Tagged: low incomes

Every three minutes – that’s how often Hartlepool’s foodbank is called into action as more families struggle

Hartlepool Foodbank is giving a vital food handout to desperate families an average of every three minutes it is open.

The number of starving people being forced to turn to the foodbank to be able to eat has increased by almost a quarter within a year.

Between January and June this year, 2,310 people walked into Hartlepool Foodbank, in Church Street, and received a three-day food parcel.

The foodbank is open two days a week for a total of four hours and the figure equates to a handout every three minutes.

That is equal to 385 people using the service every month in the period, or 89 people every week.

In the same six-month period last year there were 24 per cent less people needing its help with around 1,750 residents needing a package of food.

The shocking figures prompted Hartlepool Foodbank to launch a Neighbourhood Food Collection at Tesco, in Belle Vue Way, Hartlepool, as part of a national initiative with other stores up and down the country.

And generous customers donated an incredible 7,914 meals for people in need this winter.

The collection was held to make sure that the charities have enough food to help people during the winter, which is the hardest time of year for people in poverty.

Foodbank staff say that Christmas is looking especially tough for people on low incomes, with many already really struggling to make ends meet, and many parents being forced to choose between eating and heating.

Al Wales foodbank manager, said:

“Winter is the hardest time of year for people living in poverty, and this Christmas is looking especially tough as many people on low incomes are already really struggling.

“Numbers of people turning to Hartlepool Foodbank in the first six months of this year January to June increased by 24 per cent compared to the same period last year, and 2,310 people in Hartlepool have been given three days’ emergency food in the first 6 months of this year.”

A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman said:

“The Government’s welfare reform changes are having a major impact on many local families and we are fully aware of the hardship this is causing.

“The foodbank is playing a vital role in supporting large numbers of people across Hartlepool and since it was opened in 2012 the council has made a number of financial donations to support its work.

“As well as donating food at the Hartlepool Foodbank site on Church Street, residents can also bring items to the Civic Centre reception, during normal office hours, and we will make sure the items are taken to the foodbank on their behalf.”

Foodbank’s Al added:

“Once again the generosity of local people is overwhelming – from children giving their pocket money, to bags and even whole trolley loads for food, being donated.

“Every item counts and helps to make a difference.

“The timing of the collection couldn’t have been better, not only are we stocked for the cold weeks ahead but we are also busy preparing emergency food boxes for our partner agencies to hold over the Christmas period when Foodbank is closed, from December 24 to January 6.

“During the collection, customers were asked to donate non-perishable food items such as long-life milk, cereals, tinned vegetables, tinned meat and Christmas treats.

“Thirty-two volunteers from the Trussell Trust Hartlepool Foodbank joined with Tesco staff in store to collect donations from kind-hearted customers.

“Tesco then topped up all donations by 30 per cent.”

The Tesco collection was part of the fifth UK-wide scheme, in partnership with foodbank charity The Trussell Trust and food redistribution charity FareShare, with an aim of reaching a target of 20 million meals for people in need by the end of this year.

• The foodbank, at 28 Church Street, is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 11.30am until 1.30pm.

For more information contact the foodbank on info@hartlepool.foodbank.org.uk, or telephone (01429) 598404.

Source –   Hartlepool Mail, 08 Dec 2014

Budget 2014: A Budget For The Few, Not The Many

By Jenny Howarth

Chancellor George Osborne has delivered his fourth budget. It was clear from his opening gambit – “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you” – that this budget would help the few and not the many. If you were not a ‘hard-worker’, business owner or saver then there would be no point in listening any further.

For Osborne, the budget was an opportunity to say that their long-term economic plan is delivering security for the people of this country. The emphasis was on support for businesses who invest and export, on support for manufacturers, on support for savers or rather making sure “hardworking people keep more of what they earn – and more of what they save” – all aimed towards the central mission: economic security for the people of Britain.

By the end of his 55 minute speech it was very clear that the economic security he spoke of was for the few not the many. He tried to convince people that his budget was for the “makers, doers and savers”, yet it came across as “I’m hoping to gain the over-50 vote”. He promised a budget of “hard truths” which could be implied as “if you think I’m going to help the unemployed, disabled and vulnerable then think again”.

Osborne’s budget was more ‘out of touch with reality’ than ‘hard truths’. He spoke of economic growth, a Britain on the road to recovery, even mentioning the new resilient pound coin to match the resilient economy. However, for thousands of families waking up the morning after the Budget, life is still a struggle. For them the budget was meaningless, doing nothing to improve their desperate situation and here is why.

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“This is a Budget for the people who already have, not for the people who need to benefit most from the return to growth. It is a lost opportunity for the 13 million people in poverty who need active intervention to tackle the structural barriers that keep them in poverty”. Adding, “People on low incomes are unlikely to see the welcome benefits of growth unless there is targeted help with household and housing costs, with child care and with the nature of jobs and training. The expense and inefficiency of high levels of poverty continue to put a drag on growth”.

