Tagged: Frank Field

Fuel Banks Pilot Scheme Aims To Address Austerity-Era Dilemma Of ‘Heat Or Eat’

Families in poverty who are forced to switch off their gas and electricity supply because they are unable afford spiralling energy bills will be offered free charity fuel vouchers under a pilot scheme. The so-called “fuel banks” initiative will provide a £49 credit for struggling families who use prepayment meters in a move designed to address the austerity-era dilemma of “heat or eat”. It is being run by energy firm nPower and poverty charities including the food bank network Trussell Trust.

The vouchers, which will provide enough credit to restore power, and keep lights and heating on for up to two weeks, will be available to people in crisis referred to food banks by welfare advice agencies, GPs and social workers.

Labour MP Frank Field, who has campaigned against fuel and food poverty through his all-party Feeding Britain initiative, described the scheme as an “important breakthrough” that would help families who face an agonising choice between putting money in the gas meter or food on the table.

But critics said it was a public relations move that could not substitute for low wages and cuts to the welfare state hardship funds, or distract from the “profiteering” fuel prices charged by the Big Six energy firms – including npower.

Inability to afford even switch on the cooker or heat bathwater has been a striking feature of poverty in the UK in recent years, as low-income households struggle to cope with shrinking wages, rising living costs and welfare cuts such as the bedroom tax.

Last year it emerged that Trussell’s food banks were issuing special “kettle box” food parcels designed for clients who could not afford to cook, or in extreme cases, “cold box” parcels for those who could not even afford to heat water.

The fuel bank scheme is explicilty aimed at households who “self-disconnect” from prepayment meters to save money. Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau suggests more than 1.6 million people go without electricity or gas every year in the UK.

The scheme, which will be available to all referred people, not just npower customers, will be piloted in 21 locations across County Durham, Kingston-upon-Thames and Gloucester. If deemed successful, npower will roll out the initiative nationwide, with the aim of support up to 13,000 households in the first year.

The vouchers will be distributed using Trussell’s food bank protocols, to individuals and families referred to them after being identified by professionals as being “in crisis”. Clients would be allowed three fuel vouchers in a year.

David McAuley, chief executive of the trust, said:

“In many cases people coming to food banks can be facing financial hardship that leaves them both hungry and in fuel poverty. By providing npower fuel bank vouchers at food banks, we can make sure that people who are most vulnerable are not only given three days’ food, but can turn on the energy supply to cook it and heat their homes too.”

Matthew Cole, npower’s head of policy and obligations, said the energy company had always worked hard to help its most vulnerable customers:

“It [the fuel bank scheme] will provide immediate and hassle free support to households where often the choice is between food or warmth.”

Matthew Cole of the Fuel Poverty Action campaign said:

“These fuel banks will do nothing to hide the harmful actions of the Big Six, including home break-ins to install unwanted prepayment meters, visits by bailiffs, and energy supply disconnections to vulnerable households.

“Our current, for-profit energy system is broken – only an affordable, public, and renewable energy system will make a meaningful difference to those affected by fuel poverty and energy debt. With the huge majority of public opinion in favour of public energy, it’s no wonder the Big Six are trying to improve their image.”

The Trussell trust, which this week announced that its 445 food banks distributed enough emergency food to feed almost 1.1 million people for three days last year, said that it was looking to create more business partnerships. It already has a food collection partnership with Tesco.

Source – The Guardian, 23 Apr 2015

Benefit Claimants ‘Fleeced’ By Rip-Off 0845 Helplines

Millions of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people are being “fleeced” by rip-off 0845 helplines, it has been reported today.

According to a report by the Daily Mirror, figures uncovered by Labour MP Frank Field show than pensioners, carers and benefit claimants are still being charged for higher rate calls, despite promises from the government two years ago that it would phase out 0845 helpline numbers.

Since 2012, the Pension Service has received around 12 million 0845 prefix calls, including 2.5 million over the last year.

2.9 million 0845 calls were made to the Carer’s Allowance helpline, while more than 530,000 people called for advice about Winter Fuel Payments and 360,439 higher rate calls were made about Bereavement Benefits.

0845 calls can cost anywhere from between 1p and 12p a minute from a landline and from 5p to 40p if calling from a mobile phone.

Callers spent a combined total of £56 million from using 0845 helplines in 2012 alone.

