Reposted from The Mirror on line
So here we are, day 3 of their term in office and already the tories plan to scrap the Human Rights Act.
Maybe they are worried about the outcome of the Information Commissioners order for them to finally produce the figures about the benefit deaths and think that by scrapping the right to life, they’ll get away with their “crime” of allowing their flawed regime to kill many of our disabled, ill and vulnerable citizens, or “stock” as Lord Freud calls disabled claimants.
I for one shall be writing to my MP opposing this.
If you want to do the same, use this website to find your MP and e mail them directly with your concerns.
Pick up the phone and dial the number of any teacher you know, or at least one who has taught…
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A committee of MPs will today call for tougher rules before the setting up of ‘free schools’, to prevent a repeat of the Durham Free School fiasco.
The Department For Education (DFE) is urged to impose stronger checks before giving the go-ahead in areas with surplus places and a large number of outstanding, existing schools.
And it is told to publish the impact on neighbouring schools – not only when an application is made, but after a free school is opened.
The recommendations go to the heart of criticism of Durham Free School (DFS), which has been condemned as inadequate by watchdog Ofsted and will close within months.
Critics, led by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Durham City’s Labour MP, argue DFS should never have been opened, in September 2013, and is a scandalous waste of money.
It attracted only about 90 pupils – in a city with high-quality schools, with empty places – and was expected to take another eight years to reach its target size of 630.
And it angered local people by opening temporarily in the former home of Durham Gilesgate Sports College, in Gilesgate, which had been controversially closed amid budget cuts.
The saga will be raised in the Commons tonight, in a debate led by Ms Blackman-Woods, who will demand that ministers reveal the full financial details behind the DFS failure.
Ministers are also under pressure to come clean about the role of Michael Gove’s former adviser, Durham-born Dominic Cummings, and his mother, in establishing the school.
Before that debate, today’s report by the Conservative-led education committee also accuses the Government of “exaggerating the success” of academies and free schools.
“We are saying the DFE needs to look very carefully before it agrees to set up a free school in an area that already has sufficient good places and good schools.
“Durham Free School was a waste of public money – £4m was thrown away – and Michael Gove did absolutely nothing about it.”
Free schools have the same freedoms as academies, but have been typically set up the charitable arms of private firms, or groups of parents, or teachers.
There are now 1,884 secondary academies (60 per cent of the total) and 2,299 primaries (13 per cent), after outstanding schools were encouraged to convert.
Source – Durham Times, 27 Jan 2015
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 19th November 2014
The government has been accused of ignoring evidence of the distress caused by its welfare reforms following publication of a report which directly links cuts to benefits with a massive rise in food bank use.
The study found that cuts and changes to Britain’s increasingly threadbare social security system are the most common triggers of the acute personal financial crises that drive people to use food banks..
At least half of all food bank users are referred because they are waiting for benefits to be paid, because they have had benefits stopped for alleged breaches of jobcentre rules or because they have been hit by the bedroom tax or the removal of working tax credits, it finds.
The study, the most extensive research of its kind yet carried out in the UK, directly challenges the government’s repeated insistence that there is no link between its welfare reforms and the huge increases in charity food aid.
The study was commissioned by the Church Of England, the Trussell Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group.
It calls for urgent changes to the “complicated, remote and at times intimidating” social security system to stop people falling into poverty, including a less punitive sanctions system and speedier processing of benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report, claiming the research was inconclusive.
“The report itself concludes it can’t prove anything – it uses self-selecting data and recognises there are complex underlying issues. We have a strong safety net in place, spending £94bn a year on working-age benefits, and we provide a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.”
But the report was welcomed by Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, who hosted its launch at the House of Commons on Wednesday. He said it was an important study that chimed with his experience as an MP in his surgery. He said its recommendations for change, including a review of sanctions policy, would make a practical difference to the lives of many of his distressed constituents.
“There is no doubt from this report that there are certain elements of welfare that make things more difficult, without doubt. These are not the headline things like the benefit cap, but things like sanctions, the smaller things that go below the radar where people cannot get any kind of help.”
> Blimey ! Even tory MPs are starting to notice !
