Labour run North Tyneside Council has had to cancel an attempt to introduce voluntary prepaid benefits cards after only two claimants volunteered to take part. The council claimed that the scheme was misrepresented as being aimed at drug and alcohol users.
The council’s attempts to launch the cards predates Iain Duncan Smith’s announcement to the Conservative party conference last month, in which he said:
“I have long believed that where parents have fallen into a damaging spiral – drug or alcohol addiction, even problem debt, or more – we need to find ways to safeguard them – and more importantly, their families, their children, ensuring their basic needs are met.
“That means benefits paid, I always believe, should go to support the wellbeing of their families not to feed their destructive habits.
“To that end, conference, today I can stand here and announce to you that I am going to start testing prepaid cards onto which we will make benefit payments so that the money they receive is spent on the needs of the family, finally helping I believe to break the cycle of poverty for families on the margins.”
In fact, prepayment cards have already been extensively tested on failed asylum seekers, who are obliged to use an Azure card produced by French multinational Sodexo.
Users of the card report that they are treated negatively, that the cards often don’t work and that they are prevented from buying cheaper fruit and vegetables from markets.
One user told the Red Cross:
“You go to [one of the approved retailers] and it’s just refused when they swipe it…. So sometimes you can go for a week without food…. If it happens by Friday – at the weekend they are closed. Then you tell them on a Monday that this is what happened, and they tell you it will take three to four days. So already you’re half of the week.”
So, the claim by North Tyneside deputy mayor that they wanted to give people
“. . . a financial life-line to better managing their finances so they could be more independent in the future and provide them with great choices.’
may be genuine, but it doesn’t seem to reflect what actually happens when you take away people’s right to spend their money as they choose.
Source – Benefits & Work, 10 Oct 2014
Tory plans to pull out of the European Court of Human Rights have been dismissed as a backward step and “a sop to Ukip and right wingers” by North East politicians.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling believes the extraordinary move would restore “common sense” to the British legal system, allowing judges in this country to effectively ignore Strasbourg.
The extraordinary move would give the ECHR no move than an advisory role and hand politicians and judges final say on issues like prisoner voting and life sentences. Mr Grayling also said it would stop terrorists and foreign criminals relying on human rights laws to stay in the UK.
But Labour peer Jeremy Beecham accused the Justice Secretary of pandering to the right wing.
He said: “This is a sop to Ukip and Tory right wingers.
“It was a Conservative Government which led the way on the EHRC, but the present Tory Party has a shocking record on legal aid, access to justice and judicial review and this just another example of its attitude, ironically in what will be the 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta.”
Vera Baird, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The Human Rights Act benefits ordinary people on a daily basis and can help victims of crime.
“Recently it allowed two young women, who were victims of the black cab rapist John Worboys, to sue the police for failing to investigate his appalling crimes properly.”
She added human rights law was widely misrepresented in parts of the media and called on Chris Grayling to re-think the plans.
She said: “For instance in 2006 it was reported that police gave fried chicken to a suspected car thief who had fled from police and was besieged on a roof ‘because of his human rights’.
“Surprise, surprise, there is no human right to KFC – it was used as part of the negotiating tactics that encouraged him to come down.
“Nor is there a bar to deporting a criminal because he has a British cat, as Theresa May once claimed.
“Whether a foreign criminal stays or goes is a balancing act, which is far better done in our courts than in Strasbourg.”
But Labour’s Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell believes the country should be given a choice on its relationship with Europe.
He said: “On the whole it’s good to have a Court of Human Rights as they have made some good decisions, but I haven’t agreed with them all.
“Although I haven’t agreed with all the decisions made by the judicial system, I still think we should let the people decide, not the politicians, and have a referendum.”
Chris Grayling made the announcement as the Conservative Party Conference drew to a close this week and as the campaign for next year’s General Election gets underway.