Frank Field said:

“At the very point in their lives when millions of people are most in need, they are being fleeced by the Government and the phone companies.

“Ministers promised over a year ago that these rip-off lines would be scrapped. Might they now sanction such a move as quickly as they sanction claimants?”

The Cabinet Office issued guidance in 2013, stating it was “inappropriate” for “vulnerable and low-income groups” to pay “substantial charges for accessing core public services”.

Two years later the Department for Work and Pensions is still “in the process of replacing all its 0845 number prefixes in use for its national helplines”.

A DWP spokesperson added:

“We introduced 0345 numbers for DWP national helpline service numbers – this is alongside an 0845 option, which can currently be cheaper for some dependent on their telephony provider.”

Soure – Welfare Weekly, 23 Mar 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/benefit-claimants-fleeced-by-rip-off-0845-helplines/

Five-Week Wait For Benefits Will Increase Food Bank Use, Says TUC

> Another for the “Really ? Who’d have thought it ?” file.

New benefit rules forcing claimants to wait at least five weeks before they receive any cash will increase demand on food banks, says the TUC.

Under current rules new claimants have to wait an average of two weeks before they receive their first benefit payment. But with the introduction of Universal Credit new claimants will not be eligible for any financial support during the first week of their claim, and will then have to wait a further month before any benefits are paid.

The warning comes in response to a cross-party inquiry into hunger and child poverty, which found that delays in benefit payments is one of primary reasons for soaring numbers of food bank users.

In the last year the food bank charity Trussell Trust helped more than 900,000 people with three-days worth of emergency food aid, with some experts suggesting the true extent of food poverty in the UK could be in the millions.

The new five-week wait for benefits will not only affect people who are unfortunate enough to be made redundant, but also anyone who is unable to continue working due to ill-health or disability – regardless of how long they’ve been in work or how much they’ve paid in National Insurance contributions.

A recent TUC poll found that 70% of people are worried about having to wait five weeks for benefits if they were to become unemployed.

TUC launched the ‘Saving Our Safety Net’ campaign earlier this year, which seeks to challenge the new rule and other benefit changes that undermine the social security system we all pay in to and could need at any moment.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The government is introducing what amounts to a ‘food banks first’ policy for anyone who loses their job or becomes too sick or disabled to work.

“It’s unrealistic and unfair to make new claimants wait five weeks or more before they receive any cash.

“While it is right to deal with people who abuse the system, ministers are now undermining the social security safety net that any of us might need.

“The government’s welfare reforms are attacking people who have done nothing wrong at a time when they most need help.”

The DWP is sending new guidance to 700 job centres, informing them that they must make claimants aware of ‘short-term cash advances’ which may be available while their claim is processed.

Responding to the announcement, Labour MP Frank Field said:

“It is vital both that emergency payments are made available and that they are actively publicised to prevent the need for using a food bank.”

He added the Government should take action to “limit the amount of time it takes to process a claim”.

> Frank Field may say that – election on the horizon, etc – but I doubt that he means any of it. I do rather hope he gets dumped at the next election – though sadly he won’t have to wait 5 weeks for money to buy food.

Only a small number of people will be eligible for emergency support while they wait for the first benefit payment to come through, say the TUC.

> Well thank you TUC, its nice to know you’re catching up at last. Now, what are you going to do about it ?

Source – Welfare Weekly,  08 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/five-week-wait-benefits-will-increase-food-bank-use-says-tuc/

 

Government Dismisses Study Linking Use Of Food Banks To Benefit Cuts

This article  was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 19th November 2014

The government has been accused of ignoring evidence of the distress caused by its welfare reforms following publication of a report which directly links cuts to benefits with a massive rise in food bank use.

The study found that cuts and changes to Britain’s increasingly threadbare social security system are the most common triggers of the acute personal financial crises that drive people to use food banks..

At least half of all food bank users are referred because they are waiting for benefits to be paid, because they have had benefits stopped for alleged breaches of jobcentre rules or because they have been hit by the bedroom tax or the removal of working tax credits, it finds.

The study, the most extensive research of its kind yet carried out in the UK, directly challenges the government’s repeated insistence that there is no link between its welfare reforms and the huge increases in charity food aid.

The study was commissioned by the Church Of England, the Trussell Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group.

