A guide for immigrants published for the Government has been described as “not fit for purpose” by a North East academic.
Prof Thom Brooks of Durham University said The Practical Guide to Living in the United Kingdom features numerous errors and omissions.
It provides information on health, education, work and volunteering to newly arrived migrants and is designed to help migrants understand the legal requirements for short and long-term residency ‘to settle in quickly and enjoy your new life’.
Prof Brooks, himself originally from the US and a British citizen since 2011, says he uncovered surprising omissions such as how to report emergencies to the police and calculating and paying income and council taxes. He also found outdated information.
He said: “The Government published a new citizenship test in 2013 which was like a bad pub quiz. They claimed migrants should know more about their responsibilities than rights to claim benefits.
“Ironically, the new Practical Guide includes more information about claiming benefits than ever before”.
Several people recently took part in a Twitter exchange about the policies of the main parties towards adult learning. I expressed the view that all the main parties – including Labour and the Scottish Nationalists – of cutting public favoured reduced spending on what was already a very small field. Effectively, their policy means privatised provision for those who can afford it, and minimal public provision geared to narrowly instrumental policy aims for the most stigmatised.
The only party to take part in the discussion was Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, who sent me a link to the relevant section of their education policy statement. No-one expects the Greens to form the next UK Government, but they are polling well enough at the moment to suggest that they might be able to influence a minority Labour Government if that is what we get. So here…
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The president of a transport union with roots in the Labour Party will contest a North seat for the Greens.
Peter Pinkney, the highest ranking layperson of the RMT Union, will campaign against Ed Miliband’s party in Redcar, claiming: “The party of the left is now the Green Party.”
The union boss also brands Labour “a sort of reddish Conservative Party” and accuses MPs of betraying working people.
The dramatic political move by the ex-TUC General Council member threatens to derail Labour’s campaign in one of its top target seats.
The RMT boss also revealed the union has donated £7,000 to Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green MP, after the Greens were supportive of plans to renationalise the railways.
Mr Pinkney said:
“Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.
“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.
“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”
Labour hit back last night, saying a vote for the Green Party is a vote for the Tories.
> This is the kind of stupid comment that makes me even less likely to vote Labour.
It’d obviously be a vote against Labour, Tories and Lib Dems… because we have no belief in any of them anymore.
The move underlines a deepening fracture in the relationship between Labour and the RMT.
Predecessors to the RMT were among the unions which founded Labour back in 1899. But after 105 years of history the RMT was disaffiliated by Labour in 2004, after the union rejected an ultimatum to stop supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Former General Secretary Bob Crow publicly slammed Labour, which was then led by Tony Blair, for a failure to support members.
The deadlock continued until the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, when the then Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, seemed to offer the RMT an olive branch.
He said: “We need the RMT and the FBU back inside the Labour Party – a house divided cannot stand.”
But Mr Pinkney said three months after Bob Crow died the union voted to sever ties with Labour permanently – and today rules out any future affiliation.
“That is not going to happen,” he said.
“It was a unanimous decision to disaffiliate with Labour and our members would never want to go back.
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.
“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
Labour has named Redcar in its top 100 seats to win in May and has high hopes for candidate Anna Turley.
Vera Baird lost the seat to Lib Dem Ian Swales in 2010 in what was the highest swing against Labour in the wake of the closure of the Teesside Steelworks.
A poll by Lord Ashcroft in September put Labour on 44%, Lib Dems on 18%, Ukip on 23%, the Tories on 12% and the Greens on just 2%.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The choice in front of Redcar people in May is between a Tory or a Labour government.
“For all those passionate about the green agenda only Labour has the record and plans to deliver a green government.
“A vote for the Green Party is a vote for David Cameron to carry on hitting the people of Teesside.”
> Well, don’t they have a sense of entitlement ? Only us or them can be in power – its our right. Two sides of the same coin.
The Saltburn-born rail union boss, who is calling for capitalism to be replaced, said he was inspired by the election of the left wing Syriza in Greece.
He said: “We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.
“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.
“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.
“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
Spending by North-East councils is predicted to fall by five per cent this year – the biggest drop in the country, analysis shows.
The research of Government data was conducted by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) which said its report highlighted the need for urgent reform of local authority financing.
According to CIPFA, North-East council planning departments – 13 per cent drop – and housing – 12 per cent – are expected to see the biggest budget reductions in 2014/15.
