This article was written by Rowena Mason and Damian Carrington, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd October 2014
The former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit has said young unemployed people should be required to pull up ragwort from roadside verges in return for benefits.
The 83-year-old Tory grandee made the proposal in a letter to Matt Shardlow, chief executive of a charity called Buglife, which is concerned about the effect of declining ragwort on bees and rare insects.
In his reply to the charity, Tebbit said ragwort was a major problem in his part of East Anglia and proposed it could be weeded out by “Neets” – young people who are not in education, work or training – and “low level criminals”.
“I suggest you come to the Norfolk/Suffolk border areas of East Anglia. Landowners who wish to control ragwort face an impossible task when roadside verges are dominated by it to an extent I cannot remember in the past.
“There would be little cost to bring that under control if Neets and low level criminals were required as part of their contribution to the society which finances them, or which they have abused … to uproot this weed.”
> Translation: anyone unemployed is either living a luxury lifestyle at taxpayer’s expense or is a criminal.
Strangely, this is also many people’s definition of a politician…
Tebbit later told the Guardian:
“Given a bit of organisation, they [unemployed young people] would be happy doing something constructive. That’s something constructive for them. It’s appealing, it gets rid of a weed which is a danger to some animals and helps landowners in the cultivation of their land.
“That was my thought that caused me to suggest the idea … in a way it’s a form of national service, of doing something for society in a way in which anyone unless they are physically disabled can participate.”
Asked whether he acknowledged some might find the idea of forced labour in return for benefits controversial, he said:
“It’s workfare but I think there are some powerful arguments for workfare and so does [Labour MP] Frank Field for example. It’s not a way-out idea in that sense. If you go back to the Beveridge report on which the whole welfare state has been based, you’ll find he took the view that youngsters who had never worked should not receive benefits because they have not contributed anything.
“I am much more modest about this than Beveridge was and I suspect Ernie Bevan might have been on my side in it. I just think a lot of those youngsters want something to do which is constructive.”
However, Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow welfare reform minister, said the comments reflected the “values of the Victorian workhouse” in which out-of-work people were forced to perform demeaning, unpaid labour.
“There’s one weed that I would like to uproot: it’s sitting in the House of Lords. Lord Tebbit’s proposal, which effectively equates being out of work with being a criminal, is both offensive and ludicrous,” he said.
“It betrays the deeply toxic attitude the Tories have towards people who rely on the social security net for any period of their life. Rather than acting to end the scourge of insecure, unskilled, low pay jobs, they think up ever more creative ways to demonise those that they have failed.”
It is not the first time Tebbit has made controversial suggestions about the unemployed. He is famous for suggesting in 1981 that they should get on their bikes to find work.
His stance on ragwort – a plant often sprayed with herbicides by local authorities because of its reputation for killing horses and grazing animals – may also annoy environmentalists.
Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, said:
“We were surprised that Lord Tebbit suggested that the unemployed and criminals should be forced to pull up ragwort, particularly as ragwort is an important part of our native biodiversity, supports 30 species of insects and helps to sustain the now fragile bee populations that we need to pollinate crops.”
Shardlow said that the poor reputation of ragwort was undeserved and argued that cases where horses and other livestock appear to have been poisoned are the result of poor animal husbandry, not the spread of the plant. He said that while ragwort may be more obvious on roadside verges in some areas, it declined by 39% in England between 1998 and 2007. One of the insects dependent on ragwort, the cinnabar moth, has declined by over 80% in the last 35 years.
Richard Benyon, a former environment minister, was criticised by ecologists in 2011 when he posted a picture on Facebook of himself pulling up the yellow-flowered plant.
Declaring he hated ragwort, the Tory MP said he was “on the warpath for those who let this vile weed spread,” prompting anger from experts who said at least 30 insect and 14 fungi species are entirely reliant on ragwort.
> I have actually done this work – pulling ragwort – back in the days when I was an environmental volunteer. Those were also the days of Thatcher’s government, which included Tebbit.
I used to get constant grief from the Jobcentre for doing voluntary work – I was actually told that I might be considered to be making myself unavailable for work !
I pointed out that I was only doing it until another paid job came along, was learning new skills (some of which, incidentally, got me more paid work further down the line).
Honestly – damned if you do, damned if you don’t…
Source – Welfare Weekly, 23 Oct 2014
Labour Party Press Release:
The Government has admitted Universal Credit could cost taxpayers an additional £750 million after failing to decide how free school meals will work alongside the crisis-hit programme.
