An election candidate made a brave revelation that she is a victim of rape during a hustings on female issues organised by the Darlington and Durham Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre.
Liberal Democrat candidate Anne-Marie Curry told the large gathering at Darlington Dolphin Centre’s Central Hall that it took her 22-years to accept she had been in an abusive relationship during her early 20s.
She described how she had witnessed some awful treatment of women during her upbringing in Uganda and that she had been threatened with knives when she later lived in Holland.
She said: “I seem to have opened myself up to rather destructive relationships from then on.
“At the age of 21 I was in a relationship and he was emotionally bullying me, hitting me and raping me.
“I didn’t realise that at the time, I only realised that in my 40s.”
Ms Curry’s revelation earned a round of applause and she said she wanted to speak out to bring the issue of domestic violence into the open.
“I can understand that women in that situation can find it really, really difficult to cope with what has happened to them.
“I am now coping, I am strong and I really want to shout about it because it (domestic abuse) is wrong.
Labour candidate Jenny Chapman said she was “blown away” and felt humbled by what Ms Curry had shared.
The hustings, chaired by Durham University professor Nicole Westmarland, touched on a range of female issues including funding problems experienced by rape crisis and support centres and whether more should be done to educate youngsters about domestic abuse.
The problems experienced by many victims of domestic abuse throughout the legal process were also highlighted, with all candidates agreeing that more needed to be done to support them.
All candidates also agreed that abuse and crimes against women were a key issue and Ms Chapman said that Labour planned to scrap Police and Crime Commissioners and would appoint a Women’s Commissioner in parliament.
The hustings was attended by Darlington’s candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Green, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties who all signed a pledge to support women’s services.
UKIP candidate Dave Hodgson could not attend due to work commitments.
> Could he, given his party’s record, have signed it with a clear conscience anyway ?
Source – Northern Echo, 02 May 2015
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
North East councils have been picked to pilot an expansion of the Government’s scheme to help “troubled families”.
They were chosen for the because they are among authorities which have been successful with the existing troubled families scheme, according to the Government.
The programme is designed to help families which have problems with truancy, crime, anti-social behaviour or unemployment.
But it is to be expanded to include families which have suffered from domestic violence or poor mental and physical and health or debt. It will also be expanded to include children under five, whereas previously only school-age youngsters were included.
Gateshead, Newcastle, Durham and Middlesbrough are all to pilot the expanded scheme.
So far, Newcastle has “turned around” 652 families out of 1080 “troubled families” identified, according to official figures. This means it has helped the families deal with at least one of the problems facing them.
Durham has helped 676 out of 1,320 families, Gateshead has helped 301 out of 595 and Middlesbrough has helped 303 families out of 570.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “The Troubled Families Programme is an excellent example of how re-thinking public services can have a huge positive impact on the lives of families across the UK.”
The Department for Work and Pensions will provide 300 specialist troubled families employment advisers.
The troubled families programme was launched in 2011, following riots in the summer, when David Cameron vowed to turn around the lives of 120,000 problem families by 2015.
But a report last year by the National Audit Office raised concerns including the fact that only 62,000 families were currently in the programme nationwide, 13 per cent below the number that “might reasonably” have been found, and a family can be counted as being “turned around” if it shows improvement in just one area.
> Perhaps there just aren’t so many “problem families” as politicians would have us believe ?
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 19 Aug 2014
To the dismay and anger of Labour councillors present at a Coventry Council debate on food banks, Cllr Julia Lepoidevin couldn’t wait to get stuck in and demonise local residents who turn to food banks to help feed their families.
The tory councillor for Coventry’s Woodlands ward suggested that people who visit food banks prefer to “choose alcohol, drugs and their own selfish needs” over providing food for their own children. The comment prompted swift calls for her to resign her position.
“But do colleagues in this chamber never have cases where families make a conscious decision not to pay their rent, their utilities or to provide food for their children because they choose alcohol, drugs and their own selfish needs?
“There are families that have enough income and make a choice. It might be a shame but it is true and those very families that I describe are the very families that will not engage with our services early and our services then have to pick up the problems through social care.
