Art works inspired by the border between England and Scotland blossomed around the referendum, a North East based academic has claimed.
Northumberland’s cultural and social relationship with Scotland was enriched by political events, according to Northumbria University Professor of Art History, Ysanne Holt, and she hopes the focus on the ‘borderland’ area continues for a long time to come.
Prof. Holt, who studies the cultural landscape of the Anglo-Scottish border region, said:
“The referendum clearly drew sharp attention to this region and its cultural identity, and let’s hope the focus remains. The events of last year caused valuable reflection on the longstanding interconnections across the border, fostering for many a sense of wanting to develop further collaborations, not just in terms of shared resources such as tourism, forestry, roads, rail and so on, but in the arts and culture as well.”
More than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for the north of England to ‘secede from the UK and join Scotland’.
A total of 5,396 people have signed a petition on Change.org in support of the north of England joining Scotland and ‘regaining control over its own destiny’.
Despite being created a year ago, during the throes of the Scottish independence campaign, the petition attracted a number of signatures following the Conservative Party’s win in last week’s general election.
The petition states:
“The deliberations in Westminster are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the north of England.
“The needs and challenges of the north cannot be understood by the endless parade of old Etonians lining the front benches of the House of Commons.
“We, the people of the north, demand that in the event that Scotland becomes independent, the border between England and the New Scotland be drawn along a line that runs between the River Dee and the mouth of The Humber.”
The border between a ‘new Scotland’ and England would see everywhere north of Sheffield joining the newly-created country.
One supporter added:
“I have more in common with the Scots, than the Etonian-led Southerners who do not care what happens in the North.”
Another pointed out that the petition could bring up the topic of increased Northern representation.
Despite being closed, the petition is still gathering signatures since last Thursday’s vote, partly thanks to the #TakeUsWithYouScotland hashtag on Twitter.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 12 May 2015
The average homeowner in parts of Teesside has lost £25,000 off the value of their house since the coalition came to power in 2010 – while prices in London have soared.
Exclusive analysis of Land Registry data show the average house price in Redcar and Cleveland has dropped by 21.3% since May 2010, the date of the last election.
The average price is now £92,785 – or £25,134 LESS than it was then.
Only two places in the country – Merthyr Tydfil (down 27.1%) and Blackpool (down 24.9%) – have seen a bigger percentage fall.
In Middlesbrough, prices are down 6.6% since May 2010.
That means the average property is worth £5,904 less now than then.
And Stockton-on-Tees has seen a 2.6% fall, equivalent to £2,944.
Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have actually gone up by 10.8% since May 2010, with the average property worth £17,595 more than it was then.
Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have risen by 10.8% since May 2010.
The biggest increases have all been in London – with the 29 top-rising areas all in the capital.
Top of the list is Hackney, where house prices are up 76.3%.
The average house is now worth £634,045 – or £274,491 more than it was five years ago.
In the City of Westminster, meanwhile, the average price is up £464,941 from £610,767 to £1.07m.
When London is taken out of the equation, Tory-run areas seem to have done markedly better than those controlled by other parties.
Ten of the 20 ‘non-London’ areas that have seen the biggest rises are held by the Conservatives, with nine in no overall political control and just one – Slough – held by Labour.
Tory Wokingham (up 25.7%), Hertfordshire (up 24.6%) and Surrey (up 24.6%) have seen the biggest rises outside London.
By contrast 19 of the 20 areas to have seen the biggest falls in house prices are run by Labour.
The only one that isn’t is Lancashire (down 13.6%) – which is in no overall control.
Source – Middlesbrough Gazette, 13 Apr 2015
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has condemned the Government’s decision to privatise part of the administration of Universal Credit.
Private firm Capita will be gifted with the responsibility for booking initial work search interviews for new Universal Credit claimants.
Capita is currently facing a second inquiry into a £1.5bn Whitehall jobs contract, which small companies claim could leave them facing financial ruin.
A press release on the union’s website reads:
“Their intention is that the process for booking the appointment for a claimant’s initial work search interview will be handed to the private company Capita. No DWP staff will be transferred to Capita under this proposal.
“There is no justifiable business reason for doing this. DWP claim that Capita will be able to make these appointments at weekends for claimants who make a claim online at a weekend, but in practice the appointments could just as well be done by DWP staff the following Monday, as has happened up to now.
“Capita already have been handed the same task for claims to Jobseekers Allowance and this announcement extends that arrangement to Universal Credit claims.
“PCS has protested strongly to DWP about this decision. Seeing their work privatised is a kick in the teeth for our hard working members.
“Members will also be understandably concerned that this privatisation is a foretaste of further private sector involvement in the delivery of Universal Credit.
