battles for the future, and I would have them 1,000 times rather than watch unfold the nightmare of “in-work conditionality”.

As part of the universal credit pilot, last week saw the beginning of new requirements on the number of hours worked: under these regulations, anyone earning less than the equivalent of 35 hours on the minimum wage would be subject to pressure which could end in a sanction.

The second parent in the “benefit unit” would be required to work a minimum of 16 hours, taking the working week for the family up to 51 hours, before the threat of sanctions would be lifted.

Over the coming year, 15,000 families will be placed on this regime, to varying degrees of stringency: some will just be nudged with a fortnightly phone call, others will have to attend regular interviews which, as we’ve seen with the regular social security picture, comes with the ever-present risk of having your benefits removed and being left with nothing.

Labour’s Baroness Sherlock asked some searching questions in the Lords in January about the ethics of doing a randomised control trial in which one of the groups suffered a real risk to their wellbeing.

Lord Freud waved the problem off, but this is the man, remember, who thinks people use food banks because there is an “infinite demand for a free good”. He probably thinks these families only had children in the first place because they presented no immediate unit cost.

It may sound as though there is no moral dishevelment more profound than deliberately leaving parents without the money to feed their children (the cost of the trial, incidentally, is £15m, which I am prepared to bet real money is more than the scheme will ever save). But there are two other aspects, one cultural and one democratic, to consider.

First, as Lindsay Judge, who conducted research on the pilot for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) to be released on Monday, points out:

“If you focus on hours, you individualise the problem of low pay. It allows employers to take their eye off pay, and it allows the state to take their eye off benefits.”

To be on low wages under this regime is to be at the mercy of many different pressures: employers who think you’re expendable and are less likely to make accommodations for you, whether that means flexibility or extra hours; government agencies who will focus on increasing your hours, regardless of what that does to your family; and an inbuilt discrimination in the fact that people on the minimum wage are expected to work more in the first place (since the “conditionality” element of universal credit is based on family income, not hours worked).

But if you were to take this policy, and the demands it makes of parents, and lay it over other debates – education, where the worthy parent is at the school gates and all over the homework; or health, where good parenting involves a lot of home baking – you can see that to be on the minimum wage is, by steady increments, becoming incompatible with “respectable” parenting. This is even starker for single parents, who are of course often judged as deficient in the first place.

The democratic deficit emerges from the CPAG’s research, in which it asked two groups, one high income and one low income, how much other parents should be expected to work. Judge describes “parents being shocked at the sharpness of the state in other parents’ lives. You come up against these sharp edges all the time when you’re a low-income family and they’re really unpleasant. People who don’t have that interaction with the state are really surprised.”

CPAG found that people tended to approach the issue as parents first and taxpayers second, concluding overwhelmingly that it has to be a question of individual choice; parents must decide for themselves how many hours they work.

“Everyone said, people should be able to make the same choices about work-life balance across the income spectrum. Policies that bear down in a coercive manner are not acceptable – and that response was found in the higher- as well as the lower-income group.”

So many benefit reforms are justified on the basis that the country is sick of a something-for-nothing culture. But when you ask in-depth questions about what other people’s lives should be like, and what kind of dignity a state should respect and uphold, a much more generous, human picture emerges.

The genius of so many of these reforms has been in the naming – “spare-room subsidies” and “work-related activity groups” – they sound like technicalities rather than financial traumas. I don’t know what the in-work conditionality would have to be called for parents to stand together against it: I’d sooner not find out.

Source – The Guardian, 26 Apr 2015

Conservative Health Chair Criticises David Cameron’s Welfare Cuts Plans

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

Cuts To Local Welfare Schemes ‘A Christmas Present To Loan Sharks’

This articlewas written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 18th December 2014

Poverty charities and councils have warned that the government’s refusal to guarantee funding for local welfare schemes will force low income families in crisis to turn to food banks and loan sharks.

The government announced in January that it would no longer provide £180m central funding for local welfare assistance schemes operated by English local authorities after April 2015, triggering a cross-party revolt by Conservative MPs and council leaders, Labour councils and charities.

