The Archbishop of York, who chaired the Living Wage Commission, has defended parish churches paying below the minimum hourly rate.
Speaking during a visit to the North-East, Dr John Sentamu said churches that could afford to pay the Living Wage, currently £7.85 an hour outside London, should do so, but rejected suggestions it should be made mandatory.
The Church of England was criticised recently for advertising jobs at sub-Living Wage levels, a number of bishops having just backed the campaign. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the revelation was “embarrassing”.
Speaking in Durham yesterday , Dr Sentamu said:
“Where people are capable of paying the Living Wage, they should do it.
“In my diocese, we do. In my office, we do. Many other church groups do. I believe the FT 100 index ought to be.
“But there are some small businesses where if that became mandatory, they may go under.”
Whenit was suggested the Anglican Church was neither small nor new, the Archbishop said:
“Every Parochial Church Council is a charity in its own right. Every cathedral is a charity in its own right. People talk about the church as if it’s one huge organisation. No, every church has its own governance.
“If you can’t, tell your employees why you’re delaying and when you hope to arrive at a Living Wage.”
Dr Sentamu was speaking after delivering the annual Borderlands Lecture at Durham University.
He told a 150-strong audience at St John’s College that more employers should pay the Living Wage, to support the working poor not “well paid people like me”.
In a wide ranging 45-minute address, he railed against resource, economic, political, social and community injustice, saying society was at a moral, economic and spiritual crossroads and in need of moral, economic and social transformation.
Dr Sentamu also spoke of the “barbarity” of Islamic State, saying they were “using God as a weapon of mass destruction”.
> Well, that’s an accusation that could never be levelled against Christianity….
We all bear some collective responsibility for crime, he said, and instead of asking what law has been broken, who broke it and what they deserve, the justice system should ask: who has been hurt, what are their needs and who is obliged to meet their needs.
> Perhaps the Archbish might like to bend the ear of a certain Iain Duncan Smith on that point…
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Mar 2014
The House of Bishops of the Church of England have told Christians they have a duty to vote in the general election and condemned the demonising of benefits claimants and the targeting of the least well off for cuts.
In a 52 page letter to the people and parishes of the Church of England published today, the Bishops say
“Unless we exercise the democratic rights that our ancestors struggled for, we will share responsibility for the failures of the political classes. It is the duty of every Christian adult to vote, even though it may have to be a vote for something less than a vision that inspires us.”
In a clear attack on the language used by politicians and the media about benefits claimants, they add that:
“It is particularly counter-productive to denigrate those who are in need, because this undermines the wider social instinct to support one another in the community. For instance, when those who rely on social security payments are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent, and ought to be self-sufficient, it deters others from offering the informal, neighbourly support which could ease some of the burden of welfare on the state.”
The Bishops also point out that austerity has not been experienced equally by all:
“It has been widely observed that the greatest burdens of austerity have not been born by those with the broadest shoulders – that is, those who enjoy a wide buffer zone before they fall into real need. Those whose margin of material security was always narrow have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession.”
Source – Benefits & Work, 17 Feb 2015
Veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher has accused the Conservatives of introducing welfare reforms designed to prevent the poor from ‘breeding’.
Writing on his blog, Mr Meacher says:
“Occasionally the mask slips and the truth becomes clear. We had already been told that the Tories planned to limit child benefit to the first two children because it would save money. Then IDS (Iain Duncan Smith) let the cat out of the bag: he said it would promote “behavioural change”. This element in the Tory DNA – that the poor are over-dependent on benefits and should have their breeding excesses curtailed – has quite a history.
“Keith Joseph made a pitch for the Tory leadership in 1974 with this appeal: “A high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world…Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment….The balance of our human stock is threatened”. The message hasn’t changed in the last 40 years – control the lower orders, suppress their breeding, check their spending, moralise against their life-styles.
