Tagged: Local Government Association

Tory councils tell Osborne “No more cuts!”

Order Of Truth

torynomorecutsIt appears that even stanch Conservatives have had enough of the inner-circle of government’s ‘austerity’ measures.

In an unusual move, Conservative led local authorities have formed an alliance with Labour and LibDem led authorities to tell Osborne enough is enough.

The Conservative controlled Local Government Association (LGA) said in a letter to the Observer that they have already imposed cuts of 40% since 2010 and can not afford more cuts.

They state that any further cuts will have more serious ramifications for community life and social care and will have a knock-on effect on other services such as the NHS,

“Councils have worked hard to shield residents from the impact of funding cuts. However, efficiencies cannot be remade or buildings resold,” they say.

“Further local government funding reductions over the next five years are not an option. The new government must consider the consequences that further funding cuts, without radical…

View original post 402 more words

Cutting Local Welfare Schemes Would Make Tens Of Thousands Homeless

Thousand of people could be made homeless if government funding for local welfare schemes is removed, warns the Local Government Association (LGA).

New research from the LGA reveals that local welfare assistance schemes have helped a staggering 94,000 people at risk of becoming or remaining homeless.

Councils say the Government’s £172 million annual funding for these schemes provides ‘vital support’ to families at risk of losing their homes. Removal of the funding would mean crucial support may no longer be available to tens of thousands of people.

Over a quarter of local welfare spending was used to help people facing potential homelessness in 2013/14.

If councils are forced to reduce the amount they spend on local welfare schemes, due to Government funding cuts, an estimated 50,000 people would be at increased risk of life on the streets.

The Government’s decision to end funding for local welfare ‘safety net’ schemes in April would be an ‘expensive mistake’ and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, warns the LGA.

LGA analysis shows that for every £1 spent on local welfare, more than £2 is saved by helping people avoid becoming homeless. According to the LGA, providing accommodation to those at increased risk of homelessness would cost taxpayers an additional £380 million per year.

Local welfare schemes were introduced in 2013 to replace crisis loans and community care grants. The LGA says the schemes have offered a helping hand to hundreds of thousands of people facing crisis or entering a time of transition. This includes people at risk of becoming homeless, providing food to struggling families and helping care leavers find accommodation for the very first time.

Crisis support and community grants have been funded by central Government since 1987. The final decision of whether or not to scrap funding in 2015/16 will be made by Government ministers next month.

Council leaders and charities are urging the Government to reconsider the decision to terminate funding for local welfare assistance schemes.

Local authorities have already seen their overall funding slashed by 40% since 2010 and argue they would unable subsidise local welfare support.

Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the LGA, said:

“Local welfare funding has been used by councils to provide crucial support to people facing personal crises in their lives and prevent problems from escalating.

“This money has helped keep a roof over the heads of thousands of people facing the threat of losing their homes. In doing so it has also saved the public purse many millions more which would have to have been spent finding new homes for people who lose their own.

“Government’s decision to withdraw this funding is an expensive mistake which will not only lead to a reduction in support for those who need it most, it will also cost taxpayers millions more in the long run.

“Local safety net schemes have been funded by government for almost 30 years. At a time when councils are tackling the biggest cuts in living memory, many local areas simply cannot afford to keep these schemes going if government withdraws the funding.

“Government should not renege from its responsibility to those in most need. It needs to review this decision and fully fund local welfare.”

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of the housing charity Crisis, said:

“For people facing or trying to escape homelessness, Local Welfare Assistance can be the final safety net – a small amount of money that makes a huge difference at a time of crisis.

“Today’s report clearly shows the damage that will be done if this funding is cut. On top of the human cost of homelessness, it makes absolutely no economic sense.