Education, environment and cultural services are also predicted to face significant spending cuts.
CIPFA said some of the fall in education spending was likely to be due to schools converting to academies, removing their funding from local authority control.
Adult services were expected to see an average four per cent drop in funding, but children’s services were predicted to see a 15 per cent rise.
The reduction in expenditure comes after the North-East was the only area to see an increase in local authority spending during 2013/14, CIPFA said.
The analysis showed that nationally local authorities’ per capita spending in England will have fallen by 14 per cent in cash terms by 2014/15, when compared to 2009/10.
When adjusted for inflation this represents a drop of 29 per cent fall, which CIPFA described as a “significant reduction in the spending power of local authorities in England”.
Rob Whiteman, CIPFA chief executive, said: “The continued sharp downward trajectory of local authority spending in both cash and real terms shows the significant financial challenge councils have faced over the past few years.
“Many authorities have managed this reduction well and continue to live within their means, but we are now starting to see some councils face real and immediate financial pressures.”
He added: “It must also be recognised that there is a real and pressing need for fundamental reform of the financing of local government if we are to see it not just survive but succeed and thrive over the coming years.”
Source – Northern Echo, 04 Aug 2014
The number of infants being taught in over-sized classes of more than 30 pupils has shot up across the North East, it has emerged.
New statistics reveal that more than 3,000 five to seven-year-olds in the region are now being taught in classes above the legal limit.
And that’s more than double the figure in 2010, when the current government came to power.
Officially, a limit on class sizes introduced by the previous government is still in force. It means there should be no more than 30 youngsters in a class.
However, rules requiring head teachers to act if classes were too large by recruiting more teachers were relaxed in 2012.
Figures published by the Department for Education show that 3,035 infants in the North East were taught in classes larger than 30 in January this year compared to 1,230 in January 2010. That is an increase of 147%.
In Gateshead, the number of pupils in super-sized classes is 312, more than triple the figure in 2010.
In Sunderland, the number increased hugely from 31 pupils to 469, while in Newcastle, it went from 318 to 596, and in Northumberland from 93 to 125.
There are some cases where schools are allowed to ignore the size limit, for example if a parent wins an appeal for a place and this pushes the numbers above 30.
Pat Glass, MP for North West Durham and member of the Education Select Committee said: “These figures show just how out of touch the Government’s priorities are when it comes to education. Across the North East region we are seeing infant class sizes rise.
“Under the Tories we’re heading back to the bad old days in schools with children taught in overcrowded classes is school buildings starved of investment.
“Instead of improving the standard of our schools David Cameron and Michael Gove are wasting resources on pet projects such setting up new Free Schools.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The average infant class size is up only marginally, from 27.3 to 27.4. However we recognise the significant pressure on school places as a result of demographic trends over the last decade.
“That is why we are giving local authorities £5bn to spend on new school places over this parliament – double the amount allocated by the previous government over an equivalent period.
“This funding has already led to the creation of 260,000 new school places, all of which are in areas where there is a shortage of places, and many more new places are planned.
“In addition to this we are setting up free schools, which tend to be smaller schools and have smaller class sizes. The vast majority of free schools are being set up where there is a need for new places.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The rise in class sizes demonstrates the lack of forward planning on pupil numbers.”
Source – Newcastle Joornal, 13 June 2014
A new political party has been launched with the aim of bringing devolution to the North-East.
The North East Party is aiming to secure powers similar to those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It intends to contest 12 seats in the region at next year’s general election, funded through membership and donations from people who want political independence from Westminster.
The North East Party (NEP) wants to take control of issues such as job creation, public services, including health and social care, as well as education and public transport. It also says it wants to ensure world class science and research is carried out in the region.
The party’s chairman is Hilton Dawson, former Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre, who lives in Warkworth, Northumberland, and is from the area.
The 60-year-old social worker, who has a wife, two daughters and is a grandfather-of-four, said: “We are the most neglected region in England and until we have real power and real decision making here we won’t be to address the fundamental issues of the North-East.
“This is the poorest region in the country with the highest level of unemployment and the highest level of social deprivation.
Susan McDonnell, a former Peterlee Town Councillor and Labour Party member, is considering standing against Easington MP Grahame Morris in the general election next May.
