Protesters have attempted to enter the House of Commons chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The group, campaigning against the end of the Independent Living Fund, were prevented from getting in by police.
BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said there had been a “concerted rush” by a group of protesters towards member’s lobby, the room outside the Commons chamber.
A Conservative MP has said stopping payments to benefit claimants is forcing people to food banks – contradicting a Government minister overseeing the crackdown.
Andrew Percy, who represents Brigg and Goole on Humberside, went on to criticise the “consistency” of the benefits sanctions regime and called for a review.
His comments in the House of Commons came minutes after Employment Minster Priti Patel argued there is “no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use”.
Benefit claimants can have their payments suspended or docked if they break the rules, but critics claim many of the breaches are trivial. The Work and Pensions Committee of MPs has twice called for an independent inquiry.
The Trussell Trust charity says a record one million packages were given out by food banks last year.
Mr Percy’s intervention followed the Labour frontbench and two SNP MPs berating the Government for fuelling the need for hand-outs of food parcels.
Thousands of unemployed young people across the North East could be stripped of benefits under tough plans in the Government’s Queen’s Speech.
David Cameron insisted the crackdown was designed to end youth unemployment, as he set out his plans in the House of Commons.
But Labour MPs said the plans effectively meant young people would be forced to work for as little as less than £2 an hour – payment far below the minimum wage.
The North East has the highest youth unemployment rate in England.
Office figures show 21.4 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 are unemployed.
The figures cover people who are “economically active”, which means they are in a job or looking for work. Full-time students are not included.
This is a higher proportion than in any other part of England. It’s also higher than Scotland or Wales, and roughly equal to the Northern Ireland figure of 21.8 per cent.
By contrast, the unemployment rate for people aged 18 to 24 in the south east is 11.4 per cent. And in the West Midlands, it is 16.1 per cent.
Official figures also show that 4,000 people in the North East aged 18 to 24 have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for six months or longer.
But under Government plans, anyone aged 21 or under will lose the right to this benefit – and be put on a new “youth allowance” instead.
They’ll get the same amount of money as before, up to £57.90 a week, but if they are unemployed for six months then they will be given compulsory community work such as making meals for the elderly or working for local charities – and they’ll lose the right to claim benefits if they refuse.
If they will have to work 30 hours a week as expected, that would be a payment of £1.93 for each hour worked, well below the minimum wage of £5.13 for people age 18 to 20 and £6.50 for those older.
The Government says it plans to prepare young people for work and will create 200,000 new apprenticeships in the North East.
And Conservatives point out that the number of people aged 18 to 24 in the North East actually in work has risen by 13,000 over the past year.
David Cameron told the House of Commons: “One of the most important things we can do is give young people the chance of an apprenticeship and the chance of work.
“What we have done is expand apprenticeships and uncapped university places, so that there is no cap on aspiration in our country.
“We now want to go further by saying that every young person should be either earning or learning.
“Leaving school, signing on, getting unemployment benefit, getting housing benefit and opting for a life out of work—that is no choice at all, and that is why we will legislate accordingly.”
And Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, said:
“This Bill will provide assistance to young people to earn and learn, and give them the skills which they need to have a long term future in employment.
“We need to address the skills gap and using apprenticeships will really make a difference to do that.”
Labour Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said:
“If young people are expected to work in order to get benefits then they should be entitled to the minimum wage.
“To tell them to work for £2 an hour is ridiculous. We have legislation which says there is a minimum wage in this country and that should be the minimum level people can expect.”
Conservatives will face a battle over plans to stop people aged 18 to 21 claiming housing benefit – with Labour MPs and other critics warning it will put young people who are forced to leave home because of abuse in danger.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 May 2015
Funerals are becoming so expensive people are burying their dead in the back garden says South Shields’ MP.
Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck claims people are holding “do it yourself” funerals with rising costs putting even a basic service out of many families’ reach.
She made the announcement at the House of Commons this afternoon as she proposed a bill calling for a review of funeral costs and for providers to offer an affordable, simple service.
Mrs Lewell-Buck told MPs:
“People are also turning to alternatives to the traditional funeral. Some are holding do-it-yourself funerals, and even having to bury relatives in their back garden. A number of companies are offering cut-price funerals, including “direct” cremations that have no formal service attached to them.
“Increasingly, bereaved individuals who simply cannot afford a formal service are faced with having to opt for a public health funeral, or what used to be referred to as a pauper’s funeral.”