It calls for urgent changes to the “complicated, remote and at times intimidating” social security system to stop people falling into poverty, including a less punitive sanctions system and speedier processing of benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report, claiming the research was inconclusive.

“The report itself concludes it can’t prove anything – it uses self-selecting data and recognises there are complex underlying issues. We have a strong safety net in place, spending £94bn a year on working-age benefits, and we provide a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.”

But the report was welcomed by Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, who hosted its launch at the House of Commons on Wednesday. He said it was an important study that chimed with his experience as an MP in his surgery. He said its recommendations for change, including a review of sanctions policy, would make a practical difference to the lives of many of his distressed constituents.

He added:

There is no doubt from this report that there are certain elements of welfare that make things more difficult, without doubt. These are not the headline things like the benefit cap, but things like sanctions, the smaller things that go below the radar where people cannot get any kind of help.”

> Blimey ! Even tory MPs are starting to notice !

The report’s lead researcher, Jane Perry, an independent social research consultant and former DWP official, defended the scope and methodology of the research, which she said accorded with official government social research quality standards.

The bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, said he was disappointed by the DWP’s dismissal of the report, which he described as “an appeal to people of goodwill” to address an important social issue. He urged dialogue with ministers over the problems the report highlights and added: “I think they [the DWP] possibly need to read the report.”

It is understood the DWP was offered a seat on the study’s advisory committee prior to the research but declined. The department was shown a draft copy of the report a month ago but did not raise any objections to its methodology.

In another twist, a DWP minister, Steve Webb, whose officials had apparently agreed for him to respond in person to the report at the launch, pulled out at the last minute, without giving a reason. David McAuley, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said he was frustrated that the DWP had not attended, and accused them of not wanting “to hear the story.”

The study says it wanted to examine practical ways of preventing the further expansion of food banks, and warned the government against reliance on charity food to fix holes in the welfare state.

The promise of a social security safety net that is there to protect people at times of crisis is something that can and must be preserved and protected. Food banks, whilst providing a vital and welcoming lifeline to many, should not become a readily accepted part of that formal provision,” the report says.

> But surely that’s exactly what they do want – Cameron’s Big Society (remember that ?) seemed to be all about charities and individuals doing the work for nothing, allowing public money to be diverted to more important things…such as into the pockets of the already-rich.

There are no official statistics on the use of food banks, but the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 food banks in the UK, says 913,138 people were given food parcels by its volunteers in 2013-14 – almost a threefold increase on the previous year, and likely to be a fraction of the total numbers of people experiencing food insecurity.

The research, which examined why people were referred to food banks, combined 40 in-depth interviews with clients at seven UK food banks, analysis of data collected on 900 clients at three of those food banks and a caseload of 178 clients at another.

The authors accept that the research, while wide-ranging, cannot prove definitively why people use food banks or how many use them, but argue that it provides an initial indicator of the scale and prevalence of issues leading people to accept charity food, and call on ministers to commission more authoritative data on food insecurity, as happens in the US and Canada.

The government has struggled to explain why food bank use has risen, though its has denied that welfare cuts are a factor. Lord Freud, the welfare minister, notoriously insisted that demand for food had risen because it was free, while the former education secretary Michael Gove suggested people turned to food aid because they had poor financial management skills.

However, the study found that in most cases people used food banks because they were tipped into financial crisis by events that were outside their control and difficult or impossible to reverse, such as benefit cuts and delays, bereavement or job loss. Most people said they used food banks as a desperate and shaming last resort.

Almost a third of food bank users interviewed for the study who had experienced problems with the benefits system said they had been sanctioned by social security officials and left penniless for weeks on end, while a further third were left unable to put food on the table because of lengthy delays in benefit payments. The report says the current sanctions policy is causing hardship and hunger.

The government has self-imposed targets for processing benefit claims within 16 working days. However, the report says this period is too long a wait without income for vulnerable people, and in practice many claimants wait longer than this. There are concerns that the five-week delay before jobless people can sign on under a future universal credit system will cause hardship.

Formal state crisis support available to people who are left without income because of bureaucratic delays in the processing of benefits was often inadequate or non-existent, the study found. As a result, many people entitled to state help were forced to sell possessions, go without food, or take out expensive credit to buy essentials such as food and rent.