Under the current system, eligibility for free school meals is decided by certain benefits received by families such as income support.
However because Universal Credit is set to replace existing benefits, including in-work benefits, and will be claimed by families not currently in receipt of free school meals, the Government must decide on new eligibility criteria.
Since 2011, Labour has consistently asked questions on the issue but the Tory-led Government has still not decided what the Free School Meals criteria will be despite repeated assurances.
Until it reaches a decision it has said that all children in households receiving Universal Credit will automatically be eligible for free school meals – which could result in an extra £750 million of government spending.
Chris Bryant MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, said:
“Ministers have ignored warnings about Universal Credit and free school meals for years.
“Now they have admitted the cost of their incompetence could reach £750 million.
“David Cameron must urgently get a grip of this latest Universal Credit fiasco with threatens to cost taxpayers millions of pounds.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 25 June 2014
Around three-quarters of the way through tonight’s Question Time, I was ready to believe the BBC had pulled a fast one on us and we weren’t going to see Iain Duncan Smith get the well-deserved comeuppance that he has managed to avoid for so long in Parliament and media interviews.
There was plausible deniability for the BBC – the Isis crisis that has blown up in Iraq is extremely topical and feeds into nationwide feeling about the possibility of Britain going to war again in the Middle East. The debate on extremism in Birmingham schools is similarly of public interest – to a great degree because it caused an argument between Tory cabinet ministers. Those are big issues at the moment and the BBC…
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Two-thirds of households in England affected by the bedroom tax have fallen into rent arrears since the policy was introduced in April, while one in seven families have received eviction risk letters and face losing their homes, a survey claims.
The National Housing Federation (NHF) said its survey demonstrated that the bedroom tax was “heaping misery and hardship” on already struggling families who were unable to pay their rent but unable to find anywhere cheaper to live because of a shortage of smaller homes.
The NHF survey is one of three separate reports published on Wednesday which collectively criticise the design and implementation of the bedroom tax and highlight the negative impact it has had on the lives of many of the 522,000 people in the UK who are subject to it.
The disability charity Papworth Trust says that a third of disabled people affected by the tax have been refused emergency financial help, despite government guidance that disabled people who live in adapted homes get first call on discretionary housing payment funding.
The trust said many disabled people who have been refused emergency payments – which are intended to provide short-term financial relief to those struggling to cope with the bedroom tax – were now cutting back on essentials such as food or household bills. It called on ministers to exempt people living in adapted properties from the tax.
Meanwhile, the Labour party has published the results of a freedom of information request which shows the number of tenants wrongly subjected to the bedroom tax as a result of drafting errors in legislation is nearly 50,000 – at least 10 times as many as official estimates.
Chris Bryant, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said information from a third of councils showed that 16,000 people were affected by the error, which affects working age tenants in social housing who have occupied the same home continuously since 1996.
The reports herald a day of parliamentary activity around the bedroom tax. A bill to abolish the tax will be introduced by Labour backbench MP Ian Lavery, while Lord Freud, the welfare minister, will appear before a committee of MPs to answer question on a raft of welfare reforms.
Lavery said he believed that the bedroom tax had caused the most visible poverty and heartache of all the coalition’s welfare changes. “I have seen with my own eyes the absolutely astounding impact the bedroom tax has on disabled and sick people. I’m not sure the government is aware of the hardship and misery it has caused. We are talking about ordinary people who have been forced to move from the homes where they have spent a lifetime raising their kids. They have been cast out like dogs in the night.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “We are determined to support those who might need extra help through these necessary reforms. That is why we have tripled the extra funding given to councils this year to £190m – some of which is specifically targeted at disabled people – and have announced that £165m will be available for councils next year to help vulnerable tenants.”
It said the NHF could not prove whether the rise in tenant rent arrears was accounted for by the bedroom tax alone.
The bedroom tax – also known under its official names of “spare room subsidy” or “under-occupation penalty” – affects 660,000 housing benefit claimants living in social housing across the UK. Introduced last April, the policy imposes an average penalty of between £14 and £22 a week on working-age tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need.
NHF chief executive David Orr said: “From day one we have said the bedroom tax is unfair, unworkable and just bad policy. It’s putting severe pressure on thousands of the nation’s poorest people and must be repealed.”
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 12th February 2014.
Source – Welfare News Service 12 Feb 2014