“PCS has also made the point to the department that Capita is consistently failing to meet its key targets in relation to JSA First Contact calls that are currently out sourced to them. This failure contrasts with the DWP staff in CCS who are consistently meeting the very same targets.
“Again the failure of the private sector to out-perform the public sector has been ignored as the tired, false dogma of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’ is wheeled out once again.
“PCS will continue to argue against all privatisation of DWP work and will continue to campaign for all privatised work to be brought back in-house where it belongs.”
> Hear, hear – claimants should be harrassed by public sector, not private company , workers.
Jobcentres are, I would guess, high on the list for selling off to private companies if the Tories win the next election. Possibly if Labour win too.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Feb 2015
David Cameron’s plan to make 18- to 21-year-olds work for their benefits is “cynical electioneering” as it would hit people hardest in the north and Midlands, where the Conservatives traditionally have little support, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.
The party laid into its coalition partners over the proposals to make school leavers do community work or face losing state support, saying it showed the Conservatives were “choosing to be tough on the vulnerable and young, whilst being weak on the rich and powerful”.
> Well ? It’s not as if they’ve suddenly betrayed long-held values – they’ve always acted like this. A fact which the Lib Dems must have been aware of before they got into bed with them.
Obviously they were quite willing to overlook this in return for a little bit of power. Oh, to sell your soul for such a low price…
None of the top 25 areas where there are the most “Neets” are run by Conservative councils, the research found.
John Leech, the Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, said it was nothing more than an attack on the north.
“These placements are not designed to help someone into work, more to punish. Just like the Tory plans to axe housing benefit for young people,” he said.
The Tory plans to make £12bn of welfare cuts for the working-age poor means 8 million low-income families will be £1,500 worse off a year.
Under the plans, those aged between 18 and 21 will be barred from claiming benefit unless they agree to start an apprenticeship or complete community work.
It is designed to ensure that the 50,000 young people “most at risk of starting a life on benefits” find that their first contact with the benefits system is a requirement to undertake community work and search for jobs. The claimant will be expected typically to undertake at least 30 hours community work a week and 10 hours looking for jobs.
Anyone required to undertake community work would be paid a youth allowance equivalent to the jobseeker’s allowance rate for young people.
In a speech in Hove, East Sussex, Cameron made an attempt to answer some of his critics who say the planned cuts are too harsh.
“I would ask them: is it compassionate to leave people on the dole for years with no incentive to get into work?” he said.
“Is it big-hearted to leave people on sickness benefit without checking if they can work, if given the right help? Is it kind to sentence people to never going anywhere, of letting people in their teens and 20s sit at home all day slipping into depression and despair?”
> Is it compassionate or big-hearted to subject people to a sanctions culture at the whim of DWP so-called work coaches ?
Following the announcement, Jonathan Portes, from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, pointed out that pilots conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested “compulsory community work for unemployed had little or no positive impact”.
The Conservatives want to make £12bn of welfare cuts in the next parliament, while the Liberal Democrats are budgeting for £4bn. Labour has not made clear what it would do to the benefits bill in order to balance the books.
Source – The Guardian, 18 Feb 2015
The number of evictions in England and Wales have soared to the highest level since records began, according to official Government figures.
Ministry of Justice figures show that 41,956 households who rented their homes were evicted between January to December 2014.
Around 8,000 families in England and Wales are losing their home every month, reports 24dash.com.
The shocking figure represents an 11% increase on the previous year and is at the highest level since records began in 2000.
An estimated 21% of landlord possession claims made by landlords between October to December 2014 will result in tenants being evicted. But the figure could be anywhere between 17% and 24%.
Rob Campbell , chief executive of the housing and homeless charity Shelter, warned of the “devastating impact” a shortage of affordable homes is having on struggling households.
“With the cost of housing sky-high, we are hearing from increasing numbers of families who are terrified that just one thing, like a sudden illness or job loss, will leave them homeless”, he said.
Mr Campbell slammed Government welfare cuts for “making it harder and harder for people to stay in their homes”.
He urged politicians from all parties to “commit to building the genuinely affordable homes that we desperately need”.
In related news, a Bill is currently passing through parliament which could make so-called revenge or retaliatory evictions illegal.
If the Bill is passed into law, it would prevent landlords from evicting tenants within six months of receiving an improvement or hazard awareness notice.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Feb 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
Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax, sanctions and housing benefit cuts are fuelling England’s rapidly worsening homelessness crisis, according to an independent study.
The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has recovered, the study says, and they look likely to increase pressure on vulnerable households for at least the next two years.
London has become the centre of homelessness, the study says, as high rents, housing shortages and welfare cuts force poorer people out of the inner city to cheaper neighbourhoods. Those who lose their homes are increasingly rehoused outside the capital.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said the report revealed the true scale of homelessness in England. “Rising numbers [are] facing the loss of their home at a time when councils are being forced to cut services. This is a desperate state of affairs.”
