Nearly five million people in fuel poverty cannot afford to keep the lights on and pay energy bills, according to new research published today.
Research by the Debt Advice Charity found that 4.7 million people across the UK are frequently cut off from their electricity supply, because they cannot afford to top-up pre-paid electricity meters.
Pre-paid meters are usually more expensive than other payment options, but fuel poor households say they rely on them to better manage energy costs.
Around 25% of families across the UK rely on pre-paid meters to help pay energy bills, with one in ten saying they are in arrears with gas, water or electricity.
18% of households questioned by the Debt Advice Charity said their gas supply is cut off on average every few months, while 7% were left without gas at least once per week.
Around 6% of respondents said they were regularly left without electricity at least once a week.
Households in the West Midlands and East Midlands have the highest rates of fuel poverty, with 63% of those in the East Midlands struggling to afford to top-up pre-paid meters.
Fuel poverty is defined as households who spend more than 10% of the overall income on fuel and energy costs.
A Debt Advice Charity spokesperson said:
“To see this level of fuel poverty in the UK is very worrying. Heating, lighting and hot water are basic necessities that everyone should have access to, yet there are many vulnerable households who are forced to go without.
“We would like to see more help given to households in danger of losing their energy supply.
“I would advise anyone whose energy is at risk of being cut-off to speak to their supplier as soon as possible to ask for help, and also, to contact the Home Heat Helpline for free advice on getting out of fuel poverty.
“The Debt Advisory Centre would also like to see those customers who are able to demonstrate that they can pay energy bills to be taken off pre-paid meters and put on to cheaper deals.”
Energy giant Npower recently announced the creation of a fuel voucher scheme for families struggling with energy costs. Dubbed “fuel banks” by critics, vouchers will be made available through Trussell Trust food banks.
The scheme is open to all families struggling with energy costs and not just Npower customers or pre-paid meter users.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 May 2015
Almost a quarter of all North-East workers – and nearly a half of part-time staff – are not being paid a living wage, new research shows.
Local authorities in the region are facing fresh calls to pay employees and contractors more after a study by the GMB revealed that 23.4 per cent of North-East jobs paid less than the living wage.
Jobs held by women – 29.9 per cent – and part-time roles – 46.8 per cent – were disproportionately affected, the report based on data from the Office for National Statistics showed.
The living wage is a recommended rate of pay that takes into account the true cost of living in the UK.
In November 2014 the national living wage increased to £7.85 per hour outside London.
GMB is publishing the figures to mark the launch of its 2015 campaign to get every local authority signed up to the living wage. 134 out of 375 local authorities in England and Wales have so far made the move, up from 103 a year ago.
So far only two authorities in the North-East – Newcastle and South Tyneside – have implemented or committed to implement the living wage.
In North Yorkshire, two councils – York and Scarborough – have taken the step.
Billy Coates, GMB regional secretary for the North-East, said:
“No area is immune from the low-pay epidemic which is why all local authorities need to champion the living wage in their communities, beginning with their own staff and contractors.
“There are 446,300 council employees paid less than the Living Wage, the majority of them women working part-time.
“The living wage matters because it takes into account the income that people need for a minimum acceptable standard of living. It is a first step towards a rate of pay that people can live on without relying on benefits.”
In the North-East, Hartlepool has the largest proportion of jobs paying less than the living wage with 34.7 per cent, followed by Redcar and Cleveland – 30 per cent – and Middlesbrough and Northumberland, both 26.8 per cent.
At regional level, the East Midlands has the largest proportion of jobs paying less than the living wage with 24.7 per cent.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Feb 2015
Labour leader Ed Miliband has announced plans to scrap the House of Lords as it currently exists and replace it with an elected “Senate” – with members representing the regions of England as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Every region will be guaranteed a fair share of representation in the new senate, Mr Miliband said.
A paper by researchers in the House of Lords itself warned that the North East was under-represented.
The study, published earlier this year, found there were 21 peers whose main place of residence was the North East, compared with 152 who lived in London, 114 who lived in the South East and 63 who lived in the South West.
House of Lords reform has been a difficult issue for both Labour and the Conservative Party since the majority of hereditary peers were removed in 1999. There has been widespread agreement that further changes are needed, but little agreement on what those changes should be.
Under Mr Miliband’s plan, senators will represent large regions and nations to ensure they to not step on the toes of MPs, who will continue to represent constituencies.
A Labour government would hold a constitutional convention to debate precisely what powers the new senate should have and how senators should be elected.
However, proposals published today suggest some form of proportional representation would be used.
The convention will also consider whether there should be rules to ensure potential senators can only stand for election in a region they have lived or worked in for a number of years.
Labour says the proposals complement plans announced yesterday to devolve power to regions, including a proposed English Regional Cabinet Committee which would be chaired by the Prime Minister, and attended by the relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from the major English cities and county regions.
A Labour government would also introduce new laws to ensure councils can seize control of bus services without fear of a legal challenge, giving them a role setting fares and timetable similar to the one played by the Greater London Authority in the capital.