It is believed that the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, attempted to secure £70m for local welfare to announce in Thursday’s local government finance settlement, but was blocked by the chancellor, George Osborne.

The local government minister Kris Hopkins told the Commons on Thursday that there would be no additional funding for local welfare, although he encouraged councils to make further formal representations, raising faint hopes that the government may revisit the decision in February.

Local welfare provision offers emergency help for a range of vulnerable people who fall into unexpected crisis, including women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people, pregnant mothers, care leavers, pensioners and people suffering from chronic physical and mental health problems.

Some in Whitehall are understood to be concerned that cutting local welfare will provide additional fuel to critics who argue the government does not care about poverty. A cross-party report on food banks this month urged the government to protect local welfare assistance, saying food bank referrals would increase if it was not reinstated.

Hopkins said that although there would be no new funds for local welfare, ministers would outline a notional figure of £130m in the overall grant allocations to councils – a cut of £50m – although this would not be ring-fenced, meaning councils can spend it on other services.

Cllr Andy Hull, Labour-run Islington council’s executive member for finance, called the decision not to provide local welfare funding “an early Christmas present from the government for loan sharks and payday lenders.”

He added: “This safety net supports families to stay together, helps people sustain their tenancies and keeps kids out of care. It is a lifeline, not a luxury. Now, thanks to the government, it lies in shreds.”

The Local Government Association said almost three-quarters of local authorities will abandon or scale back local welfare schemes unless they receive government funding. Two county councils, Nottinghamshire and Oxfordshire, have already closed their schemes.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“In the long-run tax payers will foot a higher bill if low-income families can’t stop a one-off, unforeseen expense from becoming a full-blown crisis – and the human cost will be high. For mothers leaving violent partners or youngsters moving on from homelessness or care, the schemes can make the difference between managing or not.”

Helen Middleton of the Furniture Reuse Network, whose member charities work closely with councils on helping low-income families, said the decision showed the government had “no real understanding of the levels of poverty in this country”.

Homelessness charity Centrepoint said young homeless people used local welfare schemes as a vital safety net:

“It’s completely unacceptable that young people who have fought to turn their lives around after facing homelessness are once again left to sleep on floors for lack of something as basic as a bed.

“Ministers must look carefully at responses from councils to this announcement and consider whether their proposal really reflects the level of poverty in many of our communities.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said:

“The government’s decision to reduce annual funding from £172m to £130m will make it harder for councils to support vulnerable families facing a crisis. The requirement that town halls fund their schemes from within existing budgets may create a postcode lottery for many families in poverty.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  18 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/cuts-local-welfare-schemes-christmas-present-loan-sharks/

Autumn Statement: Greens Slam Osborne’s ‘Ideological Commitment To Austerity’

The Young Greens have heavily criticised the government’s “ideological commitment to austerity”, following Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.

George Osborne renewed the government’s commitment to control welfare spending by “freezing Universal Credit work allowances for a further year, cutting tax credits when overpayments are certain, and ending unemployment benefits for migrants with no prospect of work.”

The Chancellor also reiterated David Cameron’s pledge to freeze working-age benefits for 2 years, if the Tories win a majority in the next general election.

Georgia Elander, of the Young Greens’ National Committee, said:

“It’s clear that austerity isn’t working for anyone. The government borrowing forecast for this year has been raised from almost £87bn to £91.3bn, and Danny Alexander has attributed this to falling tax receipts due to people being in lower-paid jobs.

“Meanwhile, young people across the country are struggling to get by on low wages and zero-hour contracts, seeing their benefits stripped away, and being forced into workfare in order to claim any welfare at all.

“This isn’t good for the economy, young people, or the rest of the country. George Osborne’s dogged insistence on pursuing the spending cuts and deficit reduction policies of the last five years, despite their clear failure, illustrates this government’s dangerous ideological commitment to austerity.

“Osborne’s continued refusal, too, to raise taxes on the wealthiest in society shows once again that this government operates for the benefit not of the many but of the wealthy few.”

She added:

The Green Party would implement a wealth tax on the top 1% and a financial transaction tax, to make sure that it is the richest individuals and corporations and not the poorest who contribute the most to funding vital public services.”