“Homelessness shatters lives and it is hugely expensive for the state to pick up the pieces. We stand alongside the LGA and others in urging the Government to rethink its decision to cut this vital lifeline.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly, 29 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/cutting-local-welfare-schemes-make-tens-thousands-homeless/

Hidden impact of welfare reform concerns Northumberland council

> Another example of local politicians finally catching up with what’s going on. It’s good they’re finally getting the picture, but would have been much better had they noticed over the last 5 years how things were going. Still, I suppose there wasn’t a general election coming up before now…

Councillors have expressed concern over the hidden impacts of welfare reform in Northumberland.

They have pledged to do whatever they can, within their powers, to help and support residents who are affected.

The Government’s ongoing reforms to the welfare system are the most fundamental change to the benefit system since World War Two and are intended to deliver multi-billion pound savings.

However evidence shows that in Northumberland, workers on low incomes and people with a disability are likely to be most affected.

While much of the national focus has been on high profile changes such as the introduction of bedroom tax, two of the most significant issues for Northumberland are the introduction of a 1% cap on working age benefit and changes to the Disability Living Allowance.

Recent research from the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals that the introduction of a 1% cap on tax credits will mean a drop in income for anyone claiming benefits with over half of those affected being in low paid employment.

In Northumberland 32,500 residents will lose on average £823 per household, per year, equating to a total of £26.7million in cuts to the county.

Reflecting the county’s ageing population and industrial past Northumberland also has a higher than average number of households that are likely to be affected by the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance.

The prediction from the LGA study is that 10,000 people in the county will be affected, with an estimated average loss of £724 per year. This will put the county into the top 20% of local authorities to be hit hardest by this particular reform.

Council leader Grant Davey said:

“One of central government’s aims in introducing these reforms was to incentivise work, yet 60% of the losses fall on working households, in particular those on low wages.

“In Northumberland we have a high number of people working in low paid, seasonal jobs who are trying to make an honest living, yet it is these people who are going to feel the brunt of the changes.

“While we cannot change these reforms, we have been working hard behind the scenes to put measures in place to support residents who are affected by them.”

The county council is working to ensure everyone has the entitlements they are eligible for and that monetary advice is available through the support it gives to Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.

The council has also set itself a long-term target to help generate 10,000 new jobs in the county by 2031 by working with local employers, improving education standards, skills training, and job market links. The council’s employability and skills service also delivers a range of support to help get people back into work.

Councillor Scott Dickinson, chair of the county’s Health & Wellbeing board said:

“There is growing evidence locally and nationally that increased financial hardship can lead to ill health, family break-down and social problems which can in turn place greater demands on families, communities and a whole range of public services.

> There is growing evidence ? ! You mean it wasn’t fairly obvious that those were the likely result right from the start ? Something top-level Tories, I’m beginning to believe, well understood and that’s why they’ve pushed them. Social engineering through poverty.

“Given that the reforms are being introduced incrementally means their full impact will not be felt for some time. There is however real concern about the effects these changes will have on residents and the additional pressures placed on local services. It is a situation we are very aware of and one we are working closely with other councils in the region to monitor.”

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  28 Jan 2015

Northumberland County Council members accused of ‘undesirable’ behaviour

County councillors in Northumberland have been accused of “undesirable” behaviour by their peers and of not putting the best interests of residents first.

Some members of Labour-run Northumberland County Council also admit to having “no interest” in the authority and are “distracted by negativity,” a report by officers and members of other local authorities has found.

The report claims the behaviour of some members is “not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere” in which to operate and calls on them to behave in a more “statesman-like” fashion.

> Bloody hell ! Anyone who has ever heard what goes on at Westminster will be now wondering just how bad things must be here !

On the back of the findings, the council’s senior officer said it referred to a number of “misleading claims” which damaged the authority’s reputation such as that its planned new headquarters will cost £40m and that a £20,000 car bought for use by its chairman is a Limousine.

An opposition councillor at the authority accused leaders of issuing outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements and intemperate blog posts.

They hit back saying their critic appeared “hell bent” on proving the report’s findings right.

