Over a year ago we published an article Could claimants choose the next government? looking at the fact that working age claimants hold the balance of power in enough marginal seats to potentially decide who governs Britain at the next election, and yet they are treated by politicians with such contempt that you might imagine they had no vote at all.
The contempt has not lessened, but with an election just 100 days away the chance for claimants to exercise their influence is drawing near.
Below are series of bar charts, looking at a largely random selection of marginal seats – though most are currently held by the Conservatives and Lib Dems. We have compared the majorities at the next election with the working age claimant count in the constituency.
In some seats, such as East Dunbartonshire, claimants would be hard pressed to single-handedly wrest control from the current MP.
But in many others, such as Cardiff North, claimants have overwhelmingly superior strength of numbers.
The big question now is not whether claimants can make a difference to who wins the general election, but whether they will choose to.
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Source – Benefits & Work, 27 Jan 2015
A man who turned drug dealer when the family’s benefits were stopped has been spared jail.
Anthony Howe was caught red handed when undercover officers spotted him selling cannabis to a customer on the street in Plains Farm, Sunderland, last June.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the 39-year-old had been selling £10 deals, and still had 10 wraps in a bag he was carrying, along with £90 in cash.
Howe, of Besford Grove, Hendon, Sunderland, admitted possessing a Class B drug with intent to supply.
He has two previous convictions for drug dealing, the last one being in 2010.
Prosecutor Jessica Slaughter told the court two plain clothes detectives had noticed Howe approaching a man who had been acting suspiciously in Borough Road.
Miss Slaughter said: “The defendant approached this male and they effectively observed a drug deal.
“Ten pounds was passed over and the defendant took a small bag out of a larger bag from his left pocket.”
The court heard when Howe’s phone was seized it contained messages which linked him to dealing.
Vic Laffey, defending, said:
“He lives with his partner and they have a number of children.
“What instigated the offence was she was investigated, and is still in the process of being investigated, for benefit fraud. As a result the benefits were stopped. They had no income at all.
“That is what led to him taking the step of reverting to something he has been involved in in the past.
“It was a financial decision because of lack of money and the fact the benefits had been stopped altogether.”
Mr Recorder Andrew Baker, QC, sentenced Howe to 15 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with supervision.
The judge told him: “You were, in effect, caught red handed dealing in the street, small wraps of cannabis for £10.
“If your issues are not addressed, I am satisfied you will offend again.
“With your record, this really is your last chance to keep yourself out of custody.”
A would-be councillor says he is too scared to leave the house after claiming a gang of youths stole his megaphone and attacked him while he was out campaigning.
David Lawson is standing in Sunderland’s Hendon ward in tomorrow’s local elections for the Green Party.
The 50-year-old was canvassing in the area’s Gray Road on Monday evening when he said he was kicked and punched by three teenagers.
Unemployed Mr Lawson said: “I was out canvassing. I was on Gray Road, when someone asked me which party I was from.
“I said Green Party, then he told me to give him my megaphone.
“As I turned around, three other men came from nowhere, jumped on me and kicked me.
“They all attacked me, so I was knocking on doors asking for help, but no-one would help me.
“They said if they got the police, their windows would go through.”
He was eventually helped by a woman who was getting into her car in the road.
She used her mobile to call the police, who went to the street and spoke to the youths.
They made them give Mr Lawson his megaphone back, but didn’t make any arrests.
Mr Lawson, who has lived in Hendon all his life, considered pulling out of the elections, but has now changed his mind.
However, he has vowed it will be the last time he stands for election.
He added: “I’ve only been with the Green Party for a couple of months.
“I wanted to help the community.”
Mr Lawson praised the police for arriving quickly after his rescuer called 999.
He did not need any medical treatment, but added: “I’m too scared to leave the house on my own.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said no further action would be taken against those accused of upsetting Mr Lawton.
She said: “At 6.20pm on Monday night, police were informed that a group of youths had taken a megaphone from a man, while he was in Gray Road in Hendon.
“Officers attended and spoke to the man involved.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 21 May 2014
By-election under way to replace Labour councillor Lisa Smiles, after her resignation following a benefits fraud conviction left the St Anne’s ward a member down.
Four candidates – representing the Green Party, UKIP, Labour and the Conservative Party – will compete for the role on March 27.
Voters have until Tuesday to register with Sunderland City Council, while applications to vote by post must be received by 5pm on Wednesday
Emily Blyth will contest the seat for the Green Party. The 30-year-old full-time University of Sunderland student and community musician has lived in South Hylton all her life and says she is proud of the area.
She said: “My main priorities would be doing what I can to protect our most vulnerable residents from cuts to vital services, and likewise seeking to support an inclusive community for people of all backgrounds.
“At times of economic difficulty it’s all too easy to scapegoat the poor, the disabled, the migrants, and there are plenty of voices doing that, when in reality such groups are the hardest hit by the destructive cuts agenda.