Official figures show that homelessness is rising – up by 12,000 in 2013-14 continuing an upward trend since 2009-10 – with rough sleeping also on the increase, and soaring numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation.
But the study argues that these official figures underplay the scale and complexity of homelessness in England because they do not capture the hundreds of thousands of people in housing crisis who are given informal help by authorities.
Although latest government statistics show 52,000 households were formally recorded as homeless in 2013-14, a total of 280,000 families were given some sort of assistance by authorities because they were at risk of losing their home.
Local authorities are increasingly using informal homelessness relief to keep at-risk families off the streets by providing financial support and debt advice or by mediating with landlords, none of which appears in the headline statistics.
“Taking these actions into account, we see that the number of cases of people facing or at serious risk of homelessness rose sharply last year. Yet this alarming trend has gone largely unnoticed by politicians or the media,” said the study’s lead author, Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University.
The Homelessness Monitor 2015, an annual independent audit, is published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were misleading. Local authorities had a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets, he said.
“This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he said.
Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:
“Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”
The study finds:
- Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
- Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrinks.
- Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.
The study says millions of people are “hidden homeless”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.
Official estimates of rough sleeper numbers in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.
Source – The Guardian, 04 Feb 2015
Northumbria Police saw the highest rise in complaints of any force in the country, official figures have revealed.
A total of 794 complaints were made against Northumbria Police, which had 5,871 employees in 2013/2014, representing a 98 per cent rise in 2013/14, compared to an increase of 15 per cent for England and Wales, statistics issued by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) show.
The total number of complaints against Durham Constabulary rose 26 per cent to 303, while over the same period complaints against North Yorkshire Police rose 15 per cent to 544.
Cleveland Police saw the number of complaints it received drop by six per cent to 454 last year.
A spokesman for the IPCC said:
“Some of the increase in 2013/14 is down to the definition of a complaint being broadened beyond an officer’s conduct to include direction and control matters to do with operational policing.”
A complainant has the right to appeal about the way in which a police force has handled their complaint.
Just one in 20 of appeals from the public against Durham Constabulary were upheld by the force IPCC, compared with a 46 per cent of those considered by the IPCC.
A North East MP has accused Government ministers of ignoring the region’s “first class” healthcare when dishing out emergency cash awards.
This week, Westminster approved a £25m injection into social care for older people in areas where hospitals are facing the biggest problems over delayed patient discharges.
But of the 65 local authorities in England to receive the money, which must be spent by the end of March to ease pressure on wards by moving patients into care in the community, none are in the North East.
Ronnie Campbell, Labour member for Blyth Valley, claims the funding is “almost all southern based where local authorities haven’t been on the receiving end of same level of ConDem cuts as Northern authorities” which have still managed to provide “a first class service”.
And he accused the Government of bailing out councils who are failing to organise their discharges from hospitals properly, while not rewarding Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, Sunderland, Durham and Newcastle councils who are facing up to the challenges.
“I’m very worried that local authorities like Northumberland are having their budgets hacked to bits and yet they’re coping with the transfer from NHS care to local authority care.
“They’re under enormous pressure to deliver other services to the general public yet Eric Pickles and Jeremy Hunt are rewarding councils which happen to have marginal constituencies in them.
“This doesn’t seem to be the ‘fair deal for Northumberland’ local Tories are trumpeting – in fact, this ranks up there with the 20% cut to transport funding and £3m further cuts to the council budget as an example of how the ConDems are targeting the North for purely party political reasons.”
The Department of Health emergency fund was authorised by a special ministerial committee, which has met weekly to help the NHS cope with winter pressures.
According to NHS England, one in five hospital beds was occupied over the Christmas period by someone ready for discharge but unable to move on because of blockages in the system. About a third of these blockages were attributed to lack of social care services.
The average cash boost for each of the 65 councils is £380,000, with money to be spent on extra support for people in their homes and short-term places in residential homes.
Responding to Mr Campbell, Coun Peter Jackson, Tory leader on Northumberland County Council, said:
“The truth is that this Government has fully protected NHS funding from day one.
“Rather than acknowledge this or the indication that our local health care services are performing much better than others across the country, Labour are once again resorting to scaremongering tactics and displaying financial illiteracy.
“Mr Campbell appears to be deliberately misleading the public by confusing local government and health care funding.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department of Health added:
“We planned for winter earlier than ever this year. We constantly review what additional measures we can take to ease the pressure on services.
“In preparation for the Better Care Fund, the NHS and local authorities are already preparing joint plans to work together better, keep people well and avoid hospital admissions. This money helps speed up that work for this winter.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Jan 2015