Energy firm Npower is planning to open fuel banks offering vouchers for free gas and electricity to the poor.
They would operate alongside existing food banks which give three days’ worth of donated food to those in need.
The proliferation of food banks has been controversial and it has been at the centre of the Labour Party’s attack on the Coalition. The arrival of fuel banks is likely to intensify the political furore.
The step may also be interpreted as an attempt by one energy giant to stem criticism of its pricing from consumer groups and the threat of a price cap from Labour.
Npower, one of the Big Six energy companies which dominate the market, aims to open fuel banks in a series of pilot programmes across the country which are likely to be up and running over the summer.
The company is understood to be in the process of signing agreements with partners to operate the scheme.
Those people judged to be in need of help would be given a voucher to put towards energy costs. It is expected to pay for energy lasting the average household ‘about two weeks’, said a source close to the company. Npower declined to comment.
The source said: ‘They could do this three times a year and it would be available not just for our customers but anybody, no matter who their supplier is.
‘The idea is that we run this for six months over the summer so we can be sure we administer this properly before we hit winter when demand is likely to increase.’
The energy company believes that those most likely to claim from its fuel banks are already on pre-payment energy meters. Comparison website uSwitch has said there are 5.9 million people who are on this type of meter.
A report from the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK published last December noted that the average price of gas, electricity and other fuels had increased by 153.6 per cent in Britain from 2004-2013 compared with 76 per cent in Germany and 59 per cent in France.
Vouchers which allow the less well off to obtain supplies from food banks can be obtained from social services, the service, doctors’ surgeries and schools. It is likely that fuel banks will be organised using similar arrangements.
The arrival of fuel banks is likely to ratchet up the pressure on the Coalition. In the TV debates David Cameron failed to answer questions from interviewer Jeremy Paxman on how many food banks there are and how rapidly they have grown.
According to Paxman, there were 66 when the Coalition came to power and there are now 421. However, there are no official figures and some estimate that the number of food banks is much higher.
Food banks fed almost a million people in 2014, according to figures from the Trussell Trust, the charity which operates many of them, though the figure has been disputed.
Many began offering ‘kettle boxes’ to those who cannot afford to switch on their cooker to boil foods like rice or pasta. The meals in the boxes can be prepared by adding boiling water. ‘Cold boxes’ of provisions including tinned food are also available and do not require any heating.
Source – Mailonline, 18 Apr 2015
A UK artist has created an art installation as a memorial to the suicide victims of welfare reform.
Melanie Cutler contacted Vox Political regarding her piece – ‘Stewardship’ – a few weeks ago, asking, “Do you think I’ll be arrested?”
The response was that it should be unlikely if she informed the media. The artworks have been displayed at the Northampton Degree Show and are currently at the Free Range Exhibition at the Old Truman Brewery building in Brick Lane, London, which ends tomorrow (June 30).
Entry is free and the installation will be located in F Block, B5.
“I have become an artist later on in life,” Melanie told Vox Political. “I was a carer for my son and, a few decades later, my father. I have worked most of my life too, raising three children.
“Only recently, while studying fine art at University I found my health…
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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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Local councils have been failing to check voter lists by making door-to-door visits – leading to a loss of no less than six million people from the electoral register, the BBC has reported.
This is before a new system comes into operation that will require people to put themselves on the register individually, rather than being registered as part of a household. This has been designed by the Coalition government and it is widely believed that it will discourage people who are not Tories or Lib Dems from registering – effectively rigging elections in favour of the ruling parties.
In addition, it is widely believed that the public in general is losing faith in democracy after being forced to put up with one government after another who have sidled into office with a minority of the vote – most people have voted against them. These governments have then imposed…
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An activist from Somerset is raising his own ‘Shoestring Army’ to crowdsource funds and mount a legal challenge against the government’s new Claimant Commitment for jobseekers, after police said they were unable to arrest Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud for breaching the Human Rights Act.
Keith Lindsay-Cameron, of Peasedown St John, near Bath, was advised to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a legal challenge in the courts after he made his complaint at Bath police station on Friday (May 2).
He said the conditionality regime that is part of the new Claimant Commitment will re-cast the relationship between the citizen and the State – from one centred on ‘entitlement’ to one centred on a contractual concept in which the government provides a range of support only if a claimant meets an explicit set of responsibilities…
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Why are the mainstream media so keen to make you think falling inflation means your wages will rise?
There is absolutely no indication that this will happen.
If you are lucky, and the drop in inflation (to 1.7 per cent) affects things that make a difference to the pound in your pocket, like fuel prices, groceries and utility bills, then their prices are now outstripping your ability to pay for them at a slightly slower rate. Big deal.
The reports all say that private sector wages are on the way up – but this includes the salaries of fatcat company bosses along with the lowest-paid office cleaners.
FTSE-100 bosses all received more pay by January 8 than average workers earn in a year. Their…
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The region’s police forces are snooping on phone calls and emails 53 times every day, it has been revealed – triggering an investigation.
The surveillance watchdog has raised the alarm over forces using powers to tap into communications data far too often, warning privacy may be at risk.
And it announced an inquiry into whether there should be stricter curbs on the police and other law enforcement bodies – to ensure snooping is not an “automatic resort“.