The report’s lead researcher, Jane Perry, an independent social research consultant and former DWP official, defended the scope and methodology of the research, which she said accorded with official government social research quality standards.
The bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, said he was disappointed by the DWP’s dismissal of the report, which he described as “an appeal to people of goodwill” to address an important social issue. He urged dialogue with ministers over the problems the report highlights and added: “I think they [the DWP] possibly need to read the report.”
It is understood the DWP was offered a seat on the study’s advisory committee prior to the research but declined. The department was shown a draft copy of the report a month ago but did not raise any objections to its methodology.
In another twist, a DWP minister, Steve Webb, whose officials had apparently agreed for him to respond in person to the report at the launch, pulled out at the last minute, without giving a reason. David McAuley, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said he was frustrated that the DWP had not attended, and accused them of not wanting “to hear the story.”
The study says it wanted to examine practical ways of preventing the further expansion of food banks, and warned the government against reliance on charity food to fix holes in the welfare state.
“The promise of a social security safety net that is there to protect people at times of crisis is something that can and must be preserved and protected. Food banks, whilst providing a vital and welcoming lifeline to many, should not become a readily accepted part of that formal provision,” the report says.
> But surely that’s exactly what they do want – Cameron’s Big Society (remember that ?) seemed to be all about charities and individuals doing the work for nothing, allowing public money to be diverted to more important things…such as into the pockets of the already-rich.
There are no official statistics on the use of food banks, but the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 food banks in the UK, says 913,138 people were given food parcels by its volunteers in 2013-14 – almost a threefold increase on the previous year, and likely to be a fraction of the total numbers of people experiencing food insecurity.
The research, which examined why people were referred to food banks, combined 40 in-depth interviews with clients at seven UK food banks, analysis of data collected on 900 clients at three of those food banks and a caseload of 178 clients at another.
The authors accept that the research, while wide-ranging, cannot prove definitively why people use food banks or how many use them, but argue that it provides an initial indicator of the scale and prevalence of issues leading people to accept charity food, and call on ministers to commission more authoritative data on food insecurity, as happens in the US and Canada.
The government has struggled to explain why food bank use has risen, though its has denied that welfare cuts are a factor. Lord Freud, the welfare minister, notoriously insisted that demand for food had risen because it was free, while the former education secretary Michael Gove suggested people turned to food aid because they had poor financial management skills.
However, the study found that in most cases people used food banks because they were tipped into financial crisis by events that were outside their control and difficult or impossible to reverse, such as benefit cuts and delays, bereavement or job loss. Most people said they used food banks as a desperate and shaming last resort.
Almost a third of food bank users interviewed for the study who had experienced problems with the benefits system said they had been sanctioned by social security officials and left penniless for weeks on end, while a further third were left unable to put food on the table because of lengthy delays in benefit payments. The report says the current sanctions policy is causing hardship and hunger.
The government has self-imposed targets for processing benefit claims within 16 working days. However, the report says this period is too long a wait without income for vulnerable people, and in practice many claimants wait longer than this. There are concerns that the five-week delay before jobless people can sign on under a future universal credit system will cause hardship.
Formal state crisis support available to people who are left without income because of bureaucratic delays in the processing of benefits was often inadequate or non-existent, the study found. As a result, many people entitled to state help were forced to sell possessions, go without food, or take out expensive credit to buy essentials such as food and rent.
Many people who used food banks lived in or were close to poverty and were attempting to cope with the “ongoing daily grind of living without sufficient income to make ends meet each month”. Many worked, but in jobs that were low-paid and insecure. Often they were also coping with mental and physical ill health and bereavement.
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“Food banks have boomed not because they‘re an easy option but because people haven’t got money to eat – often because of problems with claiming and the payment of benefits.
“A delay in a benefits decision or a period pending a review can force hunger and humiliation on families, leaving them no option but the food bank. Rather than protecting these families from poverty at the time when they most need help, the system leaves them with almost nothing to live on.”
“This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a life shock or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness.”
The study will feed into an all-party parliamentary group inquiry into hunger and food poverty, chaired by the Labour MP Frank Field, which is expected to report before Christmas.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Nov 2014
Child Benefit should be limited to no more than four children per family to help cut welfare spending, say Policy Exchange.