“This is why we need to know the impact lifestyle choices are having on our children. Until we know that we are never going to know the proper picture.”
Labour Councillors present at the food bank debate were so disgusted and angered by what they were hearing, Lord Mayor Hazel Noonan had to step in to restore order.
Responding to the comments made by Julia Lepoidevin, Labour Councillor Damian Gannon said:
“Councillor Lepoidevin’s comments were, quite frankly, reprehensible.
“Those in poverty aren’t feckless, they aren’t alcoholics or drug users, they aren’t looking for an easy life on benefits – they are hard-working people, low-income families who are looking to do the best they can for themselves and their families and that’s a fact!”
Labour’s Ed Ruane, cabinet member for children’s services, added:
“Councillor Lepoidevin’s commented that people who use food banks in Coventry do so because of lifestyle choices and because they are feckless.
“If she genuinely believes this appalling slur then she should produce the evidence or resign from the shadow cabinet.”
A furious operations director at a Coventry food bank said Councillor Lepoidevin’s comments risks stigmatising food bank users and could deter the city’s residents from donating to the food bank, which helps feed almost 18,000 local people a year.
Speaking to the Coventry Telegraph, operations director Gavin Kibble said:
“People come to us because they are referred to us by third-party agencies.
“One of those agencies is the agency for people recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol. But you can’t do the drink and drugs and just turn up. People are signposted to us through agencies.
“The food bank does not decide who it gives food to, it works on a voucher referral system from agencies.”
He added: “It sidelines people. We have people referred to us from domestic violence agencies, children’s services, debt issues.
“Are we going to stigmatise every part of society and question every decision they have made before deciding if we help them?
“We are going down a very dangerous road. Where do we stop?”
“It won’t stop people seeking support, but comments like that might stop people donating.
“When councillors make comments like this, for one reason or another, they muddy the water and that doesn’t help.”
Local Conservative Party leader John Blundell later backed his colleagues comments by referring to “some” bank users as being “feckless” sections of the community, who “do not engage” and “take advantage” of the service food banks provide.
He said: “I think she was talking from personal experiences. I think, undoubtedly, there’s a certain section of the community that is taking advantage of food banks just as there is a section which has genuine need. I would stand by that.”
“Her comments are a reflection of the frustration that families do not engage with us because they are feckless, they have issues connected with alcohol and we find it a very frustrating exercise.”
The Coventry Telegraph say that around 50 local people a day are using food banks and the total number (17,663) is up 40% in just 12 months.
Source – Welfare News Service, 27 June 2014
This article was written by Patrick Butler, George Arnett, Sarah Marsh and Samir Jeraj, for The Guardian on Sunday 20th April 2014
A fledgling scheme to provide emergency help to the poorest in the country is in chaos, with £67m left unspent and record numbers of families being turned away.
Figures released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that by the end of January councils in England were sitting on £67m of the £136m that had been allocated to local welfare schemes. Half of local authorities had spent less than 40% of their funds.
An analysis by the Guardian shows that under the new local welfare assistance schemes, four in 10 applications for emergency funds are turned down, despite evidence that many applicants have been made penniless by benefits sanctions and delays in processing benefit claims. Under the previous system – the social fund – just two in 10 were. In some parts of the country, as few as one in 10 applicants obtain crisis help.
The schemes were designed to help low-income families in crisis, such as those in danger of becoming homeless or subjected to domestic violence. Charities and MPs have warned that those denied help are turning to food banks and loan sharks.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, which offers debt and legal advice, said the emergency financial support system was in chaos. “When the safety net fails, people are left with no way of putting food on the table, paying the rent or keeping the lights on. Confusion over what help is available and who to approach means that people who need support are left high and dry.
“People are in danger of being pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks by the chaotic emergency support system. Citizens Advice bureaux see people in desperate need of support who have nowhere else to turn when jobcentres and the local council don’t give out support.”
Under the new system, emergency funds are no longer ringfenced, meaning that councils can divert unspent cash to other budgets. Local welfare assistance schemes were created a year ago in 150 English authorities, alongside national schemes in Wales and Scotland, following the abolition of the social fund.