A report to Parliament revealed that forces in the North-East and North Yorkshire tapped into communications data a staggering 19,444 times in 2013.
The highest total was recorded by Durham police (6,218), followed by Northumbria (6,211), North Yorkshire (4,058) and then Cleveland (2,957).
Authorisation is granted to uncover the “who, when and where” of a communication, such as who owns the phone, or email address, or computer IP address.
The police also learn who that person was in contact with electronically – but not what was said in that communication.
The powers are granted under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which the Coalition altered after protests, to curb excessive spying.
His report concluded: “It seems to me to be a very large number. It has the feel of being too many.
“I have accordingly asked our inspectors to take a critical look at the constituents of this bulk to see if there might be a significant institutional overuse.
“This may apply in particular to police forces and law enforcement agencies who between them account for approaching 90 per cent of the bulk.”
Nationwide, most communications were tapped into to “prevent or detect crime, or prevent disorder“, followed by “emergency, to prevent death or injury“.
Durham Police mounted a strong defence of its use of covert tactics, arguing almost everybody now used a mobile phone and the internet.
The force insisted it “takes the privacy of individuals seriously” and that every application under Ripa is considered by a senior person independent of the investigation.
Detective Superintendent Lee Johnson said: “Some individuals in society have no consideration of the rights of others and commit crime and make use of phones to enable the commission of the crime.
“When identifying the location of a missing person, a wanted person, or how a phone has been used in the commission of a crime, it is now an important investigative tool to make use of call data in locating someone, or proving their criminality.
“The public expect the police service to make effective use of tools available to them to protect vulnerable individuals in society, or identify offenders and bring them to justice.”
And Home Secretary Theresa May backed forces, saying: “Communications data is vital in helping to keep the public safe: it is used to investigate crimes, bring offenders to justice and to save lives.”
The annual report also listed many local authorities which snooped on phone calls and emails last year, including York (80 times) and Redcar and Cleveland (69).
However, a spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council said its high figure was explained by its regional role coordinating ‘Scambusters‘ trading standards crackdowns.
In fact, only one of the 69 authorisations listed in the watchdog’s report was actually carried out by Redcar and Cleveland, he added.
Similarly, a spokesman for York City Council said its high figure was the result of its similar regional role in tackling ‘e-crime‘.
It said it applied through the National Anti-Fraud Network to identify those behind the telephone numbers they were investigating, but not the content of the messages.
Colin Rumford, City of York Council’s Head of Regional Investigations, said: “We make applications through the National Anti-Fraud Network to identify the people and organisations behind telephone numbers that we’re investigating as part of our sizeable remit to work for the national trading standards e-crime team, the regional trading standards Scambuster team and local consumer fraud.
“None of the applications relate in any way to the interception of messages between individuals.”
All fire authorities and ambulance services in the region reported that they did not use the powers.
Source – Northern Echo 10 April 2014
A 15th century law court
One of the commenter’s to Mike’s blog, Vox Political, R. Jim Edge, reported an appalling miscarriage of British justice. The comment is on Mike’s post, reblogged from Pride’s Purge, about the death of a mentally ill man, Mark Wood, from starvation. Wood had been sanctioned by Atos, and this exacerbated his mental illness. He developed an eating disorder, and refused money his family gave to spend on food. He died weighing just over 5 stone, with a body mass index of 11.5. The full details are on Pride’s Purge and the Void. R. Jim Edge commented
Its going to get worse, just this week in Chester a woman who stole some groceries from TESCO because she had had her benefits stopped was (and this is the good bit) fined £30 and ordered to pay £80 compensation to tesco.
This is actually a…
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A North-East MP has said the remains of Richard III would struggle to pass the Government’s too-strict ‘fit for work’ criteria.
Thousands of benefit claimants are dying within six weeks of being wrongly assessed as being fit to work because of the Government’s “scandalous” welfare reforms, the Commons heard today.
Gateshead Labour MP Ian Mearns compared the coalition to “oppressive regimes in Central and Latin America”, blaming ministers for misdiagnosing at least 10,600 sick and disabled people as being fit for work.
Speaking during a backbench business debate on welfare reform, he said: “Put bluntly, this Government, the Department for Work and Pensions and their agencies are telling us repeatedly that people who are dying are fit for work.
“Between January 2011 and November 2011 some 10,600 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims ended and the date of death was recorded within six weeks of the claim end.
“This Government has repeatedly refused to release updated 2013 (figures) for deaths within six weeks of an end of an ESA claim.”
Mr Mearns added: “Four people a day are dying within six weeks of being declared fit for work under the Work Capability Assessments.
“It is scandalous – scandalous and an indictment of this place.”
He suggested that the remains of Richard III would also struggle to pass the Government’s strict criteria.
He told the House: “Some might consider this bad taste, but I’m told there was a story doing the rounds, that when the bones of Richard III were discovered in Leicester, Atos carried out an assessment and judged him fit for work.
“It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
“It’s a sad truth faced by 12,000-plus families who, every year, have to face their own personal tragedy of this nature.
“In my youth, I never would have imagined that in 2014 it would be the United Kingdom that would be the subject of an Amnesty campaign.
“Yet at its AGM in 2013, Amnesty UK passed a resolution recognising the human rights of sick and disabled people in the United Kingdom had been dreadfully compromised.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 Feb 2014