The Young Greens say austerity measures are also having a wider impact on young people’s mental health, with low wages, unemployment and welfare cuts leading to an increase in stress, depression and suicide.

They welcomed the government’s pledge to invest £150 million in tackling mental health problems, particularly for children who suffer from self harm and eating disorders, but added:

“Mental health provision in this country is grossly underfunded, and while this funding pledge is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done.

“We need to improve access to mental health services, and work to remove the stigma around mental health, so that children and young people with depression and other mental health problems can be diagnosed and treated before they resort to self-injury.”

What about child poverty?

Responding to today’s Autumn Statement, Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

It’s striking that the only giveaway for children was for families who can afford to fly them abroad on holiday. For millions more children, today’s Autumn Statement is about staying the course for poverty rather than prosperity.

“The Chancellor once again failed to mention child poverty – it’s now two years since an Autumn Statement or a Budget mentioned child poverty, despite the Government’s binding legal obligation to reduce it and IFS projections warning that the Government is on course to rapidly increase, not reduce, child poverty.

“By cutting Universal Credit once again, the Chancellor is in very real danger of torpedoing Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship policy. Freezing the work allowance will harm work incentives and hit low paid families hard. Two thirds of poor children live in working families; we should be redistributing help towards them, not away from them.”

Britain needs a pay rise

Responding to the Autumn Statement, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The living standards crisis has wrecked the Chancellor’s strategy.

“He has failed his deficit reduction pledge as low-paid Britain is paying much less tax than expected. And businesses won’t find the customers they need if consumers do not have money in their pockets.

“Nothing in today’s Autumn Statement will give Britain a pay rise, and Conservative plans to effectively outlaw strikes will help make Britain permanently low-paid. Wrapping up last year’s infrastructure presents and giving them to us again will not give the economy the extra boost it now needs.

“Today should have seen policies for growth, but the Chancellor has boxed himself in with a rigid and artificial deficit reduction timetable. If he continues in office that will mean eye-watering spending cuts straight after the election. These would knock the recovery sideways, deter investment and lead to great damage to our social fabric.

“The way to heal the public finances is to build a strong growing economy in which successful companies and well-paid workers pay fair taxes. Pre-election giveaways today under this Chancellor will lead to even bigger spending cuts now that the global economy looks increasingly fragile.

“This is economic self-harm, threatening a vicious circle of further decline. That would be Groundhog Day all over again – the same mistake that the coalition made in its first two years.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  03 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/autumn-statement-greens-slam-osbornes-ideological-commitment-austerity/



Tory Minister Joins Calls For U-Turn On Local Welfare Cuts

This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 26th November 2014

A Conservative minister has joined growing Tory opposition to the government’s proposals to slash funding for local welfare assistance, which provides emergency help to Britain’s poorest citizens.

Amber Rudd, the minister for climate change, said she had been “fighting” to persuade the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reinstate the £180m a year funding for local authority welfare schemes.

Local welfare assistance, which replaced the old nationally run social fund 18 months ago, provides “safety net” support for low-income families tipped into sudden crisis as a result of homelessness, domestic violence, flooding, illness or sudden financial setback.

Rudd, the MP for Hastings, and a former Treasury whip, is the most senior Tory politician to demand the government reverse plans to scrap central funding for local welfare schemes from this April.

She told BBC Radio Sussex: “We all locally who care about the most vulnerable in society are fighting very strongly to make sure the government reconsiders.”

Separately, Tory-run Essex county council has written to ministers to warn the proposed cut would leave vulnerable people without help and at the mercy of loan sharks.

The council’s leader, David Finch, said:

I want ministers in London to think again and keep funding in place because the consequences of families going through crisis for longer will be far more expensive.”

Other senior Tories who oppose the scrapping of local welfare funding include: Keith Glazier, the leader of East Sussex county council; David Hodge, the leader of Surrey county council; Sir Merrick Cockell, a former leader of the Local Government Association (LGA); and Louise Goldsmith, the leader of West Sussex county council, who has call the plans as “a cut too far”.

A decision on the future of local welfare funding is expected in December alongside the local government funding settlement.