Many people who used food banks lived in or were close to poverty and were attempting to cope with the “ongoing daily grind of living without sufficient income to make ends meet each month”. Many worked, but in jobs that were low-paid and insecure. Often they were also coping with mental and physical ill health and bereavement.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

Food banks have boomed not because they‘re an easy option but because people haven’t got money to eat – often because of problems with claiming and the payment of benefits.

“A delay in a benefits decision or a period pending a review can force hunger and humiliation on families, leaving them no option but the food bank. Rather than protecting these families from poverty at the time when they most need help, the system leaves them with almost nothing to live on.”

McAuley said:

This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a life shock or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness.”

The study will feed into an all-party parliamentary group inquiry into hunger and food poverty, chaired by the Labour MP Frank Field, which is expected to report before Christmas.

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  20 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/government-dismisses-study-linking-use-of-food-banks-to-benefit-cuts/

‘Make Young Unemployed Pull Up Ragwort For Benefits’ Says Lord Tebbit

This article was written by Rowena Mason and Damian Carrington, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd October 2014

The former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit has said young unemployed people should be required to pull up ragwort from roadside verges in return for benefits.

The 83-year-old Tory grandee made the proposal in a letter to Matt Shardlow, chief executive of a charity called Buglife, which is concerned about the effect of declining ragwort on bees and rare insects.

In his reply to the charity, Tebbit said ragwort was a major problem in his part of East Anglia and proposed it could be weeded out by “Neets” – young people who are not in education, work or training – and “low level criminals”.

He wrote:

“I suggest you come to the Norfolk/Suffolk border areas of East Anglia. Landowners who wish to control ragwort face an impossible task when roadside verges are dominated by it to an extent I cannot remember in the past.

“There would be little cost to bring that under control if Neets and low level criminals were required as part of their contribution to the society which finances them, or which they have abused … to uproot this weed.”

> Translation: anyone unemployed is either living a luxury lifestyle at taxpayer’s expense or is a criminal.

Strangely, this is also many people’s definition of a politician…

Tebbit later told the Guardian:

Given a bit of organisation, they [unemployed young people] would be happy doing something constructive. That’s something constructive for them. It’s appealing, it gets rid of a weed which is a danger to some animals and helps landowners in the cultivation of their land.

“That was my thought that caused me to suggest the idea … in a way it’s a form of national service, of doing something for society in a way in which anyone unless they are physically disabled can participate.”

Asked whether he acknowledged some might find the idea of forced labour in return for benefits controversial, he said:

It’s workfare but I think there are some powerful arguments for workfare and so does [Labour MP] Frank Field for example. It’s not a way-out idea in that sense. If you go back to the Beveridge report on which the whole welfare state has been based, you’ll find he took the view that youngsters who had never worked should not receive benefits because they have not contributed anything.

“I am much more modest about this than Beveridge was and I suspect Ernie Bevan might have been on my side in it. I just think a lot of those youngsters want something to do which is constructive.”

However, Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow welfare reform minister, said the comments reflected the “values of the Victorian workhouse” in which out-of-work people were forced to perform demeaning, unpaid labour.

There’s one weed that I would like to uproot: it’s sitting in the House of Lords. Lord Tebbit’s proposal, which effectively equates being out of work with being a criminal, is both offensive and ludicrous,” he said.

It betrays the deeply toxic attitude the Tories have towards people who rely on the social security net for any period of their life. Rather than acting to end the scourge of insecure, unskilled, low pay jobs, they think up ever more creative ways to demonise those that they have failed.”

It is not the first time Tebbit has made controversial suggestions about the unemployed. He is famous for suggesting in 1981 that they should get on their bikes to find work.

His stance on ragwort – a plant often sprayed with herbicides by local authorities because of its reputation for killing horses and grazing animals – may also annoy environmentalists.

Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, said:

We were surprised that Lord Tebbit suggested that the unemployed and criminals should be forced to pull up ragwort, particularly as ragwort is an important part of our native biodiversity, supports 30 species of insects and helps to sustain the now fragile bee populations that we need to pollinate crops.”

Shardlow said that the poor reputation of ragwort was undeserved and argued that cases where horses and other livestock appear to have been poisoned are the result of poor animal husbandry, not the spread of the plant. He said that while ragwort may be more obvious on roadside verges in some areas, it declined by 39% in England between 1998 and 2007. One of the insects dependent on ragwort, the cinnabar moth, has declined by over 80% in the last 35 years.