Most schemes do not offer cash or loans, but support in kind, such as food parcels and supermarket vouchers. The social fund provided loans repayable against future benefit payments – typically about £50 – and larger capital grants to destitute families who needed help to furnish flats or replace broken domestic appliances.
Despite charities reporting that demand for help has rocketed as a result of economic hardship and welfare cuts, some councils spent more money setting up and administering their welfare schemes than they gave to needy applicants.
Councils told the Guardian they had provided less in emergency funding than in the past because there was a lack of public awareness of the new system. Some had failed to advertise their schemes, while others set such tight eligibility criteria that many applicants – typically including low-paid working families, benefit claimants and those deemed to have not lived in their local area for long enough – were turned away.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who has repeatedly raised the issue of local welfare in parliament, said his constituents frequently reported struggles to get crisis help. Constituents he has helped include:
• A low-wage family with three children, including an 11-month-old baby, who applied for £35 to pay for gas, electricity and baby food to help them until payday. The council scheme initially referred the family to a food bank. After lobbying by Danczuk, they were given £20 for energy costs, but were refused money for baby food.
• A pregnant mother and her partner, who after benefit changes were left with £7 a week for food after rent and council tax. They were told that they could not apply as the scheme was for “genuine emergencies” such as fires and flood.
In each case Danczuk believes the families would have qualified for emergency support under the social fund. “Central and local government are pushing people into the hands of payday loan companies and food banks. They have in effect privatised the lender of last resort,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions, which funds local welfare schemes run by 150 local authorities across England, said: “In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how best to support those most in need. It is for local councils to decide how they spend their budgets.”
But a Conservative council leader has called on the government to reinstate local welfare assistance funding, calling it a “cut too far”. Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex county council, said the proposed cut would leave many low income families without vital support when they were going through a “tough patch in their lives”.
A briefing note prepared by the council found that 43% of 5,582 individuals and families helped by the local welfare fund to the end of February had applied because they had been left penniless by benefit sanctions and delays.
The Local Government Association has called upon the ministers to reverse the cut, and it is understood a number of councils and welfare charities are preparing to seek a judicial review of the government’s decision to cut local welfare assistance funding in April 2015.
Many councils are using part of their welfare assistance allocation to provide financial support for local food banks, which provide penniless applicants with charity food parcels.
Lady Stowell, a local government minister, told the House of Lords in January that local authorities were “doing a good job of supporting people in times of crisis and are doing it without using all the funding that has been provided so far from DWP”.
But Centrepoint, the homelessness charity said that local welfare assistance underspending meant many homeless youngsters could not get vital support when they moved from hostels into independent living. “Councils need to start using these funds to address urgent need now and ensure that young people have access to it,” said Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint’s chief executive.
Two local authorities – Labour-run Nottinghamshire county council and Tory-run Oxfordshire – have scrapped local welfare assistance altogether and plan to divert the money into social care services..
Conservative-run Herefordshire county council had spent less than £5,000 of its annual £377,000 allocation by the end of December last year, equivalent to 1% of its local welfare budget.It said its spending reflected low demand for crisis help, a claim disputed by Hereford Citizens Advice and Hereford food bank, which said they had been inundated with requests.
Labour-run Islington council had spent 80% of its emergency funds budget by the end of December last year and had spent all its emergency funds by April. It said it had encouraged its frontline staff to refer individuals to its local welfare scheme to ensure they got crisis help and assistance with any underlying problems, such as debt.
Local authorities are anticipating further problems over local welfare in 2015 when the DWP scraps funding for the schemes. Councils, charities and MPs have called on the government to restore and ringfence the crisis support allocation.
Councils say that in some cases they have refused emergency help because benefit claimants have been wrongly referred to local authority welfare schemes by jobcentres. Some councils have refused to accept applications from those who ought to have been offered a short-term benefit advance from their local jobcentre.
Scotland and Wales have their own welfare assistance schemes and these have higher applicant success rates than in England. In Northern Ireland, which still has the social fund, 70% of applicants received help.