“The same message was driven home by Baroness Jenkin, wife of Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who opined last month: “poor people don’t know how to cook”, and regaled us with the story that she had a large bowl of porridge which cost 4p. Astonishingly she was presenting the Church of England report on foodbanks which found that 4 million people in the UK are currently going hungry. Back to the stereotype that poverty is caused by fecklessness, not by rates of pay so low that families cannot survive on them. It may come as a shock to Lady Jenkin to discover that there are now more persons in poverty in working families than in workless families.
“This Tory prejudice again has a long history. It underpinned the Poor Law for three centuries till it was challenged by Beatrice Webb and others in 1908, and was only finally overthrown by the national insurance and income support laws of the Attlee government in the 1940s.
“Now in the Cameron government this deeply embedded Tory instinct to vilify the poor as a degenerate class which needs to be punished to kick it out of its fecklessness has come to the fore again with a vengeance.
“Unprecedented cuts in public sector pay and in benefits, combined with ‘sanctioning’ (i.e. depriving claimants of their income for weeks on end and sometimes months even for the most trivial infringements), have been constantly spun on the canard of ‘shirkers/scroungers versus strivers/hard-working families’.
“But this time Osborne may have overplayed his hand. A sceptical public, already anxious about the claim that further deep cuts will still be necessary, are gradually learning the truth about the bedroom tax (some 500,000 families liable to eviction, a third of them disabled) and the huge DWP bureaucratic delays before benefits due are paid out (over 300,000 currently being forced to wait 9 weeks before IDS’ personal independence payments are actually paid).
“This is not just about money or reducing the deficit; it’s the class prejudice oozing out of the Tory psyche as their last throw before the election.”
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 19th November 2014
The government has been accused of ignoring evidence of the distress caused by its welfare reforms following publication of a report which directly links cuts to benefits with a massive rise in food bank use.
The study found that cuts and changes to Britain’s increasingly threadbare social security system are the most common triggers of the acute personal financial crises that drive people to use food banks..
At least half of all food bank users are referred because they are waiting for benefits to be paid, because they have had benefits stopped for alleged breaches of jobcentre rules or because they have been hit by the bedroom tax or the removal of working tax credits, it finds.
The study, the most extensive research of its kind yet carried out in the UK, directly challenges the government’s repeated insistence that there is no link between its welfare reforms and the huge increases in charity food aid.
The study was commissioned by the Church Of England, the Trussell Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group.
It calls for urgent changes to the “complicated, remote and at times intimidating” social security system to stop people falling into poverty, including a less punitive sanctions system and speedier processing of benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report, claiming the research was inconclusive.
“The report itself concludes it can’t prove anything – it uses self-selecting data and recognises there are complex underlying issues. We have a strong safety net in place, spending £94bn a year on working-age benefits, and we provide a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.”
But the report was welcomed by Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, who hosted its launch at the House of Commons on Wednesday. He said it was an important study that chimed with his experience as an MP in his surgery. He said its recommendations for change, including a review of sanctions policy, would make a practical difference to the lives of many of his distressed constituents.
“There is no doubt from this report that there are certain elements of welfare that make things more difficult, without doubt. These are not the headline things like the benefit cap, but things like sanctions, the smaller things that go below the radar where people cannot get any kind of help.”
> Blimey ! Even tory MPs are starting to notice !
The report’s lead researcher, Jane Perry, an independent social research consultant and former DWP official, defended the scope and methodology of the research, which she said accorded with official government social research quality standards.
The bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, said he was disappointed by the DWP’s dismissal of the report, which he described as “an appeal to people of goodwill” to address an important social issue. He urged dialogue with ministers over the problems the report highlights and added: “I think they [the DWP] possibly need to read the report.”
It is understood the DWP was offered a seat on the study’s advisory committee prior to the research but declined. The department was shown a draft copy of the report a month ago but did not raise any objections to its methodology.
In another twist, a DWP minister, Steve Webb, whose officials had apparently agreed for him to respond in person to the report at the launch, pulled out at the last minute, without giving a reason. David McAuley, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said he was frustrated that the DWP had not attended, and accused them of not wanting “to hear the story.”