Richard Benyon, a former environment minister, was criticised by ecologists in 2011 when he posted a picture on Facebook of himself pulling up the yellow-flowered plant.

Declaring he hated ragwort, the Tory MP said he was “on the warpath for those who let this vile weed spread,” prompting anger from experts who said at least 30 insect and 14 fungi species are entirely reliant on ragwort.

>  I have actually done this work – pulling ragwort – back in the days when I was an environmental volunteer.  Those were also the days of Thatcher’s government, which included Tebbit.

I used to get constant grief from the Jobcentre for doing voluntary work – I was actually told that I might be considered to be making myself unavailable for work !

I pointed out that I was only doing it until another paid job came along, was learning new skills (some of which, incidentally, got me more paid work further down the line).

Honestly – damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  23 Oct 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/make-young-unemployed-pull-ragwort-benefits-says-lord-tebbit/

Hunger and food poverty are sweeping the North East, inquiry told

Hunger is sweeping the region and the austerity-driven Government is relying too heavily on volunteers to help – that was the message food poverty investigators heard yesterday.

Members of the all-party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty were at the centre of a packed room at South Shields’ St Jude’s Parish Hall to find out why there is a rising tide of foodbank use here.

The touring inquiry, which meets with policy-makers in London next, heard how foodbank use has tripled since 2008 in some areas. Calls are now ringing out for the Coalition to act.

> They have acted.  The state we’re in now is exactly what they wanted. It must be – they surely couldn’t be so stupid as to think that austerity and cuts would result in anything else.

Could they ?  I don’t know which I’d find worse – malevolent intent or incredible ignorance on that scale.

Bishop Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow, has been campaigning on the issue. When asked if the church is being asked to step in where the welfare state previously had, he said: “That is undoubtedly true.

Even with the welfare state it is good that, as a society, we do things that enable us to care for each other, but it is certainly true that the church and other men and women of goodwill are picking up things that we never thought would be necessary two or three years ago.”

The Reverend Roy Merrin, of Grange Road Baptist Church in Jarrow, said: “Politicians themselves need to recognise their responsibility and not look to the voluntary sector for sticking plasters for what are structural problems in our society.”

Peter MacLellan, director of the Trussell Trust’s County Durham Foodbank, said: “I think it is a scandal. I’m encouraged by people’s generosity but of course we should not have to do this.

“I think there will always be a need for foodbanks but the scale we have them on at the moment is nonsense.”

Jean Burnside, chief officer for South Tyneside Churches’ Key Project, said it gave out 26 food parcels in 2008, but last year was called on for 339 and so far this year had given out 222 packs.

There has been a massive increase,” she said. “There is a variety of reasons for that, including the Bedroom Tax, benefit sanctions and high unemployment.

“I want these politicians to know what it is like here in the North East.

“The Government needs to know that the system isn’t working. There have been so many cuts and the people at the Department for Work and Pensions can’t provide advice for us so what chance do our clients have? Something needs to change.”

Veteran Merseyside MP Frank Field is leading on the inquiry and will now hold a series of meetings in London on food poverty across the UK now.

He said he had been shocked by the scale of the problem in the North East, also describing it as a “scandal”.

The economy needs to be run differently and we need more jobs at the bottom and the people to do them,” he said.

“We are hearing about low wages, benefit delays and benefit sanctions and some people not getting their benefits at all.

“People don’t want this to be a long-term solution, they say they don’t want foodbanks to exist.”

> Frank Field – why do I not trust the bugger ?  A member of the advisory board of the free-market think tank Reform, and of the generally conservative but also pro-freedom of speech magazine Standpoint.

In May 2008, he said that Margaret Thatcheris certainly a hero” and that “I still see Mrs T from time to time – I always call her ‘Mrs T‘, when I talk to her.

Although there have been attempts to get him to defect to the Conservatives, they have been without success (possibly he thinks Labour is moving to the right anyway, so why bother).

In 2008, Frank Field was named as the 100th most-influential right-winger in the United Kingdom by the Telegraph.

Field supports the return of national service to tackle growing unemployment and instil “a sense of order and patriotism” in Britain’s young men and women.