 

 The conduct of members comes under fire in a Local Government Associationpeer challenge’ of the authority, in which it is visited and assessed by the council by senior officers and councillors from other local authorities around the country.

They concluded:

“There are concerns that not all elected members from all political groups appear to put the best interests of Northumberland residents first, either in their interactions with other elected members, or how they engage with the council more broadly.

“Put bluntly, there are some undesirable member behaviours which are detrimental to the council operating effectively, having a negative effect on its external reputation and internal functioning.

“Increasing tensions and increased media opportunities are to a degree somewhat inevitable as politicians become focused on the 2015 general election, but councillors need to remember that they are the external face of Northumberland County Council and campaigns in the media can be detrimental to everyone and the council’s reputation.

“There are also some concerns about how members interact with officers and with each other.”

The report adds:

Political negativity from some elected members is not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere conducive to trust and neither is it in the best interests of local residents.

“Some members openly declare that they have no interest in ‘the council’ although they are members of the council…

“The behaviours of some members need to improve, and a disproportionate amount of time seems to be spent in attacking the council, resulting in officers then having to deal with the fall-out, rather than developing or influencing policies for the greater good. “Opportunities to build relationships and build trust need to be explored, so that members and officers can focus on the big issues ahead, rather than being distracted by negativity, which is draining for everyone.”

The peer challenge recommends the authority “work harder to help all elected members to understand their roles in representing the council and being more statesman-like, irrespective of seniority or political persuasion.”

Responding to the findings, council lead executive director Steve Mason said:

“The comments made refer to misleading claims which damage the reputation and standing of the county council.

“For example current claims that the proposed new civic headquarters in Ashington will cost £40million (current estimates around £20million), publicity over a £20,000 car claimed to be a limousine which will save the council money and the level of debate, and on occasion the personal nature of such debate, surrounding the post 16 transport review.

“And while it is only natural there will sometimes be differences of opinion between members, this area of improvement highlighted by the team is already in our proposed action plan and the existing code of conduct and Nolan principles will be an early discussion topic for the next group leaders’ meeting.”

Conservative David Bawn said:

“Sometimes senior members of the administration need to be careful to be seen to act in a statesmanlike manner, this isn’t helped by some of the outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements that have emanated from the leader’s office to the local press on periodic occasions and some of the intemperate posts made on behalf on his blog.”

Leader Grant Davey hit back:

“It seems local Conservatives are hell bent on proving the findings of this independent report led by the leader of Conservative controlled Wiltshire County Council right.

“Their response to a report which highlighted how well the council was progressing and how staff were rising to the challenges of a very challenging cuts agenda was to attack the leader of the council and council staff.

“It’s neither constructive nor is it what residents expect from their elected members and I do hope they sit down and study the report properly and reflect on their ill advised comments especially the comments about ‘damaging political behaviour.’”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Jan 2015

Unemployment: Local Government Association praises the work of North East councils

Councils are doing more to help unemployed people than the Government as data shows people are falling through the cracks.

The Local Government Association has made the claim as the North East shoulders the country’s highest unemployment rate (9.1%) and as its research shows there has been an alarming 28% increase in the number of unemployed not claiming benefits in the last 18 months.

> Is that because they’ve been sanctioned ? 

It means that while Government data does not reveal the full extent of the problem, the LGA says local authorities are being left to pick up the pieces.

The LGA has praised North East councils for working with employers, charities and voluntary groups, schools, colleges and housing associations, and says schemes are offering one-to-one mentoring, training, work placements and apprenticeships at a crucial time.

LGA chairman David Sparks said the capacity for councils to play this role, however, is under threat as all parties eye further cuts.

He said:

“Unemployment is falling, but the headlines hide the plight of our most vulnerable residents who are falling through the cracks. Too many are let down by national job schemes which are unable to identify or help them because they have not signed on at their local Jobcentre Plus.

“Councils across the country are desperate to ensure no-one is left behind and have sought to support those being forgotten by these national services by using their local knowledge, expertise and connections with local organisations and services to target their hardest to reach residents.”