The study says it wanted to examine practical ways of preventing the further expansion of food banks, and warned the government against reliance on charity food to fix holes in the welfare state.
“The promise of a social security safety net that is there to protect people at times of crisis is something that can and must be preserved and protected. Food banks, whilst providing a vital and welcoming lifeline to many, should not become a readily accepted part of that formal provision,” the report says.
> But surely that’s exactly what they do want – Cameron’s Big Society (remember that ?) seemed to be all about charities and individuals doing the work for nothing, allowing public money to be diverted to more important things…such as into the pockets of the already-rich.
There are no official statistics on the use of food banks, but the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 food banks in the UK, says 913,138 people were given food parcels by its volunteers in 2013-14 – almost a threefold increase on the previous year, and likely to be a fraction of the total numbers of people experiencing food insecurity.
The research, which examined why people were referred to food banks, combined 40 in-depth interviews with clients at seven UK food banks, analysis of data collected on 900 clients at three of those food banks and a caseload of 178 clients at another.
The authors accept that the research, while wide-ranging, cannot prove definitively why people use food banks or how many use them, but argue that it provides an initial indicator of the scale and prevalence of issues leading people to accept charity food, and call on ministers to commission more authoritative data on food insecurity, as happens in the US and Canada.
The government has struggled to explain why food bank use has risen, though its has denied that welfare cuts are a factor. Lord Freud, the welfare minister, notoriously insisted that demand for food had risen because it was free, while the former education secretary Michael Gove suggested people turned to food aid because they had poor financial management skills.
However, the study found that in most cases people used food banks because they were tipped into financial crisis by events that were outside their control and difficult or impossible to reverse, such as benefit cuts and delays, bereavement or job loss. Most people said they used food banks as a desperate and shaming last resort.
Almost a third of food bank users interviewed for the study who had experienced problems with the benefits system said they had been sanctioned by social security officials and left penniless for weeks on end, while a further third were left unable to put food on the table because of lengthy delays in benefit payments. The report says the current sanctions policy is causing hardship and hunger.
The government has self-imposed targets for processing benefit claims within 16 working days. However, the report says this period is too long a wait without income for vulnerable people, and in practice many claimants wait longer than this. There are concerns that the five-week delay before jobless people can sign on under a future universal credit system will cause hardship.
Formal state crisis support available to people who are left without income because of bureaucratic delays in the processing of benefits was often inadequate or non-existent, the study found. As a result, many people entitled to state help were forced to sell possessions, go without food, or take out expensive credit to buy essentials such as food and rent.
Many people who used food banks lived in or were close to poverty and were attempting to cope with the “ongoing daily grind of living without sufficient income to make ends meet each month”. Many worked, but in jobs that were low-paid and insecure. Often they were also coping with mental and physical ill health and bereavement.
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“Food banks have boomed not because they‘re an easy option but because people haven’t got money to eat – often because of problems with claiming and the payment of benefits.
“A delay in a benefits decision or a period pending a review can force hunger and humiliation on families, leaving them no option but the food bank. Rather than protecting these families from poverty at the time when they most need help, the system leaves them with almost nothing to live on.”
“This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a life shock or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness.”
The study will feed into an all-party parliamentary group inquiry into hunger and food poverty, chaired by the Labour MP Frank Field, which is expected to report before Christmas.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Nov 2014
Labour leader Ed Miliband is to turn his fire on Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct chain, in a major speech attacking “zero hour” contracts.
Mr Miliband will accuse the chain of “Victorian practices” in the way it treats staff.
And he will highlight plans to change the law – so that workers with regular shifts have the legal right to a regular contract, if Labour wins the next election.
It comes as the Labour leader continues his fightback following reports that some MPs had concerns about his leadership of the party.
Earlier this week he delivered a speech pledging to stand up to “vested interests”, to ensure hard work was rewarded and to stamp down on tax avoidance by the very wealthy.
Today he is set to focus particularly on zero hours contracts, in which work is not guaranteed and staff are called in as needed.