A report by the centre-right think tank has recommended limiting child benefit for larger families. The move could save around £1 billion over the course of a parliament, say Policy Exchange.
Policy Exchange is said to have close ties with the Conservative Party and was founded by a group that included Michael Gove, Francis Maude and Nick Boles. Many of the past recommendations made by the think tank have been adopted into tory manifestos.
If this new policy is adopted, it would see child benefit progressively cut for each child born into a family, and rise by no more than 1% each year over the five-year course of a parliament.
Parents would initially receive £21.50 a week for their first child, £14.85 for the second child, £14.30 for the third and £13.70 for the fourth. Payments would be limited to no more than four children per family. Supporters of the policy claim it would help deter immigrant from coming to the UK to claim benefits for their children.
Policy Exchange said that a YouGov poll, commissioned by the think tank, found that 67% of voters would support cutting child benefit for larger families. 20% were opposed to the move.
According to the results of the poll, the proposal is supported by 83% of Conservative voters, 63% of Liberal Democrat voters and 55% of Labour voters.
The Conservatives have previously considered a similar proposal put forward by Nadim Zahawi to limit child benefit to just two children, but decided against the policy out of fear it would cost the party votes.
The author of the report, Steve Hughes, said:
“The chancellor has suggested that annual welfare savings of £12bn will have to be found to avoid further and faster cuts to departmental budgets.
“Choosing where this money comes from is not easy, but with such high levels of public support, capping child benefit at four children and redesigning payment levels offers a very real opportunity to generate some much needed savings in the fairest way possible.”
A spokesperson for the right-wing pressure group, Taxpayers Alliance, told the Daily Express:
“No one should be immune from having to make the sometimes hard choices associated with having a family and people have to realise that there is not a bottomless pit of money.”
Opponents argue that the tory-led coalition government has consistently targeted Britain’s poorest households with draconian welfare cuts, while continuing to allow multinational companies to escape paying their ‘fair share’ in tax and handing tax cuts to the highest earners, who could afford to pay more.
They also say that there has been far too much focus on cutting state benefits, rather than introducing a living wage to help parents cover the cost of living and raise their own children, instead of having to rely on benefits to top-up stagnating wages.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday (17 June) appear to support such an argument. ONS figures show that average pay has increased by only 0.7% on this time last year, or just 0.3% excluding bonuses – well below inflation which currently stands at 1.9%.
A Survation poll for the union Unite, found that over a third (34%) of low wage earners cannot afford to shop where they work and nearly sixty percent of workers earning £6.50 or below (58%) feel trapped in low waged work. 79% of respondents said that they want work to pay and want to earn a living wage instead of depending on benefit top ups.
Welfare News Service requested a comment from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) on how limiting child benefit would impact upon child poverty figures. Unfortunately they did not respond in time for publication.
Source – Welfare News Service, 17 July 2014
Depending on who they were, Ministers in David Cameron’s Government were either celebrating promotions or mourning the end of their political career after being invited in to Downing Street to hear their fate in today’s re-shuffle.
With a ruling Coalition that has only four North East MPs – all on them on the backbenches – any re-shuffle is not likely to have an obvious immediate impact on the region.
Yet Mr Cameron’s various moves on the chessboard, widely seen as part of his strategy to try and win the next election, will have been followed by many in the region.
It is a fair bet that many a champagne cork will have been popping in school staffrooms at the re-shuffle’s largest casualty, the Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Being unpopular with teachers is almost a job requirement for Education Secretary, but Mr Gove seems to gone above and beyond that brief, not least with teachers in part of the North East after he attacked schools in County Durham with the slightly odd comment that “when you go into those schools, you can smell the sense of defeatism.”
The re-shuffle effectively saw Mr Gove sacked from his Education job. Instead he will become Chief Whip, responsible for imposing discipline on Conservative MPs, and will represent the Government on television, according to the Prime Minister’s official spokesman – which led to him being dubbed “Minister for TV” at Westminster.