Source – Welfare News Service 20 April 2014
This article was written by James Meikle, for theguardian.com on Friday 21st February 2014
The government’s welfare shakeup has survived two legal challenges at the court of appeal after five disabled tenants failed in their attempt to get the bedroom tax declared unlawful and judges ruled against claims the £500-a-week cap on benefits violated the human rights of vulnerable families.
The decisions mean that central planks of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits changes remain intact, although there may yet be further challenges at the supreme court.
The bedroom challenge questioned the legality of new “size criteria” regulations that have led to reductions in housing benefit payments to tenants in social housing assessed to be underoccupying their home. It was backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Two lone parents and a child from each family challenged the benefit cap after being forced into temporary accommodation in London.
Campaigners say the welfare cuts are having a particularly harsh impact on women fleeing domestic violence, and on their children, threatening to trap them in abusive relationships.
Those challenging the bedroom tax vowed to continue their battle following the ruling. Ugo Hayter from law firm Leigh Day, representing two people with disabilities who argue that their second bedroom is essential, said lawyers were disappointed and baffled by the ruling.
“The court recognised that our clients and thousands of disabled people across the UK had a need for accommodation not provided for by the new housing benefit rules. However, the court decided that disabled tenants should not have their housing needs met on an equivalent basis to their able-bodied counterparts just because they are disabled.
“Instead disabled tenants are being forced to rely on short-term and discretionary payments. We are currently considering whether an appeal to the supreme court is possible. Our thoughts go out to the thousands of disabled tenants who continue to be faced with uncertainty, poverty and the risk of eviction.”
Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, which is acting for three of the appellants, said: “The government has sought to make savings by targeting the most vulnerable in our society. On the government’s own figures at least 440,000 disabled households will lose out under the new regulations.
“There is compelling and growing evidence of the terrible adverse impact on disabled tenants, having to make the dreadful choice between paying the rent and buying food or heating their homes. Disabled tenants are not asking for extra funds, they are asking for housing benefit to be paid at a level which meets their needs – for the same right as others.”
Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive of Sense, the national deafblind charity, said the bedroom tax policy had been devastating for many disabled people. “Many have been found to have a so-called extra bedroom despite requiring it because of their disability, for example needing extra space to store disability-related equipment and for short-term carers.
“Many disabled people, including the deafblind people that Sense supports, have been pushed to breaking point. They are struggling with the transition from DLA [disability living allowance] to Pip [personal independence payment] and many are facing huge cuts to their social care, leaving them without the support they desperately need to live full and active lives,” said Kramer.
“Alongside other benefits being cut, housing benefit has been the final blow for many disabled people and can lead to serious financial hardship.”
A statement from the Department for Work and Pensions said:”Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of the benefit. But we have ensured extra discretionary housing support is available for vulnerable people.”
On the issue of the cap, the statement said: “We are pleased that the courts have ruled again that the benefit cap complies with the European convention on human rights. The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system – so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household earnings.”
In the judgments, Lord Dyson said Duncan Smith was aware of the “serious impact” of the new criteria for housing benefit, which was why so much effort had been devoted to seeking a solution. He recognised the benefit cap would “cause hardship to some (possibly many) people who are on benefit” but the government recognised it might need modification.
> I suspect the only modification Duncan Smith has in mind is extending hardship from “some” people to the greatest number possible.
The cap in its present form reflected the political judgment of the government and had been endorsed by parliament after considerable debate. It was not up to the court to say whether it agreed with the judgment or not, he said.
Rebekah Carrier, of Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors, representing two women who had fled violent marriages along with their children and were challenging the benefit cap, said the judges had not decided important issues of principle affecting the large numbers of women and children made homeless by domestic violence every year.
“The government promised to address this in April 2013, 10 months ago, but has failed to do so. The court recognised the problem and expressed concern about the government’s delay in addressing it, but they have abandoned many domestic violence victims to their fate until the government chooses to act,” said Carrier.
“That is not good enough for my clients, or for the many women who will face a stark choice about whether to stay with a violent partner, or flee and risk losing their home or being destitute.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 21 Feb 2014