Research published by Royal London shows that one in five households struggle to afford the cost of a basic funeral. In order to make up the shortfall many take on credit card debt, sell possessions or even turn to payday lenders. The report also shows that funeral costs are rising, with the average service now costing £3,551.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said:
“Funeral poverty is on the rise in Britain, as costs go up while household budgets continue to be stretched. The last thing a bereaved person needs is money worries, but increasingly people are getting in to debt to afford a decent send-off for those they care about.
“People understandably don’t like to talk about these issues, and struggling to pay for a funeral can be an isolating and upsetting experience. That’s why politicians need to speak up about this issue, and why I hope MPs will support my call for a funeral poverty bill.”
> Well, that’s unrestrained capitalism for you. Screw every penny out of you when you’re alive, and death is just another money-making opportunity.
Source – Shields Gazette, 09 Dec 2014
A privately-run jail is using the controversial zero hours contracts to plug gaps in its workforce, a debate in the House of Commons has heard.
HMP Northumberland, which has been described by prison officers as “like a tinderbox”, is using the contracts after cuts stripped away its staff from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery described the measure at the Sodexo-run Category C jail as an “outrage” during a debate on a bill aimed at abolishing the contracts.
“Is my honourable friend aware of the situation at HMP Northumberland, where Sodexo, a French catering company, has privatised the prison and sacked or made redundant more than a third of the work force?
“It does not have enough people to make the prison safe, but it is bringing in people on banked-hours and zero-hours contracts. That is an outrage.”
It comes after a riot at the jail in March and a stash of Class A drugs worth in excess of £100,000 were found last month.
The private members bill, brought by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, is aimed at abolishing zero hours contracts and the debate will continue next week.
MPs heard use of the contracts is rife in the care and hospitality sectors with the average wage of a zero hours worker is £236, – and that this is a figure £246 less than the average worker.
Mr Mearns said:
“Today, I am fighting for the same thing that people of every generation have fought for: the right to decent and secure conditions and terms of employment.
“It is not a great ask. A well-paid and steady job is the bedrock on which people build their lives. It is the starting point for planning for the future, and the platform of stability needed to pay the bills, meet the rent, pay the mortgage and start a family.
“Those are not extravagances, but the minimum that should be available to any person who is prepared to work to pay their way in a wealthy nation such as ours.
“Yet that stability and security is denied to millions of workers in this country. Increasingly, people are finding themselves plagued by job insecurity, not knowing from one day to the next whether they will be working or earning.”
The bill has strong support from North East Labour MPs.
Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, said:
“A constituent who came to see me highlighted just how little economic sense zero-hours contracts make for the taxpayer as well.
“From one week to the next, he may or may not be able to pay his rent and may need housing benefit support.
“That creates a total mess for the support systems that have to provide support to these people on very insecure work contracts. The cost to the taxpayer of sorting out that mess is adding to the problem. Employers need to step up to the mark.”
Conservatives, however, accused Labour MPs of using zero hours contracts themselves.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, denied he was among them, but said Labour-led councils need to do more.
“I absolutely do not use zero-hours contracts. I think part of the problem is that many local authorities do not have tight enough procedures with subcontractors; I would encourage them so to do.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 22 Nov 2014
A campaign against the controversial zero hours contracts will be taken to Parliament by a North MP.
Ian Mearns, who represents the Gateshead constituency for Labour, is proposing a private members’ bill on Friday in the House of Commons in a bid to end the contracts.
He says that the contracts erode workers’ rights and that businesses need to take more responsibility.
The MP’s bill will require employers to treat zero hours contract workers on the same basis as comparable workers on regular working hours contracts.
It would also allow zero hour contract workers who have been employed for 12 weeks to receive a contract for fixed and regular hours and employers to give reasonable notice.
It would mean that if a shift is cancelled with less than 72 hours’ notice then the employee will be paid in full.
The bill would also see that exclusivity clauses are banned so workers would be free to seek additional employment.
It comes as Labour makes wages and zero hours contracts central to their General Election campaign.
> Only because there’s a general election ? Although its good to see some movement on this, its hardly a new problem. It’d be better if things were done because they’re the right things to do, rather than because there’s an election looming. Still, you have to take what you can get…
It also comes just days after leader Ed Miliband took aim at retailer Sports Direct for their use of what he called the “exploitative contracts”.
Labour claims 17,000 of Sports Direct’s 20,000 UK staff are not guaranteed regular hours.
In response the company has said it was reviewing some of its employment procedures.
Defenders of the contracts say they offer employees flexibility.
Ian Mearns said:
“It is downright scandalous and unreasonable for companies such as Sports Direct to employ regular staff on zero hours contracts.