Council leaders say national schemes aim to simply shift people from the benefits queue and that approach is damaging for some of the most vulnerable, such as young or disabled people.

Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, said the news was more evidence that the Government must devolve more powers to the North East.

He said:

“The Government are more interested in getting people off benefits than getting them into work. The reality is the jobs that are being created are in most cases, part-time, low wage and zero contract hours.

“Local authorities are having much more success in helping people into jobs and training than Government because they have a better understanding of what is happening in their area.”

Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council said:

“The national approach is to move people off the benefits register as quickly as possible, but sometimes this can be to the detriment of more vulnerable residents and can exacerbate their situation if they take the first job that comes along and they are not ready to work.

“Our approach has been to offer residents constructive and comprehensive advice and support to help them back into work at the right time for them and the employer. In partnership with employers, we have designed initiatives to support jobs and apprenticeship creation this has created over 400 new jobs apprenticeships over the past three years.

“Although there have been national schemes offering wage subsidies, feedback from our employers showed that the schemes were too difficult to access due to a vast amount of eligibility criteria.

“We have taken the time to understand the barriers that our residents face when looking to go back into employment and then commissioned community learning programmes that will address those issues, such as literacy and numeracy programmes and support to help residents gain IT and money management skills.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015

Poor Face Higher Council Tax Bills, Warns LGA

Low-income working families and people in receipt of social security benefits may have to pay higher council tax bills, warns the Local Government Association (LGA).

A shortfall in Government funding for Council Tax support has left local authorities having to divert money away from local services. This means that some councils may be forced to ask those earning the least to pay more Council Tax, says the LGA.

The Tory-led coalition Government abolished Council Tax Benefit in 2013 as part of widespread changes to the welfare system, resulting in a large number of low-income families having to pay Council Tax for the very first time.

Council Tax support helps the poorest households with a discount on their bill, but the LGA says “uncertainties” over funding from central Government leaves councils “little choice but to reduce the discount”.

Councils would need to find an additional £1 billion to keep Council Tax discounts at the same level they were before Council Tax Benefit was axed, says the LGA.

At a time when local authorities are being asked to find £2.6 billion in savings due to an 8.8% cut in overall funding, councils are now asking the least well-off in society – who would have previously been exempt – to come up with ‘minimum’ Council Tax payments.

The LGA report ‘lays bare’ the impact of axing Council Tax Benefit and a lack of funding support on some of the poorest in society.

Some of the key findings of the report are:

  • A total of 45 councils out of 326 continue to provide the same level of discount available under the old council tax benefit regime – 13 fewer than in 2013/14.
  • In 244 council areas, all householders have to pay at least some council tax regardless of income – 15 more than in 2013/14.
  • For 2015/16, one in seven councils (14 per cent) said they definitely plan to change their discount scheme. 83 per cent said they would not change their existing discount scheme, despite funding reductions.
  • Beyond 2015/16, only 27 per cent of councils said they would maintain their current scheme. Most were unable to say. This is likely to be due to uncertainties over future funding for local government.
  • Last year’s decline in council tax collection rates – only the second since 1993 – was bigger in areas where newly introduced minimum payments were higher.

Councils are left with a choice on whether to charge the working age poor Council Tax, or find additional savings from local services on top of the 40% already demanded by the Government.

The LGA said that while some councils have been able to cover some of the shortfall in Council Tax support by scraping automatic Council Tax discounts on second homes, it isn’t enough to completely fill the funding gap.

Other councils have introduced ‘hardship funds’ to give the worst affected households longer to catch up with missed payments.

The LGA is urging whoever is in power after the next general election to fund Council Tax support to the same level as under Council Tax Benefit.

Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the LGA, said:

Government reduced funding for council tax support by hundreds of millions of pounds when it handed the responsibility for administering it to councils.

“As a result, councils would need to find £1 billion by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes. At a time when local government is already tackling £20 billion worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far.