And Labour would also pass an English Devolution Act, enshrining in law new powers for local councils and combined authorities to manage funding for transport and housing, further education and support for employers, as well as giving them a formal role in commissioning health and social care.
Speaking at Labour’s North-West Regional Conference in Blackpool on Saturday, Mr Miliband said:
“I am announcing plans to give the regions and nations greater power and a stronger voice in Westminster too.
“When people say that they are turned off from politics and that it doesn’t represent them, we have to do something about it.”
“London is our capital and one of the world’s great cities but it cannot be right London has more members of the House of Lords than the East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East and Yorkshire and Humber added together.
“We will make the second chamber of Parliament truly a Senate of the Regions and Nations of our whole country.”
Tories are pushing their own plans to devolve power, with Chancellor George Osborne urging regions to create powerful mayors.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 02 Nov 2014
A petition against Benefits Street being filmed in Stockton has gained more than a 1000 signatures.
The campaign was started on change.org by two Stockton mums Charlotte Hall and Di Hewitt little over a week ago and has been shared across social media.
In total 1,409 people have signed the petition on the site – which is the world’s largest petition platform – against the show being filmed on Kingston Road at Tilery, Stockton.
They took to Stockton High Street today to collect yet more signatures.
Their Twitter account @StocktonSaysNo also has more than 500 followers – and Twitter users have joined discussion of the topic using #NoBenefitsStreet.
Once the pair have finished collecting signatures they will be delivered to both Channel 4 and the production company Love Productions.
Social worker and mum of two Di, who lives in Eaglescliffe, said:
“Through my work, I’m impressed by the strong community spirit in the North- east and feel that it is important that outsiders see this rather than negative stereotypes.
“I’m not originally from Stockton, I moved up from the East Midlands 22 years ago and think that Stockton is a fantastic place to live and raise children.
“I want my kids to feel that Stockton is a good place to live and work and that there are endless opportunities for them.”
Carer and mum of two Charlotte, from Stockton, said:
“I was born in Stockton and have lived here all my life.
“Only a few weeks ago after enjoying SIRF and attending the 1245 Sunflowers events I was saying how far Stockton has come and how there’s so much to get involved in.
“I don’t want to see that hard work ruined by our town being associated with a stigmatising programme like Benefits Street.”
Chris Flanagan, from Stockton, said on the petition page:
“Sixth best place to live one week…Benefits Street the next!”.
Emma-Bliss Harding, from Norton, said:
“I live in Norton and heard they were filming at the duck pond which is near my house.
“I don’t want the area that I love in displayed in a bad light.
“This programme is nothing but negative.”
Hayley Garland, from Stockton, said:
“We are proud of our town, our heritage, arts, culture and thriving independent shops.
“Take your sensationalist TV somewhere else!”
Christine Thompson, from Stockton, said:
“My hometown is starting to get back on its feet and I fear that this will be a big backward step.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 04 Sept 2014
Trade Union Congress (TUC) Media Release:
Unemployment rates and levels of joblessness are higher today than before the recession in every region and nation of the UK and across all working age groups – suggesting that the economy is still less healthy than it was before the recession, the TUC warns today (Monday) ahead of the publication of the latest jobs figures later this week.
Northern Ireland has the biggest gap between its current and pre-recession unemployment rates. Across Northern Ireland unemployment is currently running at 6.9 per cent, 68 per higher today than six years ago, when it was 4.1 per cent. The unemployment rates in Scotland and Yorkshire and the Humber are 50 per cent higher today than before the recession.
The biggest unemployment gap by age group is among young people, with the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds 167,000 higher than six years ago. In the West Midlands for example, there are currently 20,000 more young people out of work than there were six years ago.
In most parts of the UK the jobs gaps for young people are higher than for any other age group. Unemployment levels are only lower now than six years ago amongst 16-24 year olds in the East Midlands and 35-49 year olds in Wales.
Much of the debate around unemployment has been about the rate falling below seven per cent – the trigger set by the Bank of England for possible interest rate rises. However, with over two million people still out of work – half a million higher than before the recession – and many more under-employed it remains far too early for the Bank of England to be considering an interest rate rise, says the TUC.
The number of unemployed people across the UK is still far in excess of pre-recession levels, in spite of the recent upturn in the jobs market, says the TUC. While the size of the economy is likely to return to pre-recession levels soon, unemployment levels are recovering much more slowly and the analysis shows that more needs to be done to get people back into work.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The recent upturn in the economy has prompted lots of speculation about an increase in interest rates. Those hawks that are keen for interest rates to rise have forgotten that unemployment is still over two million.
“In some parts of the UK, unemployment is 50 per cent higher than it was before the recession. The talk in the City and around Westminster may be about a fast growing economy but the recovery still feels a good way off for millions of people still desperate for work across the rest of the country.
“The government should be doing more to get unemployment down in every part of the UK. High levels of youth joblessness are particularly concerning. The growing talk of an interest rise is a worrying distraction from this far bigger economic and social problem.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 14 July 2014
It is very hard to work out what is going on in the UK labour market because the quality of the statistics is basically junk – garbage in, garbage out describes the lack of quality of the data well. I really am not exaggerating.