The 49-year-old, who lives in Peterlee with her husband, and has one son, narrowly missed out on a seat on Durham County Council last year.
Ms McDonnell, the party’s administrator, who works as an office manager for an email marketing company in Newcastle, said: “The purpose of the party is to bring political representation to the North-East.
“We had a referendum on regional assembly and that failed because it was dressed up as another level of bureaucracy.
“What we would aim to try and do is get true devolution for the North-East so we are not beholden to Westminster. We would decide on the key issues that affect the region with our own Government.
“It won’t be a separate country, but we will have devolved power so decisions that affect the North-East will be made here in the North-East by North-East people.”
The first gathering of the North East Party will be held at the Durham Conference Centre on Monday, June 16 from 6pmto 9pm.
For more information:
Source – Durham Times, 27 May 2014
With Labour voting for the government’s bill to cap welfare spending, the debate on the welfare state has taken a decisively wrong turn. The issue is not the cap itself, its level, or even its design. The problem lies in the very way in which the welfare state is understood.
Even if one accepts the need for the cap, there are many problems with the way in which it is designed. Many people have rightly pointed out that the capping scheme is not as “recession proof” as it is portrayed. One defence of the bill offered by the government – and accepted by Labour as the key justification for its support – is that it exempts “cyclical” spending, such as unemployment benefit (now given the Orwellian name jobseekers’ allowance). But there are other elements of welfare spending that increase in economic downturns that won’t be exempt. For example, recessions may increase the need for disability benefit because more people are incapacitated due to the psychological and physical impact of unemployment, poor diet, and lack of heating.
Important though these criticisms are, the biggest issue is the very way in which the “problem” of the British welfare state has been defined and understood. The cap is based on the view that the UK needs “to prevent welfare costs spiralling out of control”, given the wasteful nature of such spending. This is not backed up by the evidence.
The British, having supposedly invented the modern welfare state (a debatable proposition), have the mistaken notion that they have an exceptionally generous welfare state, as evidenced by the widespread worries about “welfare scrounging” and “welfare tourism”.
However, measured by public social spending (eg income support, pensions, health) as a proportion of GDP, Britain’s is not much bigger than the OECD average; 24.1% against 22.1% as of 2009. And the OECD includes among its 34 members a dozen or so relatively poor economies – Mexico, Chile, Turkey, Estonia and Slovakia, for example – where the welfare state is much smaller for various reasons (eg younger population, weaker parties of the left).
Even when it comes to income support for the working-age population – the element targeted by the new bill – the UK is not a particularly generous place. In 2007 it spent 4.5% of GDP for the purpose. This was only slightly above the OECD average (3.9%) and way below other rich European economies: the figures were 7.2% for Belgium, 7% for Denmark, 6% for Finland and 5.6% for Sweden.
And it is not even as if the need for social spending goes away if you reduce the welfare state. For many British supporters of a smaller welfare state the role model is the US, which has a very small welfare state (considering its level of income), accounting for only 19.2% of GDP as of 2009. However, it has a huge level of private spending on social expenditure, especially medical insurance and private pensions, which is equivalent to 10.2% of GDP. This means that, at 29.4%, the US has total social spending that is almost as high as that of Finland, which spends 30.7% of GDP on it (29.4% public and 1.3% private). Moreover, if the cost is “spiralling out of control” anywhere, it is in the largely private US healthcare system, thanks to over-treatment of patients, rising insurance premiums and soaring legal costs.
Most importantly, the view that social spending is wasteful needs to be seriously challenged. The frequently used argument against the welfare state is that it reduces economic growth by making the poor workshy and the rich reduce their wealth creation, given the tax burden involved.
However, there is no general correlation between the size of the welfare state and the growth performance of an economy. To cite a rather striking example, despite having a welfare state that is 50% bigger than that of the US (29.4% of GDP as against 19.2% of GDP in the US, in 2009), Finland has grown much faster. Between 1960 and 2010 Finland’s average annual per capita income growth rate was 2.7%, against 2% for the US. This means that during this period US income rose 2.7 times while Finland’s rose by 3.8 times.
The point is that the welfare state – if well designed and coordinated with labour market policies to re-train people and get them back into work – can encourage people to be more accepting of change, thereby promoting growth. Firms in countries such as Finland and Sweden can introduce new technologies faster than their US competitors because, knowing that unemployment need not mean penury and long-term joblessness, their workers do not resist these changes strongly.