“Many councils have been put in an impossible position. This cut has taken millions of pounds out of funding for local services and increased the cost of living for some of society’s poorest.

“No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But faced with significant cuts to the money we receive to look after the elderly, protect children, repair the roads and collect the bins, many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.

“Councils know how tough things are, and are doing their best to protect those affected the most, whether through introducing hardships funds or changing the way we collect unpaid tax. But these measures can only go so far in alleviating the burden.

“To address this unfairness, government must give local areas the full amount of funding required to provide council tax support to those who need it. Otherwise, it is almost inevitable that further cuts to local government funding in the coming years will further force up bills for those who can least afford to pay.”

> Which is, of course, part of The Plan – make the poorest pay the most and at the same time they’ll get less because councils will continue to close libraries, etc.

And no doubt councils will still find the money to take non-payers to court, as they did with the Poll Tax (I know – I was one of them).

Source – Welfare Weekly, 06 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/poor-face-higher-council-tax-bills-warns-lga/

Austerity Cuts Will Bite Even Harder In 2015 – Another £12bn Will Go

This article  was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st January 2015

George Osborne says the coverage of looming new spending cuts has been “hyperbolic”, but away from Downing Street there is a strong consensus that the cumulative effect of five years of austerity will make the next wave of cuts, in 2015, very painful.

Four more years of austerity is “a price that works for our country”, Osborne said as he outlined his strategy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies responded by warning that “colossal” cuts to the state would take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the second world war. By the end of the process, “the role and shape of the state will have changed beyond recognition”, the think tank said. So far, £35bn has been cut; the plan is to cut a further £55bn by 2019.

 > But that’s the plan, isn’t it ? To change the role and shape of the state beyond recognition ? A state where old Etonians rule by right and the poor get trampled into the ground ?

If the chancellor remains in post after the general election, Britain will find itself halfway through a nine-year stretch of spending cuts, with the Conservatives determined to shrink and redefine the role of the state. The Liberal Democrats say the Conservative policy is aimed at creating “a smaller state, with many more cuts to come”, giving Britain “austerity for ever”; 2015 will be a pivotal year in the race to reshape the nature of the state.

> Would that be the same Liberal Democrats who are part of the  coalition that is making these changes to society ? Sorry, Lib Dems, don’t start wringing your hands now – you won’t get rid of the blood on them that way.

Even if they lose, difficult spending cuts look inevitable. Labour is also committed to ending the deficit, in 2017-18, provided the state of the economy allows it.

Protesters demonstrate against the bedroom tax.
Protesters demonstrate against the bedroom tax. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

For many publicly funded services and organisations, 2015 will be the year when their chances of survival become clear. There is an enormous range in the size and the function of services under threat, which makes tracking the scale of the cuts challenging.

Here are just four examples – from the large scale to the tiny, of services that are set to go this year.

In June, the Independent Living Fund, which provides funding for around 18,000 disabled people to work and live in the community, will be wound down. In Liverpool, there will be a decision in early 2015 over whether the council will close a possible 23 out of the city’s 26 Sure Start centres. On a smaller scale, organisations including the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, in north London, which supports around 150 refugees and asylum seekers, providing English classes, faces closure because of cuts to education budgets.

These are people who come to us on a daily basis who desperately need some kind of support,” project manager Andy Ruiz Palma says. “I would lose my job, but I am more worried about the clients. There is nowhere else for them to go.”

In Ealing, west London, parents are campaigning to save the lollipop crossing role, done for the past 20 years by Eileen Rowles, and now at risk of being discontinued because of council spending cuts.

The Office for Budget Responsibility said in December that the chancellor’s plans would mean one million further government job losses by 2020 (a total fall from early 2011 of 1.3 million), representing a 20% fall in headcount.