“Zero hours contracts are supposed to be for short-term or seasonal work, but it is clear that they are being used by unscrupulous employers who seem to think that we still live in Victorian times to dodge their responsibilities towards their staff.
“If the Government is serious about wanting to tackle in-work poverty and job insecurity then they will back my Bill to ban the abuse of zero hours contracts this Friday.”
The bill will be debated by MPs on Friday.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 18 Nov 2014
The ‘bedroom tax’ came one step closer to complete abolition today (5 September 2014), after the Tories were defeated in a House Of Commons vote.
Liberal Democrat and Labour MP’s joined forces to deal David Cameron one of his most humiliating defeats so far, by 306 votes to 231.
Under changes introduced by the government in 2013, social housing tenants are required to contribute toward their rent, if they are ‘under-occupying’ their home, through a deduction in the amount of Housing Benefit they can receive. The exact deduction is dependent upon the number of ‘spare bedrooms’ in the property: 14% for one spare bedroom or a 25% deduction in Housing Benefit for two or more.
It’s only the second time the coalition partners have voted against each other and prompted calls for the pact to be broken up immediately. Tory MP accused the Liberal Democrats of being “devious and untrustworthy”, after the party initially voted in favour of the ‘bedroom tax’ when it was first introduced. He angrily declared that the coalition had “officially come to an end”.
Bringing forward the bill, Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George said:
“We have had long enough to tell how these regulations have had an impact. It is quite clear that if we are to ensure that…the vulnerable are properly protected, the rules should be changed so that existing tenants are not penalised when they cannot move into smaller accommodation because this is not available in their locality.”
Virtually every Labour MP was present for today’s crucial vote, said the Shadow Defence Minister Vernon Coaker, and the victory will now path the way for the bill to move to the next stage. The BBC’s parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy said that there was a “fighting chance” the ‘bedroom tax’ could now be completely abolished, before the next general election.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, has reiterated Labour’s pledge to scrap the ‘bedroom tax’, if the party wins an outright majority in next years general election.
“The Government should scrap the hated Bedroom Tax following the overwhelming vote by MPs against the cruel tax on bedrooms today”, she said.
“David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s cruel and unfair Bedroom Tax has hit hundreds of thousands of people across the country causing misery, hardship and forcing families to rely on food banks. If the government won’t ditch the Bedroom Tax, then the next Labour government will.”
> Great that its happened… just a shame that the Lib Dems and Labour only find they had consciences when there’s a general election in the offing. Earlier action might have saved a lot of heartache for many people.
Source – Welfare News Service, 05 Sept 2014
Controversial plans to build a new McDonald’s fast food outlet near Newcastle’s biggest school are to be raised in the House of Commons.
Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, a former pupil of the school affected, Kenton, is taking the step as she is so outraged at the prospect of it being sited there.
The two-storey ‘drive thru’ outlet is planned for Kenton Lane on the site of the old Crofters Lodge pub, sparking huge controversy.
Despite 221 objections put to Newcastle City Council, and two online e-petitions signed by nearly 600 people against the scheme, officers have recommended that planning committee members grant the application at a meeting on Friday.
Ms Onwurah said:
“I’ll be raising it in the Commons on Monday at Department for the Communities and Local Government questions.
“If it gets approval, I’ll be asking Secretary of State Eric Pickles why councils can’t take proper account of strength of local feeling.
“If planning permission is refused and I certainly hope it is, McDonald’s may think of appealing. If it is allowed then the planning process will have failed. In either case I want too know where this puts the Government’s so called localism agenda.”
McDonald’s claim the scheme will help create 75 jobs and generate £1.9m for the local economy.
However, since the plan became public Kenton School, which has 2,000 pupils, parents and local residents have strenuously objected to it.
Their concerns are about increased traffic on an already busy road, litter, noise, anti-social behaviour and public health issues.
With the country in the middle of an obesity crisis amongst the young, and Newcastle having some of the worst figures for it, there are fears that having a fast food outlet near a school could make the situation worse.
In their report, planners said litter teams, acoustic screens and control of its opening and delivery times will keep noise and litter issues under control.
They also said the existing highway network will be able to cope with increased traffic while the council’s ‘Draft Core Strategy’ which seeks to control the location of, and access to, unhealthy eating outlets don’t justify refusing the proposal on public health grounds.
Ms Onwurah said:
“Obesity is a danger to our children’s future. I really don’t understand how the officers came to their conclusion.
“There is a McDonald’s already close by in Kingston Park, a commercial area, and that’s fine.
