A group of churches and charities have called on the UK government to hold an urgent independent review into the benefit sanctions regime.
The group argue that the government has failed to heed the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, who called for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions system earlier this year.
Dame Anne Begg, who chaired the Committee’s investigation, said:
“The implementation of the present sanction regime is controversial with the government claiming it is effective in helping people into work while many others say sanctions are causing real distress to families and are actually acting as a barrier to participation.”
She added: “If sanctions work as a deterrent, why are so many people still facing multiple sanctions?
“As there are so many questions about the effects on people who have been sanctioned, it is time the government implemented the recommendation of my Select Committee in the last Parliament to carry out a full, independent review of the whole sanction regime.
“Many believe that sanctions are being applied to the wrong people for often trivial reasons and are the cause of the increased use of foodbanks. Only an independent review can get to the truth of what is actually happening so that government policy can be based on evidence and not seen as merely punitive.”
In a 100 day period last year, 346,256 people who were on Jobseeker’s Allowance and 35,554 people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) were referred for sanctions. These resulted in 175,177 sanctions for Jobseekers and 11,129 for sick and disabled people claiming ESA.
92,558 were blamed on a bureaucratic error.
The call for a review is supported by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and by charities Church Action on Poverty, Gingerbread and Mind.
More than 70 leading Catholics have written to Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who is Catholic, to tell him they fear the impact of his welfare reform policies.
In an open letter the group, led by the thinktanks Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare Reform, calls on Duncan Smith to redraft his policies “in a way that is more compatible with Catholic and Christian values.”
They highlight benefit sanctions, work capability assessments, the benefits cap and the scheme to incorporate all benefits in a single system of universal credit as policies that are worsening the situation of poor families up and down the country.
“We understand that your Catholic faith is important to you, and your approach is driven by a desire to improve the quality of individual lives,” the letter says.
“However, we believe that [your policies] are in fact doing the reverse. We would urge you to rethink and to abandon further cuts which are likely to cause more damage.”
Duncan Smith was the first Catholic leader of the Conservative party between 2001 and 2003. In 2010 he was named one of Britain’s most influential Catholics. Since his appointment at the head of the Department for Work and Pensions that year, he has led a radical reorganisation of Britain’s benefits system to ensure “work always pays more”.
But he has faced criticism from campaigners who say that cuts to benefits have led to suicides, an increase in poverty and the social cleansing of wealthier areas, particularly in London and the south-east.
Ministers are considering forcing all housing benefit recipients to contribute towards their rent as part of efforts to save £12bn from the welfare bill, government sources say.
Housing benefit currently can cover the full cost of rent.
The chancellor is also understood to be pushing for the cap on all benefits to be lowered from £26,000 to £20,000 outside London and south-east England.
It was previously announced the cap would be cut to £23,000 across the UK.
It is understood that other proposals to abolish or severely restrict the carer’s allowance have been dropped after opposition from the prime minister.
A government spokesman said it would not comment on speculation about next Wednesday’s Budget.
Since winning the election, officials and ministers have struggled to find £12bn in savings – a key Conservative manifesto commitment.
Secret Tory plans to slash sickness benefits for people unable to work have been leaked in a document, it has been reported today.
Tory ministers are considering slashing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by as much as £30 a week, affecting thousands of sick and disabled people.
The move would see the value of ESA for this group of jobseekers falling from £102.15 a week to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance – £73.10 a week for jobseekers over the age of 25.
Work Capability Assessments (WCA) would also be overhauled and renamed “Employment Capability Assessments”, to “focus attention on work seeking, not benefit seeking”, reports the Daily Mirror.
Health conscious pupils have told McDonald’s exactly why it shouldn’t open a restaurant next to Newcastle’s biggest school.
Youngsters have made an online video urging the fast food giant to pull plans to open next to Kenton School.
In the three-minute clip posted on video sharing site YouTube, the children say opening up a drive-thru there would increase traffic and cause more risk of injury to pupils, as well as having negative health effects.
They also urge campaigners to stop McDonald’s “wrecking the skyline” with its iconic giant ‘M’ signs.
The idea was the brainchild of pupils at St Cuthbert’s High School in Newcastle.
Teacher Michelle Summerside said:
“I live in the area so that’s where the link comes from. Also a couple of the pupils live in the Blakelaw and Kenton areas so aren’t too far away from where the McDonald’s would be.
“They have put some good opinions across. I asked them to research some facts and they have picked out some good stuff with a good message. I helped a little bit but it was their idea.”
Full story & video : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/166/mcdonalds-prompts-protest-newcastle-pupils
Iain Duncan Smith had his official credit card suspended after racking up more than £1,000 in expenses debt, it has been revealed.