A view shared by other charities. William Higham, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty, said:

“The Budget was a missed opportunity to address the needs of families that are struggling to pay their food bill and children whose parents cannot afford to pay for uniforms and school trips”.

It is for these reasons, George Osborne’s fourth budget was a budget for the few. It failed to address the fact that living standards are falling – despite the 2010 Manifesto promising “An economy where…[people’s] standard of living…rises steadily and sustainably”. It failed to help the 350 000 reliant on food banks or the 400 000 disabled people paying bedroom tax. His “resilient pound for a resilient economy” ignores the fact that working people are £1600 worse off.

Osborne may believe that increasing personal tax to £10 500 will help improve living standards but whilst it lifts three million out of taxation, it does nothing for the many families who depend on housing benefit to top up the little wage they get. “The vast majority of this will be deducted from their benefits – giving with one hand while taking with the other”, says Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.

Matthew Reed’s comment raises another important point – benefits. Osborne had nothing to say on this except to announce a cap on the welfare budget. This will see Tax credits and housing benefit limited to £119.5bn in a bid to cut the deficit. Critics say that this limit to benefit claims over the next four years will hit disabled people and the low paid without tackling the underlying causes of Britain’s growing social security bill.

Whilst it may appear to be political suicide by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls saying Labour will vote for the cap, it is not. According to Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the cap was simply a “gesture” and served no purpose other than to kick the “problem of spending cuts into the next parliament”.

For Portes it was “meaningless” to put a number on the cap without having policies in place to deliver it or to state how the cuts would be achieved. Adding that the charter would commit MPs to renewing the cap each year. “As Parliament already votes on measures to change social security budgets, this charter will not make much difference”.

It would appear that Osborne’s welfare cap charter is not new but something that already exists. It could be argued that whilst Labour is voting for it, there is plenty scope to amend the limit and bring in policies that would help not hit. Moreover, the question that needs to be asked is would a successive conservative government do that or would they continue with their long-term economic plan that they insist is bringing security to the people of Britain.

For now it would appear they are committed to helping the few, committed to bringing security to the hard-workers, business owners and savers. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, says:

“Today’s Budget tries to lock-in austerity for millions of low-paid families, poor children, carer’s and disabled people. Announcing a cap for social security spending without a plan to address the root causes of low pay, high rents and high childcare costs, simply forces the most vulnerable in society to pay the price for inaction”.

Source – Welfare News Service,  20 March 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/budget-2014-budget-many/

DWP Advising Jobcentres On Sending Claimants To Food Banks – Documents

This article  was written by Rowena Mason and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 11th March 2014

The Department for Work and Pensions is advising jobcentres on how to send people to food banks, official documents show – despite ministers’ claiming the charitable support forms no part of the welfare system.

Ministers insist jobcentres “do not refer people to food banks or issue vouchers” and that food banks are “absolutely not a part of the welfare system because we have other means of supporting people”. They say jobcentres only “signpost” the existence of food banks and dispute the link between welfare changes and a surge in their use.

However, documents obtained under freedom of information laws show there is a “high level process” written by the DWP to be followed when benefit claimants say they are in hardship because of government policy and need food.

A six-step flowchart for jobcentre staff shows that the four reasons to recommend a food bank when claimants ask for help are hardship caused by benefit changes, benefit payment delays, a benefit advance has been refused, or the advance is not enough to meet their needs.

Jobcentres that choose to offer a food bank referral “service” are told to do a health and safety assessment before sending people to a particular charity.

As part of the process, Jobcentre Plus staff fill in a slip with the claimant’s details but another document orders them, in bold letters, not to describe this as a “food voucher” – apparently so as not to erode the argument that they are not part of the welfare system.

The documents show each jobcentre is told to write down how many people have been sent to food banks on a “slip record sheet”, even though the DWP has said: “Food banks are not part of government policy and, as such, the Department for Work and Pensions does not hold or collect information on their usage.”

The latest statistics from the Trussell Trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, show 614,000 adults and children received food parcels from its food banks in the first nine months of 2013-14, compared with 350,000 for the whole of 2012-13.

Benefit changes and delays – including instances where claimants had their benefits sanctioned, or stopped for breaches of conditionality – accounted for 49% of referrals to trust food banks to the end of December. In 2012-13 these categories accounted for 43% of referrals.

Although the DWP says it does not refer people to food banks, one of the documents obtained by the Guardian is entitled Foodbank Referral Service – High Level Process. The DWP said the guidance had mistakenly been issued by staff dealing with the freedom of information request. It said all guidance to Jobcentre Plus had now been modified to change the word “referral” to “signposting” – even though the process for directing those in need of aid to food banks appears to be exactly the same.

DWP officials say people are “signposted” to food banks only if other options are exhausted, as local authorities now have responsibility for emergency food aid. However, the official DWP food bank guidance for jobcentres makes no reference to alternative help from local authorities.