Field is a practising Anglican, a former chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust, and a member of the Church of England General Synod.

Field believes in reducing the time-limit with which women can have an abortion,and in stripping abortion providers such as Marie Stopes of their counselling role and handing it to organisations not linked to abortion clinics. 

Oh yeah – I remember now why I don’t trust the bugger.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  04 July 2014

Deprivation Britain: Poverty is getting worse – even among working families, according to major new study

The number of impoverished households has more than doubled in the 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the largest study of deprivation ever conducted in the UK has concluded.

The research found that rises in the cost of living mean a full-time job is no longer enough to prevent some people from falling into poverty. One in every six adults in paid work is now defined as “poor“.

Last night the Government’s poverty tsar Frank Field said the study’s stark findings proved the Coalition’s approach to the problem “isn’t working” and called for the leaders of all political parties to make manifesto pledges to reverse the rise.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion project, based on interviews with more than 14,500 people in Britain and Northern Ireland carried out by eight universities and two research agencies, reported:

  • More than 500,000 children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly
  • 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions
  • 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities
  • About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing

The survey showed that the percentage of UK households which lacked “three or more of the basic necessities of life” has increased from 14 per cent in 1983 (around 3 million), to 33 per cent (around 8.7 million) in 2012, despite the size of the economy doubling in that period. Researchers used the “three or more” formula as it is directly comparable with methods used to study poverty and deprivation in 1983.

Academics said the findings dispelled the myth that poverty is caused by a lack of work or by people shirking work. Almost half the “employed poor” were clocking up 40 hours a week in work or more.

Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, which led the project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said the Government’s strategy of tackling the root causes of poverty had “clearly failed”.

> Arguably, the Government’s strategy has been directed towards increasing the root causes of poverty.

Mr Field, the Labour MP who was tasked by David Cameron to examine poverty in 2010, said the study “sadly emphasises that working doesn’t now eliminate a family’s poverty”.

> Can’t help feeling Field cries crocodile tears… his views on the poor and how to make them suffer even more often seem to rival Iain Duncan Smith‘s.

A DWP spokesman said: “There is strong evidence that incomes have improved over the last 30 years, despite the misleading picture painted by this report. The independent statistics are clear, there are 1.4 million fewer people in poverty since 1998, and under this Government we have successfully protected the poorest from falling behind.”

Unfortunately that spokesman was unnamed.

Read the full story in the Independent

Source –  Benefits & Work,  20 June 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2813-deprivation-britain-poverty-is-getting-worse-even-among-working-families-according-to-major-new-study

Bishop of Durham urges North East to give evidence on food banks

The Bishop of Durham has urged people in the North to provide evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry into food banks when it visits the region next month.

Members of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty will visit South Shields on July 4 to gather evidence into the causes and extent of hunger in Britain and what can be done to alleviate it.

Bishop Paul Butler, who is a long-time supporter of food banks and has clashed with the Government over them, said: “The group is anxious to hear from those who find themselves in food poverty and also from groups and volunteers who are working to try and help through the provision of food assistance.

“This has become a major issue for society and I urge North East people to provide evidence to the inquiry. The group is keen to meet with those who have needed food assistance and those who provide this practical support.

“This is a chance for the North East to inform national decision-making on this crucial issue.”

On July 4, the group will visit the South Tyneside Churches Together Key Project at St Mary’s Centre, Tyne Dock, which provides assistance to young people and those under 25, and also the New Hope Food Bank in South Shields

Later in the afternoon there will be a chance people and groups involved in food banks to provide evidence to the group, which is being chaired by veteran MP Frank Field and the Bishop of Truro, the Right Revd Tim Thornton.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  09 June 2014

Universal Jobmatch Still Riddled With Illegal Unpaid Work

the void

uj-unpaid-work“Not paying the National Minimum Wage is illegal and if an employer breaks the law, government will take tough action,”

“Anyone considered a worker under the law should be paid at least the minimum wage, whether they are an intern, or someone on work experience.”

Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson MP

The Government job-seeking website Universal Jobmatch is still littered with illegal unpaid work despite David Cameron’s claims that companies who fail to pay the minimum wage will be ‘named and shamed’.

Many employers are using the site to offer unpaid work experience roles or internships such as this advertisement calling for”extremely hardworking” graduates to work in exchange for lunch and travel expenses.