Most American workforces are not organised and thus incapable of resisting technological changes that create unemployment – but the minority that are organised, such as the automobile workers, resist them tooth and nail because they know that if they lose their jobs, they will not even be able to afford to go to hospital, and will find it extremely difficult to get back into the labour market at the same level.
The British debate on the welfare state needs to be recast. The false premise that the country has a particularly generous welfare state whose cost is spiralling out of control needs to be abandoned. The structural factors driving up welfare costs, such as ageing, should be accepted – rather than denied and so putting undue pressure on other elements of social services.
Above all, the debate should be redirected into reforming the welfare state in a way that promotes structural change and economic growth.
Source – Welfare News Service 28 March 2014
This article was written by Nicholas Watt, for The Guardian on Monday 10th March 2014
Every young person who has been unemployed for more than a year will lose their benefits if they decline to accept a guaranteed “starter job”, Labour will pledge in its manifesto for the general election next year.
> A preview of some of the new jargon we can expect in the future – starter job.
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, will say on Monday that Labour will move to end the plight of “young people stuck on the dole” when he says that the party’s compulsory jobs guarantee, to be funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses, will last the whole parliament.
The scheme, which will fund paid work with training for six months for those aged under 25 who have been out of work for more than a year, will also be paid for by cutting pensions tax relief for people earning over £150,000 to the same rate as basic rate taxpayers. Claimants will lose their benefits if they do not accept the jobs. The scheme will also apply to those aged 25 or over who have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for two years or more.
> So, workfare by any other name ? Six-month starter jobs stacking shelves in Poundland ?
Labour launched its compulsory jobs guarantee last year. Balls believes the pledge will be a key element of Labour’s general election campaign by showing that the party is prepared to tax the rich to help provide work for people in danger of becoming Neets – not in employment, education or training.
Balls will say during a visit to a building project in south London which employs and trains young people: “It’s shocking that the number of young people stuck on the dole for more than a year has doubled under David Cameron. For tens of thousands of young people who cannot find work this is no recovery at all.”
The shadow chancellor will add: “We’ve got to put this right. So if Labour wins the next election we will get young people and the long-term unemployed off benefits and into work.
“The government will work with employers to help fund paid work with training for six months. It will mean paid starter jobs for over 50,000 young people who have been left on the dole for over a year by this government.
“But it will be a tough contract – those who can work will be required to take up the jobs on offer or lose their benefits. A life on benefits will simply not be an option.
> Here we go… get tough on the unemployed, no more something for nothing, they’re all lazy bastards, etc… which party does he represent ? It’s so hard to tell the difference nowadays.
“After the global banking crisis and with bank bonuses soaring again this year, it’s fair to pay for our jobs plan with a repeat of Labour’s tax on bank bonuses. We need a recovery for the many, not just a few at the top.
“As a country we simply cannot afford to be wasting the talents of thousands of young people and leaving them stuck on the dole for years on end. It’s bad for them, it’s bad for our economy and it’s bad for taxpayers who have to pay the bill.”
> Well, there we are – if you’re unemployed you can vote for the party with the stick but no carrot, or alternatively for the party with the stick but no carrot.
Six months workfare or six months starter job.
Source – Welfare News Network
Ah yes… the Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg). What exactly is it ?
The JSAg form itself informs us that : “This agreement sets out my availability for work and the things I will do each week to actively seek work”, which all sounds reasonable enough, and indeed would be if that was all it was.
Unfortunately, since the Jobcentre’s role has shifted from “helping you to find work” to “stopping your benefits by any means”, it has become another instrument of sanction, with advisers pushing claiments into signing JSAgs which effectively set them up for sanctions.
YOU SHOULD BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN SIGNING A JSAg.
If you dont agree with what they present you with, don’t sign it. Your Jobcentre adviser may give you the impression (or even tell you outright) that you must sign it or face a sanction. This is not true. With a little determination you can negotiate something you feel you can live with.
Have you considered what the JSAg is on a legal level ? I was wondering about that and have been trying to work out exactly it’s standing is, and how that might affect us, the potential sanctionees.