Bad Labour Market Data Part 1 is that every other major country, including the euro area as a whole, is able to produce timely estimates, but not the UK.
Currently unemployment rates for February 2014 are available for Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. Data for April 2014 were released by the United States on Friday.
The UK stands out as the only country out of 31 that has no data available for February, March or April 2014.
Pathetic. The national statistic that pretends to be for January is actually an average of December of 2013 and January and February of 2014. The reason for this is simply because the sample sizes are too small to generate accurate monthly estimates.
The Office for National Statistics does in fact publish a single-month estimate of the unemployment rate but that jumps around all over the place.
Let me illustrate the problem. The ONS makes the supporting micro data on individuals available for researchers like me to examine. They take out identifiers so we can’t work out who anyone is. The latest micro data we have is for the three-month period October to December 2013.
In total over these three months 77,657 people between ages 16-98 were interviewed. Of these, 39,761 were employed 6,995 were self-employed and 3,347 were unemployed. The overall unemployment rate, once the data have been weighted and seasonally adjusted is 7.2 per cent, but the relatively small sample size means this estimate is measured with lots of error.
For the technically minded, the 95 per cent confidence interval for the monthly national change is ± 0.3 per cent, which means that any monthly difference smaller than that is not statistically significantly different from zero.
The unemployment rates that were calculated, for example, for East Anglia (5.7 per cent), East Midlands (6.4 per cent), Scotland (7.1 per cent), Wales (7.1 per cent), Northern Ireland (7.4 per cent) as reported by the ONS for October-December were based on ridiculously small samples of 114, 246, 281, 153 and 142 unemployed people respectively. Given the very small sizes the result is that the regional unemployment rates are measured with even more error than the national rate and bounce around like a rubber ball from month to month.
The reason why the ONS struggles to report unemployment rates by month becomes obvious rather quickly.
So the single-month estimate for December of 7.2 per cent that it reports is only based on a sample of 1,198 unemployed people, of whom 632 were male and 452 were under the age of 25.
The number of unemployed people in each of the five regions identified above in December is East Anglia (34), East Midlands (91), Scotland (105), Wales (51), Northern Ireland (55), hence why no single-month disaggregated estimates can be produced.
Bad Labour Market Data Part 2. The government has claimed recently that based on earnings growth of the national statistic called Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) for the whole economy of 1.9 per cent in February 2014 and the fact that the Consumer Price Index has been steadily falling, this means that real wages are set to rise.
If only that was true. But sadly it seems most unlikely given the fact that the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey (MWSS) on which the estimate is derived has two major sample exclusions whose wages are likely to be growing much more slowly than that, if at all.
First, the ONS has no earnings data, as in none, on the 4.5 million self-employed workers, including large numbers who have set up in business recently. The only earnings data we have available from HMRC are over two years old.
What we do know is that the typical self-employed person earns less than the typical employee and some have zero earnings or even losses; there is every prospect earnings growth of the self-employed will be low.
Second, it also turns out that the MWSS doesn’t sample workers employed in firms with fewer than 20 employees that are the least likely to have strong earnings growth given the difficulty small firms have had in raising capital. The ONS simply makes an adjustment based on the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), which was last available in April 2013 and which itself excludes the lowest earners below the National Insurance threshold.
The ONS computes an average over the previous three years that it imposes on the AWE monthly data. So the ONS just guesses that what happened in the past applies now. But maybe it doesn’t.
The ONS admitted to me that “ideally, we would sample businesses with fewer than 20 employees in the MWSS. However, we do have to pay close attention to minimising the burden on respondents, and we believe that using the adjustment factor from the ASHE strikes an appropriate balance between this and accuracy of the estimates.”
Really? So making it up as you go along is OK? It turns out that this amounts to approximately 20 per cent of all employees, or another 5.2 million workers whose wages we know zippo about.
So the national wage measure excludes 10 million out of the UK’s 30 million workers and my working assumption, for the sake of argument, is that their average pay rise over the past year is zero (it’s a maybe not-so-wild guess that the ONS can’t disprove)!
There is supporting contradictory evidence of strong earnings growth from the latest UK Job Market Report from Adzuna.co.uk, showing that average advertised salaries have slipped £1,800 in the past year down to £31,818 in March 2014, 0.6 per cent lower than in February, and 5.3 per cent lower than in March 2013.
A survey carried out by the Federation of Small Businesses at the end of 2013 reported that “after several years of wage restraint, it is encouraging that the vast majority of small firms are beginning to raise wages again”. They found that 29 per cent of firm owners said that over the next year they would raise wages for all staff, 35 per cent for some staff, 8 per cent for those on the minimum wage. 22 per cent said they would freeze wages, 2 per cent said they would lower them and the rest didn’t answer.
So the AWE is an upward-biased estimate of wage growth. Garbage in, garbage out. The UK’s labour market data are not fit for purpose.
Source – Independent, 08 May 2014