Over the past five years, there has been surprise and relief from politicians that public anger about spending cuts has been relatively muted. Aside from a few annual anti-cuts marches in big cities, Britain has not experienced the waves of protest seen in countries such as Spain. Given that those most affected by the cuts are the most vulnerable and disempowered people in society, it’s perhaps not surprising that the response has been muted.

But that could change in 2015. The next stage of cutbacks is likely to be harder to ignore. The easy decisions have already been made; once the low-hanging fruit has been removed, finding new things to cut gets harder, which means the second half of the austerity era is likely to be much tougher than the first.

By next May, government funding for councils will be 40% lower than it was in 2010; and a further 13% will need to be cut in 2015.

It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people or families scaled back. Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life,” the Local Government Association chair, Tony Sparks, says.

The 2011 campaign to save Kensal Rise library from closure.
The 2011 campaign to save a London library from closure. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

The National Audit Office has warned that more than half of councils currently risk falling into serious financial crisis before the end of the decade. Some may struggle to provide services that they are legally obliged to offer, and this may become apparent in 2015 with more legal action by service users.

Nicola Smith, head of economic affairs at the TUC, says:

“The scale of the spending cuts that the chancellor set out in his autumn statement briefing is truly severe. The public sector has already experienced five years of austerity. The consequences for key services that people rely on are severe.”

Osborne has said that if the Conservatives win the election he will want to cut a further £12bn a year from the welfare bill – on top of the £20m-£25m that has already been cut. He proposes freezing working-age benefits for two years, reducing the overall benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting access to housing benefit for people under 21.

Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, says that the impact of further cuts in this area would be very painful.

“Both the political and public belief is that spending on out-of-work benefits is a large share of overall public spending; it is not. Trying to make large savings from what is really a small share of public spending will require increasingly harsh cuts. We have seen this already through things like the bedroom tax, the imposition of council tax on people with very low incomes, and the greatly increased use of sanctioning. To continue to get more savings from that group will require harsher measures.”

Source – Welfare Weekly, 01 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/austerity-cuts-will-bite-even-harder-2015-another-12bn-will-go/

Cuts To Local Welfare Schemes ‘A Christmas Present To Loan Sharks’

This articlewas written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 18th December 2014

Poverty charities and councils have warned that the government’s refusal to guarantee funding for local welfare schemes will force low income families in crisis to turn to food banks and loan sharks.

The government announced in January that it would no longer provide £180m central funding for local welfare assistance schemes operated by English local authorities after April 2015, triggering a cross-party revolt by Conservative MPs and council leaders, Labour councils and charities.

It is believed that the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, attempted to secure £70m for local welfare to announce in Thursday’s local government finance settlement, but was blocked by the chancellor, George Osborne.

The local government minister Kris Hopkins told the Commons on Thursday that there would be no additional funding for local welfare, although he encouraged councils to make further formal representations, raising faint hopes that the government may revisit the decision in February.

Local welfare provision offers emergency help for a range of vulnerable people who fall into unexpected crisis, including women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people, pregnant mothers, care leavers, pensioners and people suffering from chronic physical and mental health problems.

Some in Whitehall are understood to be concerned that cutting local welfare will provide additional fuel to critics who argue the government does not care about poverty. A cross-party report on food banks this month urged the government to protect local welfare assistance, saying food bank referrals would increase if it was not reinstated.

Hopkins said that although there would be no new funds for local welfare, ministers would outline a notional figure of £130m in the overall grant allocations to councils – a cut of £50m – although this would not be ring-fenced, meaning councils can spend it on other services.

Cllr Andy Hull, Labour-run Islington council’s executive member for finance, called the decision not to provide local welfare funding “an early Christmas present from the government for loan sharks and payday lenders.”

He added: “This safety net supports families to stay together, helps people sustain their tenancies and keeps kids out of care. It is a lifeline, not a luxury. Now, thanks to the government, it lies in shreds.”

The Local Government Association said almost three-quarters of local authorities will abandon or scale back local welfare schemes unless they receive government funding. Two county councils, Nottinghamshire and Oxfordshire, have already closed their schemes.