He said: “We will always stand against real human rights abuses, and political persecution. But these plans will make sure that we put Britain first and restore common sense to human rights in this country.”
> Translation – lets make Britain a feudal state where people like me who went to the right schools get to make the law that suits our best interests. Fuck anyone else.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 Oct 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron has been given an open invite to visit the region’s young unemployed to stop him labelling them benefits scroungers.
The Tory leader announced plans to ‘combat’ youth unemployment by stopping benefits after six months for those aged 18 to 21 to wean them off a life of ‘dependency’.
While it played well to the gallery at the Conservative party conference, it left young people at the sharp end angry at how it seems to portray them.
Katie McLaren, 21, graduated with a degree in Performing Arts three months ago from Northumbria University and has still to find work.
“I’m trying to get on the employment ladder, be an adult, but there aren’t a lot of work opportunities out there,” she said. “Believe me I’m trying.
“Why doesn’t he speak to the young unemployed to find out what the situation is like? I think there’s a lack of understanding between the south and the north as well as politicians with the people they are supposed to represent. If he wants to come up here he is more than welcome.”
The region has one of the worst jobless rates for young people in the UK, running at 25% or about one in four.
And the figure for all ages in the North East is about 10%, the worst in the UK by a considerable margin.
Neil Burke of Youth Focus North East, a charity which aims to improve the life of young people across the region, said: “There might be lots of jobs in London but there aren’t loads of jobs up here, as the figures show.”
Speaking about Mr Cameron’s proposal, he said: “What about young people who have come from vulnerable circumstances?
“They can be socially isolated and getting them out of the house to train them can take four months which could be great work. And then have them find work in two months?
“It’s a one-size fits all policy. Many might have been let down by the education system and haven’t left school with the skills to get a job and sometimes it can take more than six months to get them ready for work. It seems to me the six month figure has just been plucked out of the air.”
Under the plan, unemployed 18 to 21 year olds will be given six months to find work or training before their jobseekers allowance (JSA) is withdrawn, and replaced with a ‘Youth Allowance’ which would be set at the same level as JSA, £57.35.
This would be time-limited of six months, after which young people will have to take an apprenticeship, a traineeship or do community work – such as cleaning up local parks – to earn their benefits.
Young mum Amy Ormston, 22, from Gateshead dropped out of college to have daughter Mya. She is now training to become cabin crew.
She said: “I don’t agree with the plans to cut benefits at all. If it happened to me how would I be able to feed Mya?
“There aren’t jobs but there is plenty of voluntary work going round – how many of those lead to a permanent job?
“He is tarring young people with the same brush. Stigmatising them as if all we want to do is just to be on benefits.”
Lizzie Crowley of the Work Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation providing research on work, said similar schemes have been introduced in the US and Australia and have not been successful – unless the intention was to save money on benefits payments.
She said: “People have just left the system before the time period is up. It can lead to homelessness or relying on your parents even more. That’s people who have stable family relations.”
Katie said she has family to go back to in Hartlepool. However she added: “I don’t think that would be fair on them and I’d feel a failure if I had to.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Oct 2014
David Cameron’s pledge to cut the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 if the Conservatives win the next election could force housing associations to turn away families in need of social housing.
Mick Sweeney, chief executive of One Housing Group, which operates in London and the southeast, said associations may be forced to abandon plans to build much-needed new homes as result of the change. They may also have to turn away certain tenants, he added.
“We’re going to look at their income and we’re going to have to say, if they’re wholly benefit-dependent and they can’t afford even the sub-market or social rents that we’re charging, [then] we can’t house you,” he said.
“What happens to those families? There are lots of unintended consequences to this.”
Elizabeth Austerberry, chief executive of Moat, which also houses tenants across the southeast of England, said that rent was the biggest source of steady income for associations. Rental streams are already placed under threat by the introduction of universal credit.
“If the benefit cap goes down to £23,000, it will make certain types of home extremely vulnerable,” she said.