The Work and Pensions Secretary is one of nineteen MPs subjected to action by the Commons watchdog, over potential invalid spending.
The revelation comes after Iain Duncan Smith had previously backed the introduction of prepaid cards for benefit claimants.
Details released in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Press Association, reveal that the watchdog has suspended the credit cards of nineteen MPs since the beginning of 2015.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) issue credit cards to MPs to use for expenses costs, such as travel and accommodation.
Politicians are required to prove that spending on the cards is legitimate within one month. Failure could result in a build-up of debt, which would be recovered by refusing further expenses payments made through the cards.
According to the FOI response, Iain Duncan Smith’s card was blocked after he owed £1,057.28. He is no longer owes any money.
Solicitors in the North East will join a nationwide boycott that could see criminal courts grind to a halt.
Lawyers in the region have backed an unprecedented protest over the government’s cut to legal aid, which comes into force today.
They said a planned 8.75% cut to the publicly funded criminal legal aid budget was “uneconomic” and “unsustainable”.
Mass meetings of solicitors and barristers who specialise in criminal work were originally held in Liverpool but later also in Newcastle, London, Manchester, Leeds, and other cities.
All agreed not to take on any legal aid cases as of today, but will continue to do duty work to avoid breaching their contract.
Legal aid is the help given to people that may not otherwise afford their own lawyers and is a big source of income for many firms.
Solicitors in the Northumbria area, which includes, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead, have backed the nationwide action after they held a meeting at Northumbria University on Monday night.
Lewis Pearson, deputy vice-president of the Newcastle Law Society and partner at Pearson Caulfield solicitors, in Newcastle, said the boycott was a last-ditch effort to save legal aid.
Illegal rubbish dumpers cost South Tyneside more than £200,000 in one year, new figures have revealed.
New fly-tipping statistics show that the local authority dealt with 6,934 incidents in the 2013/14 financial year, costing South Tyneside Council – which is facing making £22 million in cuts – a total of £228,822.
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs figures show this was the cost of investigating fly-tipping, cleaning up and issuing warning letters.
The cost of investigations alone was £120,747.
Coun Tracey Dixon, lead member for area management and community safety at South Tyneside Council, said:
“It is disgraceful that people think they can dump their rubbish in our borough.
“Fly-tipping is irresponsible and can be hazardous to the public and wildlife, particularly if targeted by arsonists. Not to mention it is unsightly and costly to clean up.”
“We take the issue extremely seriously and are working closely with South Tyneside Homes to take a proactive approach to enforcement against environmental issues in our communities.
“This includes training more officers to issued Fixed Penalty Notices. We also encourage people to report incidents they come across and appeal for people to take details of any vehicles and the people involved, if they can.
“We will always take action against anyone who we can identify as being responsible for illegally abandoning waste across the borough and have a 100% success rate for taking action through the courts.
“It doesn’t matter if it is one bin bag of rubbish in a back lane or large quantities of waste dumped at the roadside, fly-tipping is a criminal offence and we will not tolerate it.”
The world premiere of a new show by poet Ian McMillan will be among the highlights of a four-day music festival later this month (July 16-19).
Last Train to Elvet, which tells the apocryphal story of a circus train visiting Durham Elvet Station in 1953, will be part of this year’s Durham Brass Festival, which runs from July 16 to 19.
The show features brass music, circus themes, drama and live cartooning and also involves Tredegar Town Band, Olympic composer Luke Carver Goss and Private Eye cartoonist Tony Husband.
McMillan, known as the Bard of Barnsley, said:
“Music, words and live cartooning tell the amazing (partly) true story of the circus train that was the last train to Durham Elvet Station in 1953, packed with animals and clowns and acrobats.
“Capriciously, the train breaks down. Now what will the circus do? Come along and find out.”
The festival, inspired by Durham Miners’ Gala and the county’s brass heritage, will also feature brass and classical concerts, workshops, the Fun Lovin Criminals and much more.
Hartlepool employees will be encouraged to ditch the car to get to work as part of a new green travel scheme.
Hartlepool Borough Council, which is leading the Government-funded sustainable travel scheme, says it will work with local firms to promote greater take up of cycling, walking and public transport.
Where car use is necessary, the scheme will encourage employees to share vehicles.
Sustainable travel officer Tony Davison, leading the scheme, said:
“In particular, the greater use of these forms of travel is crucial to us achieving our economic regeneration priorities for the town in a sustainable way by helping to ensure that developments do not adversely affect local roads in terms of congestion and safety.
“In addition, they can play a significant role when it comes to improving the health of local people by increasing their levels of physical activity,” said Tony who cycles 28-miles a day to work from Coxhoe and back.
Looking ahead the council says it is hopes to develop new cycle routes to key employment sites.