Rudd accused the DWP and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) of trying to offload accountability for local welfare on to each other, and promised to “hold ministers’ feet to the fire so that somebody takes responsibility for it”.

Although Rudd said she believed that local government needed to make cuts, it was “too hard” on councils to be expected to run local welfare assistance schemes without separate DWP funding. Councils have experienced an average 37% cut in budgets over the course of this parliament, with more financial pain to come.

The government insists councils can continue to fund local welfare from within their central grant. But the LGA has warned that withdrawal of funding will mean one in six councils will be forced to decommission their schemes, leaving tens of thousands of families without state help.

In a joint letter to ministers with the charities Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Children’s Society and Crisis, the LGA says that scrapping local welfare “will have an acute impact on vulnerable residents and their children and will mean they have nowhere to turn in their time of greatest need”.

Naomi Ridley of Hastings Furniture Service, a charity which has worked closely with other Sussex charities to win cross-party support to save local welfare funding, praised Rudd’s intervention:

We enthusiastically welcome the support of a government minister for the campaign, and hope she can convince her colleagues that abolishing the fund is a terrible, short-sighted mistake with vicious consequences.”

Charities which work with families in poverty have also stepped up pressure on ministers to protect local welfare funding. The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was told during an official visit to a charity “furniture bank” in Ipswich last week that his proposals would penalise the most vulnerable members of society.

> Like his decisions so far haven’t ?

The Furniture Re-Use Network whose 250 members have seen requests for help for secondhand goods, such as beds and fridges, rocket during the past 18 months, said councils were failing to keep pace with an explosion in poverty. It accused ministers of ”having no idea of the scale of unrecorded need of in-crisis households.”

The DWP announced in January that it would stop funding local welfare assistance after 2015, despite promising during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act in 2012 that it would conduct a review of the policy before making a decision.

After being threatened with court action over this decision by Islington council and CPAG, however, the government promised in September to reconsider its position and issued a consultation.

The consultation, which closed on Friday, has been criticised because none of the three choices offered to consultees involve continued funding. The housing charity Shelter called it “a cheap pavement shuffle cup trick”.

The Guardian’s investigation of the scheme in April found widespread chaos: in many councils local welfare was underspent, under-advertised and underused. Record numbers of families needing help were turned away and “pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks”.

A government spokesperson said:

The changes made to funding of local welfare provision were never about abolishing support and it’s a total misrepresentation to suggest they were.

“This government has given councils more control because they understand
best their local area’s needs – this is in contrast to the previous
centralised grant system which was inflexible and poorly targeted.

“We have completed a consultation on how funding should be provided for 2015/16 and will publish the results shortly.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  26 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/tory-minister-joins-calls-u-turn-local-welfare-cuts/

Government Dismisses Study Linking Use Of Food Banks To Benefit Cuts

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.

He added:

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.”

McAuley said:

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

http://www.welfareweekly.com/government-dismisses-study-linking-use-of-food-banks-to-benefit-cuts/

Up To 40% Of Council Tax Levied On Low-Income Households Unpaid

This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th August 2014

Local authorities were unable to collect up to 40% of council tax due from low-income households that had the charge imposed on them for the first time last year.

Council tax – set on average at £5 a week – has been levied on the poorest households in England since April last year as part of a cut in benefits. But such is the squeeze on household budgets, say campaigners, that the poor cannot afford to pay even these small sums.

The result has been widespread non-payment. Nationally, more than a fifth of council tax charged to working-age claimants was unpaid at the end of 2013-14.

The figures, obtained from responses from 140 councils to Freedom of Information requests by the anti-cuts group False Economy, reveal that some of the biggest towns and cities were left chasing millions of pounds from the poor.

Liverpool collected 61% of council tax due from the poor, leaving the city short by £3.5m.

In Birmingham, the non-payment rate among the vulnerable was 30%, leaving the council seeking to recover £3m in lost revenue.

Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield were all chasing more than £2m each in tax from those on the lowest incomes.

A report published last month by Child Poverty Action Group and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust said almost 40% of Londoners affected by the cuts had been sent a court summons for council tax debts in 2013-14, with more than 15,000 claimants’ debts referred to bailiffs.