Between 40-50% of Moat’s residents are benefit dependent, Austerberry explained, adding that for some housing associations this figure is as high as 80%.
“For an association like that it [the reduction of the cap] will make it extremely difficult for them to generate new housing, particularly if they haven’t got a strong housing market. I suspect it will make it extremely difficult for us to build three-bedroom homes, and maybe two-bedroom homes in most of our areas.
“If we’re not going to be able to collect rent from people, then where is the money going to come from? That again will push us further towards the open market.”
Housing associations have increasingly pursued commercial projects to generate income since the government cut grant funding for new social homes by 60% in 2010. But securing finance for such operations is challenging if investors notice a risk to an association’s main income stream, Sweeney said.
“If the banks get nervous then they won’t lend us money. And if they won’t lend us money then we can’t build new homes.”
Richard Blakeway, director of housing for the mayor of London, said that housing associations have no choice but to raise money through commercial projects.
“There needs to be an acceptance that the landscape has changed. Some housing associations have responded brilliantly, others are still quite cautious. They need to stop thinking that there is going to be a significant change in terms of capital subsidy in relation to affordable housing, because I can’t see that happening.”
Uncertainty could not be cited as a reason for avoiding commercial initiatives, he added.
“The funding settlement that exists now will last until the end of the decade, and then the rent settlement goes into the middle of the next decade.”
Conference delegate David Hancock, representing Hyde Housing Group, questioned how associations could succeed in a commercial market under current regulation rules.
“We have to carry out commercial activity to meet our social objectives, but we’re regulated by a regulator which is principally driven by protecting public assets. At some point that has to give,” he said.
Sweeney agreed, stating that although the coalition’s decision to abolish the Audit Commission and the Tenant Services Authority was welcome, change to the regulation of the housing sector was still needed. The Homes and Communities Agency “needs to be put back in its box,” he said.
“It’s growing, it’s trying to extend its remit, its trying to second guess what our business plans are. I hope a conservative government would put regulation on a proper footing, and that is not interfering with building homes.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 01 Oct 2014
Green Party Media Release:
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s plans for a two year benefits freeze will once again penalise the most vulnerable in our society, says the Green Party, the only Westminster party committed to transforming the economy so that it works for the common good, not just the 1%.
“It is obvious our current economic model, as inexplicably praised by the Chancellor today, has failed. Tackling the deficit by ruthlessly targeting the poor and vulnerable is not what constitutes an economic recovery.
“We should acknowledge that we are a wealthy economy that can afford to pay decent benefits to everyone who needs them, as a decent, humane society should. That must be paid for by rich individuals and multinational companies paying their way – something that this government has notably failed to enforce.”
Responding to news that a future Conservative government would freeze working-age benefits and make further public spending cuts of £25bn, Molly Scott Cato MEP said:
“Public debt is greater now than when the Tories came to office, demonstrating that public spending and welfare cuts have failed spectacularly in tackling the deficit. The truth is, austerity provides an excuse to punish the poorest in society, which is not only morally indefensible, it is also a false economy.
“Policies like the bedroom tax just push more people into the private rented sector which then costs the public more in housing benefit. Likewise, the increasing levels of poverty and inequality under the Coalition government impact on health and so pile more costs onto the health service. Greens believe in positive alternatives to austerity that would tackle the misery of poverty and address inequality; policies such as a citizens income, rent controls and a massive home insulation programme.”
Since the May 22 European elections, the Green Party has announced a string of progressive economic policies, which would deliver real change for the common good.
The Green Party’s 2015 General Election manifesto will include a Wealth Tax, and plans to deliver a £10 minimum wage for all by 2020, a Living Wage for all immediately, and a People’s Constitutional Convention to deliver meaningful constitutional and electoral reform.
The latest YouGov results for the Sunday Times have the Greens and Liberal Democrats both at 6% in voting intention.
Source – Welfare News Service, 29 Sept 2014