The Government has been accused of cruelty and running a ‘postcode lottery for benefits‘ after it emerged a rural district had by far the highest proportion nationally of Jobseekers Allowance claimants being sanctioned.
A report by homelessness charity Crisis said 15.4 per cent of jobseekers in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, had been sanctioned, making claimants there three times more likely to have their benefits stopped than in its southern Yorkshire Dales neighbour Craven.
It found just 6.2 per cent of claimants in Richmondshire’s northern neighbour Durham had been sanctioned, while 10.9 per cent of claimants in Hambleton had had their benefits stopped, giving that area the tenth highest rate of sanctions in the country.
Crisis said evidence was mounting of “a punitive and deeply flawed regime”.
In 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced sanctions of between one week and three years if a claimant fails to comply with jobseeking requirements, such as attending interviews or undertaking work-related activity.
Senior pastor Ben Dowding, of the Store House foodbank, in Richmond, said he was surprised the area had topped the national sanctions table and that staff at the town’s Jobcentre – the only Jobcentre in the district – had often demonstrated compassion rather than being strict on claimants.
> Although presumably not so compassionate that they don’t keep sending his foodbank customers.
“Statistics only tell one side of the story, but having worked with the Jobcentre staff, they have always proved to be very caring individuals.”
Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said he believed the area’s high sanction rate reflected jobseekers’ problems reaching the Jobcentre or work, adding that it took claimants in Hawes five hours of travelling and waiting to sign on in Richmond and return home.
A DWP spokesman said Jobcentre staff took claimants’ personal circumstances into account and said there could be a number of factors that had led to Richmondshire having the highest proportion of sanctions.
He said: “Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who refuse to take up the support which is on offer.”
> As ever, the only people not asked for their opinion appear to be the unemployed, especially those who have been sanctioned. However, the original story received this comment:
When claimants apply for jobs it goes on a jobsite how many . My daughter applied for 17 one day but only 2 registered she took a picture of the jobs she had applied.
The next signing on Richmond said you only applied for 2 jobs – she said no look at this picture proving I applied for 17. So the system was not working correct but guess what sanctioned.
The staff at Richmond must be on good bonuses.
Source – Northern Echo, 11 Mar 2015
Job Centres in the region are among the first in the country to take part in the national roll out of the Government’s new Universal Credit, which began today (Monday, February 16).
Universal Credit, designed to get people into work more quickly and making it easier for them to earn more, has started in 15 areas, including Hambleton, Ryedale, Hartlepool and York.
Initially the credit, which merges six working-age benefits into one, is being rolled out only for new claims from single people who would otherwise have been eligible for jobseekers allowance, including those with existing housing benefit and working tax credit claims.
At Northallerton Job Centre today there was confusion over how it will work. One single parent, who gave her name as Julie, said she had been told nothing about it.
“It could possibly be a good idea, rather than having separate benefits and dealing with different departments,” she said.
“But I have been told nothing about this, and how it will work. I want to get back to work and I am studying at the moment so if it helps me to get back to work that’s good. But information would be a big help too.”
Another 19-year-old man who is currently claiming jobseekers allowance said he was also in the dark.
A pilot scheme has been tried out in the North-West, which the Government said had been a success
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:
“The evidence shows that under Universal Credit, people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security.
“It is very impressive that we have seen these results so soon and that this is having a real impact on people’s lives. This is a cultural change which will alter the landscape of work for a generation.”
But Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said no one believed the promises that the new system would work.
“Labour wants universal credit to work and we’ll call in the National Audit Office to do an immediate review of this failing programme to get a grip of the spiralling waste and delays.”
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Feb 2015
A widening pay gap between the region and the rest of the country has emerged, alongside a pay fall for the nation as a whole this year.
According to the Northern think tank, IPPR North, real wages have fallen in the past few years in the North-East and North Yorkshire, where workers are generally earning less than the national average.
Between 2009 and 2013 real annual wages have fallen three per cent in the North-East (£740) and five per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber (£1,249.)
Over the same period, the cost of living has risen sharply across the nation.
Social research charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) say the cost of goods and services has gone up 28 per cent since 2008.
Luke Raikes, a researcher with IPPR North said:
“Low pay is a severe and growing problem for both the North East and for Yorkshire and the Humber, as it is for the country as a whole.”
“Workers in the area earn less per hour: nationally the average wage is £13.13, but in North East it’s £12.14, and in Yorkshire and the Humber it’s £12.”