The DWP added: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks. Our reforms are fair and mean the welfare system will remain what it was always intended to be – a safety net for people at times of need.”

Labour said the DWP’s arguments that the government is not relying on food banks to fill a gap in the welfare system were unravelling. “Last year ministers said, ‘food banks are absolutely not part of our welfare system’, yet these official DWP documents show a system for referrals has been established,” said Luciana Berger, shadow public health minister. “If ministers cannot answer the simplest of questions about their department, how can we have any confidence they will tackle the rising number of people who are having to access emergency food aid?

“As the queues at food banks grow with hundreds of thousands of people forced to use food banks to survive so too do the costs to our public health and wellbeing. Food banks have become a truly shameful symbol of Britain under this Tory-led government.”

Esther McVey, the employment minister, had refused to release the guidance to Berger, saying: “It is not common practice in DWP to publish internal guidance.”

Chris Mould, the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, said despite the guidance, jobcentre practice on charity food support varied across the country.

A small number of jobcentres had good relationships with local food banks, some ignored food banks altogether and others referred claimants to food banks “indiscriminately and without thinking”.

The Trussell Trust and the DWP agreed in 2011 after months of discussions that jobcentre staff should be able to send claimants to food banks. However, ministers continued to insist this only amounted to “signposting” in the right direction.

Last year, officials unilaterally changed the referral forms to remove the reasons why someone may have been sent to a food bank. Critics said this move made it harder for food bank staff to identify whether clients had been referred as a consequence of welfare reform.

Mould said: “The debate about whether food banks are part of the welfare state is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is about why people go hungry”.

Source – Welfare News Service,  12 March 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/dwp-advising-jobcentres-sending-claimants-food-banks-documents/

Oxfam – UK housing strategy will let the poor fall through the cracks

From April this year, the UK government will cap overall spending on welfare. Chris Johnes (Oxfam) hoped this would encourage government departments to invest in long-term programmes tackling poverty to cut future spending… but the current social housing strategy seems to be aiming for exactly the opposite.

Tackling the high cost of welfare is one of the government’s top priorities. Isn’t it? Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have repeatedly said that cutting welfare costs is essential to getting the budget deficit under control. So after freezing many benefits for working age people last year, the government has since decided it will introduce an overall cap on many benefits starting from next financial year.

This should be a spur to government departments to look at ways they can get the welfare bill down. Indeed, our experience as a charity is that the Treasury is interested at looking at how longer term preventative programmes – which help people tackle deep rooted personal problems – can be supported to cut the need for welfare spend in the future. These kinds of preventative spending could include family support, more tailored back to work schemes, expanding the supply of cheaper housing and better vocational education.

However, nobody seems to have told the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which seems determined to continue a housing strategy for England that will further push up rents. The strategy – which doesn’t include plans for building new homes for “social rent” (ie genuinely affordable rent) – will also drive up the need for people on low incomes to draw on housing benefit to be able to afford their rent.

The reality is that the current mix of jobs and housing available means that many people in work, especially in the south east, need housing benefit to be able to pay their rent. And the DCLG’s policy is based quite deliberately on allowing the housing benefit bill to rise – it’s not their problem, it’s another department’s budget. However, it could soon become the tenants’ problem in a big way.

If the welfare spending cap is breached, then housing benefit is an obvious target – it’s one of the largest benefits covered by the cap (it costs £24bn per year) – which means the amount of housing benefit available per person could be reduced if overall welfare spend goes too high.

And if people on low incomes will no longer have their rents fully covered, then they will face their household budgets getting even more squeezed and being forced to choose between paying the rent, heating their homes or eating. In other words, severe hardship will be imposed on thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of families because different bits of government failed to work effectively together.

There is, of course, an alternative, as charities have been telling the Treasury and governments in other parts of the UK have been pursuing. This is to put proper investment in genuinely affordable social housing – it may be expensive initially, but its long-term impact on rents will save both government money and human misery in the future.

Source – Chris Johnes, Director, UK Poverty Programme, Oxfam

http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/…m_TW_PandP_BAU

Are Tories Planning To Cut Tax Credits Because Iain Duncan Smith Thinks Parents Spend Them On Drugs?

the void

Iain-Duncan-Smith-workfareAre the Tories really planning to cut Tax Credits because Iain Duncan Smith thinks struggling families spend them on drugs?

That’s the astonishing claim made by the Daily Telegraph after focussing on a part of Iain Duncan Smith’s speech this week which went unreported elsewhere in the press and was not included in the transcript published by The Spectator.

According to The Telegraph:  “Mr Duncan Smith indicated his party is preparing to review tax credits, which are paid to people on low incomes or with children. The system was introduced by Gordon Brown and has been criticised for subsidising low wages. They will cost £28bn this year, and the cost is forecast to rise £35bn by 2018/19.

He said the cash pushed people above an “arbitrary” poverty line on paper but failed to change their lives, and some “unproductive” people spent the extra money on drink and drugs rather than…

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