Mr Miliband is to say:
“A graphic symbol of what is wrong with the way this country is run is the army of people working on zero-hours contracts with no security while a few people at the top get away with paying zero tax.
“This zero-zero economy shows we live in a deeply unequal, deeply unfair, deeply unjust country run for a few at the top, not for most people. It is a country I am determined to change.”
And he will highlight Sports Direct, which has 400 stores and is estimated to have 17,000 people on zero hours contracts.
“Sports Direct has thousands of its employers on zero-hours contracts, the vast majority of its workforce.
“Sports Direct has predictable turnover, it is a modern company with stores on many high streets and, judging by its success, where many people shop.
“But for too many of its employees, Sports Direct is a bad place to work.
“This is not about exceptional use of zero-hours contracts for short term or seasonal work which some employers and workers may find convenient. This is the way Sports Direct employs the vast majority of its workforce.
“These Victorian practices have no place in the 21st Century.”
Mr Miliband will set out plans to legislate to give employees the legal right to a regular contract if they are working regular hours; to refuse demands that they are available over and above their contracted hours, and to compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice.
An inquiry commissioned by Labour and conducted by businessman Norman Pickavance, former HR & Communications director at supermarket chain Morrisons, reported earlier this year:
“Sports Direct has expanded dramatically since 2008 and gained a large share of the sports retail market. About 17,000 of their 20,000 strong staff are employed on zero-hours contracts.”
Last month the firm said it would make its employment terms clearer in job adverts for zero-hours posts, following legal action brought by a former employee.
Mr Ashley, an entrepreneur who built up his business from a single sports shop in Maidenhead, bought a majority share in the club in 2007.
Meanwhile, controversial payday lender Wonga has agreed with Newcastle United to remove its logo from all children’s replica shirts and training wear from the 2016/17 season.
Wonga said it followed a review of its marketing launched by new chairman Andy Haste in July to ensure that none of it could inadvertently appeal to the very young or vulnerable.
It has already ended its puppet advertising campaign.
The company said the logo was being removed from children’s kit at the earliest possible opportunity, and that due to kit production schedules this would be from the start of the 2016/17 season – the last season of the current shirt sponsorship deal.
Darryl Bowman, Wonga marketing director said: “As a responsible lender we believe removing our logo from children’s replica shirts and training wear is the right thing to do. We appreciate the club’s support in this matter.”
Newcastle United managing director Lee Charnley said: “We understand and respect Wonga’s position and are happy to support their decision.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Nov 2014
Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric has accused the Coalition of leaving increasing numbers of people facing “hunger and destitution”.
Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said that while the need to reduce spending on benefits is widely accepted, the Government’s reforms have now destroyed even the “basic safety net”.
Archbishop Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the welfare system had also become increasingly “punitive”, often leaving people with nothing for days on end if they fail even to fill a form in correctly.
He said it was “a disgrace” that this was possible in a country as rich as Britain.
His intervention comes as he prepares for a Consistory in Rome where he will receive a red Cardinal’s hat from Pope Francis.
The Archbishop’s criticism will be felt acutely by the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who is a practising Roman Catholic.
Last year Mr Duncan Smith accused Church of England bishops who criticised aspects of the reforms of ignoring the concerns of ordinary people.
“People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure,” said the Archbishop.
“But I think what is happening is two things: one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart.
“It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.
“And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive.
“So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing – with nothing.
“For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.”
The Archbishop is one of 19 senior clerics from around the world chosen by Pope Francis to be elevated to the highest rank of Roman Catholic clergy. It grants him a place in the secret Conclave which will elect the next Pope.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The benefits system this Government inherited was broken, trapping the very people it was designed to help, with around five million on out of work benefits and millions of children growing up in workless households.
“Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.
“It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending 94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”
> The Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson’s nose suddenly grew to an unfeasible length – an occupational hazard for those tasked with defending the DWP.
Source – Telegraph 14 Feb 2014