The news has come during Living Wage week, where it was revealed one in every four workers is earning less than the living wage in the region, which now stands at £7.85 an hour.
In the North-East, the average hourly pay in Middlesbrough was the lowest, at £11.05 per hour and the highest was in Stockton-on-Tees, where it worked out at £13.29 per hour.
It comes as a report show a national pay fall. Wages have been “dragged down” this year because of changing trends in the workforce, including younger and less experienced employees, according to a new study.
The Resolution Foundation think tank said a downward shift in the mix of occupations towards lower-paying jobs has prevented 2014 from being the year of the pay rise.
But some of this was due to increase employment; changes which led to reduced earnings growth include fewer managerial jobs, rising youth employment and increasing numbers of people starting a job.
> Or, as a comment to the original article pointed out :
It also appears to be due to a cultural change in companies pushing their luck with employees. They know there are less skilled jobs available allowing them to cut wages, implement pay freezes and cut benefits such as pensions. This is definitely the case with my employer. I cant see this changing in a hurry. My employers regularly state if you don’t like it, you know where the door is! Inflation continues, my wage increase doesn’t.
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Nov 2014
It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.
And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.
Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bible’ Wisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.
Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.
Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.
“It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.
“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.
“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”
Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.
> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ? Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.
And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.
“It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.
In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.
There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.
Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.
As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.
“They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.
“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”
The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.
Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.
> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.
Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.
Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.
Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.
In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.
Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.
To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.
> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.
“He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.”
Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”
He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.
“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.”
* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.
> Sounds like another “intellectual” telling people what they should be doing.
People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.
Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire. If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014
Housebuilding has collapsed in most of the region – despite Government claims of a “success story”.
The number of ‘affordable homes’ being built has fallen in 13 of 17 areas since the Coalition came to power, after housing programmes were axed.
And it has plunged sharply in many areas, including in Hartlepool (down 62.5 per cent), Middlesbrough (down 59.1 per cent) and Stockton-on-Tees (down 54.5 per cent).
The lack of new homes is even more acute in North Yorkshire, in Hambleton (down 76.9 per cent), Ryedale (down 66.7 per cent) and York (down 85.2 per cent).
In Richmondshire, not a single affordable home – those available at lower rents, or for shared ownership – was completed in 2013-14.
Yet, in 2010-11, the year the Coalition came to power, 60 were built, the official figures show.
Only South Tyneside, where 1,050 affordable homes were completed last year, bucked the trend, cutting the decline across the region to 15.3 per cent.
Last week, the department for communities and local government (DCLG) claimed its record on affordable housing since 2010 was a “clear success story”.
But ministers totted up four years’ of figures to reach that tally – and the statistics for previous years reveal a different story.
Rachel Fisher, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, said: “It is nowhere near enough.
“Demand is still far exceeding supply. England needs around 240,000 new homes a year. We need to build more of the right homes, in the right place, at the right price.”
Emma Reynolds, for Labour, said: “We have repeatedly called for action on housing supply, particularly on the need for more affordable homes, but this government has failed to act.
“Under David Cameron, the number of homes built has fallen to the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s.”
The chronic shortage of housing is an issue rising up the political agenda, with hundreds of thousands of families languishing on council waiting lists.
Meanwhile, town halls remain barred from borrowing money to build homes, as the Government relies on the private sector to step in.
But Kris Hopkins, the housing minister said: “Our affordable house-building efforts are a clear success story, with nearly 200,000 new affordable homes delivered since April 2010.
“It means families have new homes available to them, whether to rent at an affordable rate or to buy through our shared ownership schemes.”
Across England, 41,654 affordable homes were built last year – well down on the 53,172 in the year before the last general election.
Source – Northern Echo, 20 June 2014
Campaigners are calling for four councils to “get around a table” and discuss moving Yarm into Yorkshire.
It comes after voters in the market town gave an emphatic “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council.
More than 89% of voters who took part in a poll on Tuesday over the future of Yarm’s local administration said they would prefer the town to be under Hambleton’s control.
Only around 11% favoured staying under Stockton Council.
The Yarm 4 Yorkshire campaign claim Stockton Council has ignored people over issues such as parking and housing.
Stockton Council said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the results of the poll until Yarm Town Council had an opportunity “to fully consider the results” or the Boundary Commission asked it “to look into the matter further”.