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

“In the long-run tax payers will foot a higher bill if low-income families can’t stop a one-off, unforeseen expense from becoming a full-blown crisis – and the human cost will be high. For mothers leaving violent partners or youngsters moving on from homelessness or care, the schemes can make the difference between managing or not.”

Helen Middleton of the Furniture Reuse Network, whose member charities work closely with councils on helping low-income families, said the decision showed the government had “no real understanding of the levels of poverty in this country”.

Homelessness charity Centrepoint said young homeless people used local welfare schemes as a vital safety net:

“It’s completely unacceptable that young people who have fought to turn their lives around after facing homelessness are once again left to sleep on floors for lack of something as basic as a bed.

“Ministers must look carefully at responses from councils to this announcement and consider whether their proposal really reflects the level of poverty in many of our communities.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said:

“The government’s decision to reduce annual funding from £172m to £130m will make it harder for councils to support vulnerable families facing a crisis. The requirement that town halls fund their schemes from within existing budgets may create a postcode lottery for many families in poverty.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  18 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/cuts-local-welfare-schemes-christmas-present-loan-sharks/

North Tyneside councillors slammed for 25% hike in financial allowances as job cuts loom

Councillors have been slammed for hiking their allowances by nearly 25% when their authority is to axe 350 jobs and make multi-million cuts to services.

Labour members of North Tyneside Council voted to increase their allowances to £9,759, from £7,896, which they say is in line with other authorities.

But the Conservative opposition has criticised the move describing it as “outrageous” and a chance for councillors to “line their own pockets.”

Councillor Judith Wallace, leader of the Conservative group, said:

For the Labour group to vote to increase their own allowance, at the same time that it is laying off a further 350 local people, is outrageous.

“All my Conservative councillors voted against this. Local people will be furious that their Labour councillors think that lining their own pockets is more important than retaining jobs and local services.”

The move is set to cost the council an extra £116,000 a year, however it is the first increase members will have had since 2009, and the new figure has been reached by taking the mean average of allowances for Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland councillors.

Councillor Wallace said:

“If the Labour group thinks that this move is targeting resources where it is needed then my constituents will be absolutely furious at their arrogance. My Conservative councillors and I will fight this all the way.”

The rise was voted on by the full council – which is run by a Labour majority – last Thursday, against a backdrop of job cuts and a reduction of £46m to £50m to the budget over the next three years.

The council has previously announced that buildings could close and children’s creches will only be targeted at those most in need. Nursery provision is also up for review.

A spokesperson for North Tyneside Council said:

“This change is in accordance with the recommendations of the independent remuneration panel which carried out detailed research and found that the basic allowance in North Tyneside is significantly lower than other regional and national allowances.

“There has been no increase in the basic allowance to North Tyneside councillors since April 2009 and the independent panel say these changes are necessary to help bring North Tyneside allowances closer to those elsewhere.

“The recommendations are also considered appropriate given their responsibilities and the many hours councillors spend working on behalf of residents.

“The panel – made up of four independent people with a wealth of experience in business, finance and local government – has previously commented that the level of allowances is too low and could impact on the authority’s ability to recruit and retain people to serve as councillors.”

The current level of basic allowance in other authorities are:

  • Durham £13,300
  • Gateshead £10,120
  • Newcastle £8,775
  • Northumberland £12,625
  • South Tyneside £7,226
  • Sunderland £8,369

A members allowance is a payment made to councillors for attending meetings and other approved duties of the .

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  04 Dec 2014

Tory Minister Joins Calls For U-Turn On Local Welfare Cuts

This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 26th November 2014

A Conservative minister has joined growing Tory opposition to the government’s proposals to slash funding for local welfare assistance, which provides emergency help to Britain’s poorest citizens.

Amber Rudd, the minister for climate change, said she had been “fighting” to persuade the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reinstate the £180m a year funding for local authority welfare schemes.