“I’m also passionate about keeping the NHS in public hands, and for our public transport system to be run in the best interests of passengers, not corporations.”
UKIP candidate Aileen Casey, 58, is a mum-of-two, who lives in Springwell. She is a youth worker who is passionate about supporting young people.
Aileen said: “Labour councillors have held their safe seats for decades. Many people don’t vote because there hasn’t been a real choice or they vote the same way as their parents or grandparents have done.
“Things need to change in Sunderland. Voting for UKIP is the only way to bring about these long overdue changes and to ensure that the wishes of the local people are carried out.
“The current Labour administration just follows the diktats of their London based Party leaders. Elected UKIP councillors always put local residents before Party doctrine.”
Labour’s Jacqui Gallagher lives in Thorney Close. She is a life-long trade unionist who has represented Unison at Sunderland City Council for more than 10 years.“I have worked in children’s services my whole career, dealing with some of the most difficult cases and making a positive difference in some families lives, that has held me in great job satisfaction.
“Over this time I have gained a great insight into how the council works and still have many connections at the city council. I feel that this experience and my training and knowledge of representing people as a union rep gives me a unique advantage over the other candidates in this election to represent the people of St Anne’s ward on the city council.
“I would ask for votes because having brought my family up on a large council estate using the local services myself, I have a clear insight into benefits or problems associated with our way of life. If I am trusted with the community’s vote I promise to work tirelessly for the people within the St Anne’s ward.”
Former opposition leader Tony Morrissey will contest the seat for the Conservatives. The 42-year-old, who lives in Hendon, came to Sunderland from County Cork in the 1990s.
Tony served in the Territorial Army and saw active service in Iraq during the Gulf war. Until 2012 Tony represented the Barnes ward.
“I’m running to give residents a serious alternative to Labour,” Tony said. “The council needs a wake-up call. With the help of the voters of St Anne’s I intend giving them exactly that.”
•Anyone who is not registered or would like further information, should call Electoral Services at Sunderland City Council on 0191 561 1144 or contact email@example.com.
> No Lib Dems ? Still maybe not their strongest area ( in 2008 their candidate finished last, behind the BNP) and they probably don’t want any more humiliations right now.
You’d think it’d be a fairly safe Labour seat, but it’ll be interesting to see how UKIP fare.
I’m not 100% sure of the boundaries of St Anne’s ward, but only the Green Party candidate actually seems to live in it.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 10 March 2014
Despite grassroots protests, including occupation of threatened buildings, by Hands Off Sunderland Libraries, nine libraries across Sunderland have been closed by the city council, in a bid to save 850,000 pounds.
The libraries affected are those at Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, Southwick and Washington Green.
Coun. John Kelly, portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture: “This is a very emotive subject and we recognise the strength of people’s feelings.
“As I’ve said before, we probably wouldn’t have gone down this route if the council didn’t need to make 110 million pounds savings as a result of cuts from central government. The fact is the library service needs to save 850,000 pounds, so we have had to look at changing how we do things as budgets continue to be cut and resources become ever more stretched.
“As councillors, we have to make difficult decisions . Had savings not been made here, they may have had to fall on children’s or adults services.
“But I firmly believe that the new library service will be much more flexible to fit in with people’s needs and will result in better services reaching more people across a wider range of locations.”
Eh ? How does closing public services across a wide range of locations reach more people across those same locations ? I suspect the only flexibility resulting will be the closed service users, who’ll have to be a lot more flexible to find an open library.
How much will be saved really ? Has any account been taken of vacant buildings needing to be maintained, books and equipment to be mothballed, staff who lose their jobs ?
“Had savings not been made here, they may have had to fall on children’s or adults services.” A nice attempt at emotional blackmail, but what exactly are libraries if not children and adult services ?
And should it be either/or anyway ? We know only too well about the nature of the current national government, but Sunderland City Council is Labour controlled. Shouldn’t they – and other Labour controlled councils – be providing, you know, opposition ? Getting together and going head-to-head with the government perhaps ? Making a moral stand ?
We’ve been promised years more austerity, whoever wins the next general election. Now the process has been started, which libraries will be next ?
As noted in no less an organ than Private Eye (#1349) –
Sunderland library chiefs have some handy advice on what can replace local libraries facing closure.
“Because of Facebook, because of gadgets, we dont need libraries the way we used to when I was 15,” Cllr Graeme Miller told a public meeting, which agreed proposals for the closure of nine libraries to save #850,000 a year.
Quite apart from how completely un-useful Facebook is for most homework, research or reading for pleasure, Sunderland is part of the UK region with the highest concentration of people off-line, with a recent survey finding only 42% of less well off people in the city had online access from any type of “gadget”, including computers, smart phones and so on.
Hands Off Sunderland Libraries on Facebook at –