“This is a cynical attempt to grab a new market in an area close to a school.”
“I am calling for Newcastle City Council and McDonald’s to respect the views of the residents of Kenton and Kenton School which are overwhelmingly against the proposals because of the impact it will have on their environment.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Sept 2014
The economic development agency responsible for backing 40,000 businesses across the North East has been criticised for not having a chief executive three months after its previous leader announced he was leaving.
The lack of leadership at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) means it is “barely functional”, an MP has claimed.
City of Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods told the Commons that the failure of the LEP was undermining efforts to bring more jobs to the region, though it last night insisted it was working hard to create more and better jobs.
The agency has not begun considering candidates to replace Edward Twiddy, a former deputy director at the Treasury who became the LEP’s chief executive but announced in mid-April that he was quitting in order to join a new digital bank.
The LEP is currently overseen by Helen Golightly, the chief operating officer, and chairman Paul Woolston, a former senior partner at PwC North East.
Along with neighbouring LEP Tees Valley Unlimited, the North East LEP was set up by the Coalition government to replace the regional development agency.
Ministers said the new organisations would be more local and led by businesses, allowing them to help the local economy.
But Labour MPs such as Mrs Blackman-Woods opposed the abolition of the regional development agency, and warn that the new bodies lack resources.
Speaking in the House of Commons, she also criticised a flagship Government scheme called the Regional Growth Fund, which provides grants to businesses. Up to £109m in funding allocated to the North East has not yet been handed over to firms,
The last Labour Government had encouraged firms such as Hitatchi to invest in the region, she said, adding: “There is a real contrast between all that under Labour and having a local enterprise partnership in the area that is barely functional – it does not have a chief executive or even a deputy chief executive at the moment – and a regional growth fund that operates a scattergun approach.
“Most of the money allocated to the region is not drawn down in any case. According to a recent report by the National Audit Office, most of the funds remains unspent, while the cost of creating jobs has increased considerably, but Ministers are taking no action to tackle this set of concerns.”
LEP chair Paul Woolston said: “Creating more and better jobs for the North East remains our top priority. We have set some ambitious targets and are working hard to achieve these.”
He added: “Through our North East Investment Fund we have provided around £38m loan funding to projects across the North East with an additional £30m of funding anticipated in the next year.
“We were chosen to develop one of three skills pilots in the country which will implement a new skills funding model, and we are currently recruiting for innovation board members to help establish the North East as an exemplar in smart specialisation and open innovation.
“Whilst we are in the process of recruiting for a new chief executive, following the departure of Edward Twiddy last month, our chief operating officer Helen Golightly is providing strong leadership, working closely with board members and partners to drive forward our plans for economic growth.
“We recognise there is still a lot to do, but we are on the right track and I am confident that we will succeed.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 12 June 2013
Parts of Teesside risk being “overwhelmed by cuts and closures” to NHS services, a Labour MP told the House of Commons.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop blasted government cuts to local NHS services in a Queens Speech health debate in the House of Commons on Monday.
He said he used the debate as a way of showing how badly NHS cuts were affecting his constituency and said: “Over the space of a few weeks from this April my constituency has been overwhelmed by a perfect storm of cuts and closures pushed through by NHS England and the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).”
He said Skelton faced losing one of its GP practices, a nurse practitioner clinic and the attached pharmacy, which served socially deprived areas with “grave” health needs.
The fact the CCG was also looking at ending minor injuries provision at East Cleveland and Guisborough Hospitals, and threatening the closure of the GP surgery at Park End, in Middlesbrough, were additional “threats“, he said.
“The cumulative impact of these cuts and closures will increase the likelihood of people going to A&E at James Cook University Hospital, even when this is not appropriate” he added.
“When that A&E has struggled to cope with demand over recent years, these cuts are a false economy.“
He had sought meetings with government ministers to explore alternatives but said these were rebuffed.
A spokesman for NHS South Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “At the end of April 2014, NHS South Tees CCG launched a public consultation that focuses on proposals to improve community services for vulnerable people, the elderly and those with long-term health conditions.
Minor injury services at Guisborough and East Cleveland treated between two-ten people per day compared to 60 at similar services, according to CCG figures.
“Urgent care, including minor injury services, will be provided from Redcar Primary Care Hospital,” he added.
People are being urged to attend a public drop-in event tomorrow (Wednesday, June 11″) at the Freebrough Enterprise Centre in Brotton from 5.30pm to 7pm.
More events are planned in Guisborough, Middlesbrough and Redcar. More details are on southteesccg.nhs.uk or on 01642-745318.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 June 2014