Unless unpaid work experience positions form part of a formal Jobcentre scheme they are illegal under minimum wage laws.  The law is very clear and guidance on who is entitled to receive the minimum wage can be…

View original post 420 more words

70,000 Job Seekers’ Benefits Withdrawn Unfairly, Says Thinktank

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Monday 3rd March 2014

Nearly 70,000 job seekers have had their benefits withdrawn unfairly, making them reliant on food banks, the right-of-centre thinktank Policy Exchange has said .

The intervention is the first by a respected rightwing voice claiming that something has gone wrong with the administration of benefits.

A chorus of churches, charities and Labour has been warning the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, for months that the administration of benefit sanctions has become too punitive.

Duncan Smith has commissioned a limited independent review into the administration of sanctions, and this is likely to confirm problems in the way they are imposed, but not challenge their level.

Policy Exchange says almost a third of all people who break their job search conditions for the first time have their benefits taken away by mistake and face unnecessary hardship as a result.

Guy Miscampbell, the author of the Policy Exchange report, said: “It is clear that there are a significant number of people who have their benefit taken away from them unfairly. Four weeks without any money is driving people to desperate measures including a reliance on food banks”.

The report suggests: “With some 874,000 adverse decisions being made between October 2012 and September 2013, and over 146,000 of them being successfully appealed or reconsidered it is clear that the possibility of wrongly applied sanctions, and what their effects might be, is an important one. With some estimates suggesting that 43% of those referred to food banks are there due to benefit stoppage or being refused a crisis loan, it is clear that there is not currently an adequate safety net for those who are wrongly sanctioned”.

The report comes as a public health specialist, Professor Elizabeth Dowler of Warwick University, said that poverty–stricken families who cannot afford to buy sufficient food are overtaking unhealthy eating as the most pressing public health concern.

The claim is made in a BBC Panorama documentary broadcast on Monday evening, which found that over a third of local authorities in England and Wales were providing funding for food banks, despite government claims that charity food is not a part of the social security system. “Food banks are an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound,” Dowler said.

On Sunday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, repeated his criticisms of the welfare system, saying that “some of the priests who are right there on the ground say it comes across as punitive”. He revealed that he was bringing a group of priests together to discuss the evidence, and welcomed the inquiry into food banks being chaired by the archbishop of Truro and Frank Field.

Policy Exchange suggests issuing first-time offenders, who may or may not have been fairly sanctioned, with a ‘yellow card’ in the form of a benefits card. It says this would be a more compassionate way of trying to help people back into work.

Benefits would be accessed via this card for a maximum of eight weeks. If the claimant continues to breach job search conditions, the card and benefits would be taken away. This system would provide a safety net, mitigating hardship while a sanction is appealed, forcing claimants to re-engage with Jobcentre staff and deterring non-compliance through the added inconvenience of daily sign on.

They would also be asked to sign on daily as part of a proposal to create a more compassionate but stricter sanctions regime.

It suggests that repeat offenders should be punished more seriously.

> So its still all sticks and no carrots…

The report also recommends more stringent penalties for people who consistently break the terms of their job search requirements. According to the research, between October 2012 and September 2013 there were 30,000 claimants on their third sanction or more for lower tier offences such as missing an interview with a Jobcentre adviser. Repeat offenders should have their benefits taken away for a longer period of time from 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach. For each offence, a further 13 weeks should be added.

Monday’s Panorama also uncovers evidence that a jobcentre appears to be explicitly alerting its staff to the financial savings to be made through “sanctioning” job seekers when they are judged to have broken benefit conditions.

A wall chart in a Grantham jobcentre explicitly sets out the cash savings available to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) through stopping the benefits of claimants, ranging from £227.20 a week for a four-week sanction to £3,728 for a sanction lasting one year.The DWP told Panorama: “This was an isolated incident and does not reflect our policy on sanctions.”

> And we don’t believe you. 

In a way, its more comforting to believe that they do have targets…otherwise you’d be left with the impression that a large proportion of Jobcentre staff are vicious, sadistic bastards willing to wreck people’s lives on a whim.

Source – Welfare News Service,  03 Mar 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/70000-job-seekers-benefits-withdrawn-unfairly-says-thinktank/