In Haringey, north London, which collected 80% of the council tax due from benefit claimants, hundreds of households have been taken to court to recover unpaid tax – with non-payers threatened with bankruptcy, repossession and ultimately prison.

Last week, sitting in the magistrates court in Tottenham, Dick, 49, said there was “no way” he could afford the £7-a-week council tax his housing association two-bedroom flat was being charged. He has walked with a stick since his Achilles tendon snapped in 2012.

I don’t work. I get employment support allowance which is £70 a week and my son lives with me and he gets a few hours on a market stall. After rent and everything else we have about £140 a month to live on. Food, clothes, the lot. I go down the food bank to eat. Can’t afford to heat up food because we cannot put money into the gas meter. How can I afford the council tax too? We never paid this before. It’s just getting the poor to pay up. That’s all it is.”

Dick said he had offered to pay £3 a week towards council tax after working out his finances with the local Citizens Advice bureau, but the local authority did not respond to his offer. Instead the council has asked for the full year’s council tax to be paid immediately – £350 – plus the cost of recovering his unpaid tax through a liability order of £125. “It’s ridiculous. I worked all my life. Never needed anything. Now I got nothing they want to get that.”

A spokesperson for False Economy called for the cuts to be reversed. “These figures show that people on low incomes are struggling to cope with council tax benefit cuts, just as the government was warned they would. Households are left either falling into debt and at risk of legal action, or taking money for food and essentials to plug the shortfall, in what is a government-created personal debt crisis.”

Councils said they were caught in an “impossible situation” as ministers had forced local authorities to pass on £500m in cuts when the scheme was introduced – and there would be further reductions in the discounts the poor received as town hall budgets were squeezed in the coming years.

Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s finance panel, said: “Councils would need to find £1bn by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes.

“At a time when local government is already tackling £20bn worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far. Many councils have been put in an impossible position. No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But pressure on funding for local services means many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.”

Hilary Benn, the shadow cabinet member responsible for local government, said two million of the poorest people were affected by the council tax hikes.

“These figures show that many of the people affected, including single parents and disabled people, are finding it very difficult to pay the Tories’ tax increase. The government was warned that this was going to be Poll Tax mark two, and so it is proving.”

The government defended its changes, saying it had “worked with councils to freeze council tax for the last four years” for most residents.

Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, said: “Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending Labour’s something-for-nothing culture and making work pay.”

Source –  Welfare News Service, 29 Aug 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/40-council-tax-levied-low-income-households-unpaid/

Draconian Council Tax Rule Unlawful, Says Judge

A draconian rule which saw 3,600 Sandwell residents being forced to pay a higher rate in Council Tax has been ruled unlawful, Inside Housing has reported today.

Labour dominated Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, introduced a policy in April 2013 that prevented anyone who had not lived in the area for at least two years from claiming a reduction in Council Tax, regardless of whether they could afford to pay or not.

 This resulted in a number of affected households falling into arrears or forced to move away from the area. Others were allegedly threatened with bailiffs.

The policy affected around 3,600 local residents and was challenged by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) on behalf of three claimants, two of which have been forced to leave the area due to inability to pay the higher charge.

One of the claimants is a victim of domestic abuse, while another has mental health issues. The third is said to be a widow.

Judge Hickinbottom said that the Council’s decision to strip local residents of their right to claim a reduction in Council Tax, and subsequent legal defense, was like trying to “make bricks without straw”.

He added that the Council had presented no viable defence or evidence and was acting unlawfully by failing to conduct a “race or gender impact of the residence requirement, at or before it adopted the scheme”.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of CPAG, said:

“This ruling confirms what should have been obvious to the Council from the start: it cannot be sensible or right to charge people on low incomes a higher rate of council tax simply because they are new to the area.

“If Sandwell Council had given any thought to this policy, or held a consultation it might have realised this earlier. Instead thousands of people have been threatened with arrears and some people, even those who like these claimants were originally born and bred in Sandwell, have been forced to move away.”

Source –  Welfare News Service, 30 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/draconian-council-tax-rule-unlawful-says-judge/