But one of the organisers of the poll, Chris Johnson, said it was time for the four councils who would be involved in any transfer – Stockton, Yarm, North Yorkshire and Hambleton – to get together “and work out what, if any process, would be done”.
One of the campaigners admitted today they did not even know if Yarm would be better off in Hambleton.
But Mr Johnson explained: “The way forward now would be for the four councils to sit down around the table. Those details would then come out. This is just the first step on the way.”
He said they had also contacted the Local Government Boundary Commission for England in the hope that the “resounding result” would indicate to them “a failing of democracy”.
The result is not legally binding as Government consent would be needed for the town to be transferred to North Yorkshire
Critics say the proposal is unlikely to be introduced.
The turnout for the poll, which was funded by Yarm Town Council and organised by officials from Stockton Council was 25%.
The chair of Yarm Town Council, Peter Monck, branded the poll “a waste of time”, saying: “You can’t claim a victory when 75% didn’t vote. At £4,000 it’s not a good use of council money at all.
“If Stockton Council say they aren’t going to do anything, that’s it – it won’t go any further.
“Even if Stockton Council were to agree to it, it’s a long drawn out process, Hambleton would have to agree and then it would go to the Boundary Commission.”
Labour Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook, said: “For our part, we would reiterate that Stockton Borough Council delivers a huge range of very high quality services from which all of our residents can benefit, no matter where they live.
“Residents’ surveys consistently reveal these services enjoy very high satisfaction levels which show the majority of residents value and appreciate the council’s contribution.
“Of course, like all councils there are times when we have to make difficult decisions and we absolutely understand that people have strong views on issues such as parking and on planning applications for new houses.
“These issues would have to be addressed by whichever local authority had responsibility for Yarm.”
Yarm borough councillor Andrew Sherris, Conservative, said: “We need an open and honest debate with all the information presented on a level playing field without any of the political interference experienced recently with hundreds of letters being sent out to residents.
“The level and quality of service delivery is paramount, particularly for the elderly and more vulnerable members of our Community.”
UKIP councillor Mark Chatburn added: “Critics of this will point to the fact that four out of five residents in Yarm either voted ‘no’ or didn’t even bother to vote. Put in those terms it sounds less convincing than the polling results would suggest.”
James Wharton, MP for Stockton South, said of the result: “People are clearly fed up with Stockton Council riding roughshod over Yarm. This result should act as a wake up call and our Labour run council needs to listen or they will lose ever more support.”
Louise Baldock Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Stockton South, said the result “came as no surprise”, but added: “I am concerned that people as yet know nothing about what a move into a different council authority would mean for the delivery of vital services.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 May 2014
Thornaby has become the second town to decide on an official poll to determine if residents want to leave Stockton Borough Council.
Yarm for Yorkshire campaigners will hold their referendum on Tuesday (MAY 27). Meanwhile, a group of about 15 dissatisfied residents asked Thornaby Town Council on Tuesday to consider doing the same.
But in Thornaby the town council took a more long-term approach, with a steering group being set up to consider all the issues and decide on a question for the referendum by post, which would be held within 12 months.
Neither poll would be legally binding but campaigners hope they will ensure Stockton Borough Council and the government see the strength of feeling in the south of the borough.
The Thornaby steering group will look at all options, whether it is becoming part of North Yorkshire, joining Middlesbrough or forming a new authority south of the river.
Terry Chapman, one of the campaigners behind the Thornaby for Yorkshire poll, said after the meeting: “Residents are angry that they are overlooked, that the council agreed more gypsy sites in Thornaby than anywhere else in the borough, and that the town council had to pay £100,000 to the council to buy Thornaby Town Hall when it should have just been given to the town.
Steve Walmsley, a Thornaby Independent councillor on both Thornaby town and Stockton borough councils, said a long-term, more inclusive poll was needed as Stockton Council would be able to ignore a poll with a poor turnout.
He said he was personally against joining Hambleton as its centre, in Northallerton, was too far away and he considered it had a “poor record.”
He added: “This is a consultation, referendum, call it what you want, but we want to take our time and make sure no-one is excluded. If we have it near to next year’s council elections it may have more impact on Stockton council.”
In Yarm, Tuesday’s poll will cost about £4,000 to the town council. No postal votes will be accepted and polling cards will not be issued in the election, which has been organised by Stockton Borough Council and will see polling stations open for just four hours.
Source – Northern Echo, 23 May 2014