Local welfare assistance, which replaced the old nationally run social fund 18 months ago, provides “safety net” support for low-income families tipped into sudden crisis as a result of homelessness, domestic violence, flooding, illness or sudden financial setback.

Rudd, the MP for Hastings, and a former Treasury whip, is the most senior Tory politician to demand the government reverse plans to scrap central funding for local welfare schemes from this April.

She told BBC Radio Sussex: “We all locally who care about the most vulnerable in society are fighting very strongly to make sure the government reconsiders.”

Separately, Tory-run Essex county council has written to ministers to warn the proposed cut would leave vulnerable people without help and at the mercy of loan sharks.

The council’s leader, David Finch, said:

I want ministers in London to think again and keep funding in place because the consequences of families going through crisis for longer will be far more expensive.”

Other senior Tories who oppose the scrapping of local welfare funding include: Keith Glazier, the leader of East Sussex county council; David Hodge, the leader of Surrey county council; Sir Merrick Cockell, a former leader of the Local Government Association (LGA); and Louise Goldsmith, the leader of West Sussex county council, who has call the plans as “a cut too far”.

A decision on the future of local welfare funding is expected in December alongside the local government funding settlement.

Rudd accused the DWP and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) of trying to offload accountability for local welfare on to each other, and promised to “hold ministers’ feet to the fire so that somebody takes responsibility for it”.

Although Rudd said she believed that local government needed to make cuts, it was “too hard” on councils to be expected to run local welfare assistance schemes without separate DWP funding. Councils have experienced an average 37% cut in budgets over the course of this parliament, with more financial pain to come.

The government insists councils can continue to fund local welfare from within their central grant. But the LGA has warned that withdrawal of funding will mean one in six councils will be forced to decommission their schemes, leaving tens of thousands of families without state help.

In a joint letter to ministers with the charities Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Children’s Society and Crisis, the LGA says that scrapping local welfare “will have an acute impact on vulnerable residents and their children and will mean they have nowhere to turn in their time of greatest need”.

Naomi Ridley of Hastings Furniture Service, a charity which has worked closely with other Sussex charities to win cross-party support to save local welfare funding, praised Rudd’s intervention:

We enthusiastically welcome the support of a government minister for the campaign, and hope she can convince her colleagues that abolishing the fund is a terrible, short-sighted mistake with vicious consequences.”

Charities which work with families in poverty have also stepped up pressure on ministers to protect local welfare funding. The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was told during an official visit to a charity “furniture bank” in Ipswich last week that his proposals would penalise the most vulnerable members of society.

> Like his decisions so far haven’t ?

The Furniture Re-Use Network whose 250 members have seen requests for help for secondhand goods, such as beds and fridges, rocket during the past 18 months, said councils were failing to keep pace with an explosion in poverty. It accused ministers of ”having no idea of the scale of unrecorded need of in-crisis households.”

The DWP announced in January that it would stop funding local welfare assistance after 2015, despite promising during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act in 2012 that it would conduct a review of the policy before making a decision.

After being threatened with court action over this decision by Islington council and CPAG, however, the government promised in September to reconsider its position and issued a consultation.

The consultation, which closed on Friday, has been criticised because none of the three choices offered to consultees involve continued funding. The housing charity Shelter called it “a cheap pavement shuffle cup trick”.

The Guardian’s investigation of the scheme in April found widespread chaos: in many councils local welfare was underspent, under-advertised and underused. Record numbers of families needing help were turned away and “pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks”.

A government spokesperson said:

The changes made to funding of local welfare provision were never about abolishing support and it’s a total misrepresentation to suggest they were.

“This government has given councils more control because they understand
best their local area’s needs – this is in contrast to the previous
centralised grant system which was inflexible and poorly targeted.

“We have completed a consultation on how funding should be provided for 2015/16 and will publish the results shortly.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  26 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/tory-minister-joins-calls-u-turn-local-welfare-cuts/