I must say outright that I have no legal background, and everything herein is just how things appear to be to me, having researched the subject to the best of my ability – if you have experience that counteracts anything here please add it to the commments. However, I am in the process of testing the theory right now in my own JSAg negotiations (I’ve stretched them out to 3 sessions so far !) so I am at least putting my money where my mouth is.
That said, it seems to me that the JSAg is a contract, a legal document, and therefore subject to English common law. This is important, because it gives you certain protections. Your adviser is not above the law (although they may seem to think they are) but they probably have little or no understanding of what they are actually doing legally. This gives you at least a little leverage.
In order for a contract to be formed, the parties must reach mutual assent – that means you have to agree to it. If you dont, refuse to sign and attempt to negotiate the points you dont like.
Basically, it seems to boil down to this –
A party must have capacity to contract –
The purpose of the contract must be lawful
The form of the contract must be legal
The parties must intend to create a legal relationship
The parties must consent
I think we have to assume that you (and your adviser) are mentally competent, and that the form of the contract is legal. The purpose of the JSAg and whether both parties intend it to be legal are grey areas.
The last one is the most important here – the parties (plural) must consent. So if you dont, for whatever reason, do not sign.
There are what are described as a “ variety of affirmative defenses that a party may assert to avoid his obligation”. These are –
Incapacity, including mental incompetence and infancy/minority
Misrepresentation or fraud
Frustration of purpose
Duress, Undue Influence and Misrepresentation seem the most likely reasons for refusing to sign a JSAg in my experience. Indeed, the adviser I’m currently negotiating mine with has attempted all three !
Some people will suggest that you write “signed under duress” on any JSAg you sign but dont agree with. Better by far NOT TO SIGN AT ALL, but I realise people react differently and you may not feel able to stand up to a bullying adviser. Hopefully this may help give you some confidence, knowledge is power.
Remember – it’s down to you. No-one else can do this for you.
Duress in the context of contract law is a common law defense, and if one is successful in proving that the contract is vitiated by duress, the contract may be rescinded, since it is then voidable.
Helpfully duress can be divided into Physical duress and Economic duress. Assuming your adviser hasn’t actually threatened you with a thumping if you dont sign, economic duress is most likely to be your friend –
A contract is voidable if the innocent party can prove that it had no other practical choice (as opposed to legal choice) but to agree to the contract.
The elements of economic duress
Wrongful or improper threat: No precise definition of what is wrongful or improper. Examples include: morally wrong, criminal, or tortious conduct; one that is a threat to breach a contract “in bad faith” or threaten to withhold an admitted debt “in bad faith”.
No reasonable alternative (but to accept the other party’s terms). If there is an available legal remedy, an available market substitute (in the form of funds, goods, or services), or any other sources of funds this element is not met.
They might argue that an alternative income is available by getting work. However, you might counter that you wouldn’t be claiming if you could find any, and would be left without an income without benefits. If the adviser infered your benefits would be stopped if you didn’t sign, then I’d say that was exconomic duress. But of course I’m not a lawyer.
The threat actually induces the making of the contract. This is a subjective standard, and takes into account the victim’s age, their background (especially their education), relationship of the parties, and the ability to receive advice.
This might be a viable reason for some, and advisers are known to target the more vulnerable.
The other party caused the financial distress. The majority opinion is that the other party must have caused the distress, while the minority opinion allows them to merely take advantage of the distress.
Misrepresentation has some potential too –
Misrepresentation is a concept in contract law referring to a false statement of fact made by one party to another party, which has the effect of inducing that party into the contract.
So if they say you must sign there and then – that’s misrepresentation.
Generally, statements of opinion or intention are not statements of fact in the context of misrepresentation. If one party claims specialist knowledge on the topic discussed, then it is more likely for the courts to hold a statement of opinion by that party as a statement of fact.
An adviser, I would think, certainly claims specialist knowledge – its inherent in the term adviser.
Well, there’s some points there for you to consider. I repeat that I have no legal training, but I think the above is correct so far as it goes. At least it gives you a slight advantage (as your adviser probably knows none of this) and a slight leverage. It would hopefully give you an advantage if you go as far as an independent appeal (as I intend to do if necessery).
Remember – the aim is not to take the DWP to court – it’s to negotiate a JSAg that you can live with and one that’s not going to set you up for a sanction.
I’ll be publishing my on-going JSAg negotiation experiences over the next week or so, check back to see how the theory fares in reality.
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