Although Mr Gove is popular with sections of his party, and hailed as a hero by supporters of his school reforms, his departure from the education brief is likely to please some North East teachers and heads.
The new Education Secretary is Nicky Morgan, who became in MP in 2010 and was previously a Treasury Minister. After making it into the Commons in 2010 at the second attempt, the former corporate lawyer was quickly earmarked by Mr Cameron as a potential star and was made a ministerial aide within months, a whip in 2012 and a junior Treasury minister last October.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 15 July 2015
> For teachers everywhere… well, actually, anyone anywhere… here’s you’re chance to give Michael Gove a virtual slapping.
> Go on – you know you want to !
Thousands of North East workers are gearing up for one of the biggest days of industrial action in this country in years.
Teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants will join up with around 1.5 million colleagues nationwide in a 24-hour walk-out in a protest over pay, pensions and work conditions.
Bin collections will be suspended, council buildings including libraries will be closed and most controversially it will result in the sweeping closure of hundreds of schools across the region.
Mike McDonald, Regional Secretary of the NUT which has 20,000 members in the region, said: “Teachers are extremely reluctant to strike because of the impact on children’s education.
“However they feel that this current Government’s attacks on education will cause far more damage.
“Morale in the profession is at rock bottom, teachers are wasting hours on pointless paperwork and scores are quitting in their first years because of unmanageable workload, uncertain pay and worsening pensions.
“Children deserve teachers who are motivated, enthused and valued. Education Secretary Michael Gove would do well to engage properly with the profession and address teachers’ concerns to end this dispute.
“For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”
The Fire Brigade Union is protesting at changes to firefighters’ pensions and a later retirement age.
Meanwhile the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the Public and Commercial Services Union are protesting over pay rates.
A pay freeze was imposed in 2010 for three years followed by a 1% increase last year and the same offer this year.
They say that represents an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s.
Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s Deputy Regional Convenor and a local government employee said: “The pay offer from the local government employer is derisory in the extreme.
“This year’s pay offer would see 90% of school and local government workers receive a further pay cut. The offer of a 1% pay rise if you earn £7.71 per hour or more, or if you earn below that it is slightly more to take us just above the National Minimum Wage.
“This pay offer does not keep pace with price increases and our pensions will suffer. This pay offer is nowhere near enough.”
Karen Loughlin, the union’s Regional Lead Officer on Local Government, said: “Part-time workers – mainly women and more than half the local government workforce – have been particularly hard hit, with their hourly earnings now worth the same as they were 10 years ago.
“Many low paid part-time Local Government workers need benefits and tax credits to keep their families out of poverty.
“It is deeply disturbing to hear the continuing stories of Local Government workers resorting to food banks.
“UNISON is demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that our members perform in delivering public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers have not voted for this week’s strike action, so it is disappointing that the leadership of the unions are pushing for a strike that will achieve nothing and benefit no one. Union leaders are relying on mandates for action that lack authority – the National Union of Teachers is relying on a ballot run nearly two years ago.
“As part of our long-term economic plan, this Government has been taking tough decisions to address the budget deficit we inherited in 2010.
“One was to introduce pay restraint in the public sector, while protecting the lowest paid. Pay restraint protects public sector jobs, supports high-quality public services and helps put the UK’s finances back on track.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 July 2014
The UK needs a dedicated minister for integration to promote British values and identity, according to a North MP.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman urged the Government to consider appointing a dedicated minister as he backed the Government’s plans to require schools to teach British values.
It follows claims that extremists or religious conservatives have attempted to take over schools in areas of Birmingham with large Muslim populations.
Independent schools, including state-run academies, are already required to encourage pupils to respect British values, which are defined as democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced this requirement is to be extended to include local authority maintained schools.
But the Muslim Council of Britain has expressed “deep concern” at the debate over British values, saying: “We have no objection to British values. On the contrary. We believe in a tolerant, more free and more equal society.
“We want a real debate that does not regard us as conditional Britons.”
Other critics have claimed it is wrong to suggest tolerance and rule of law are British values, as if the UK is more committed to them than other countries.
But speaking in a Commons debate, Mr Opperman said: “One would hope that those are universal values, but we know that the reality worldwide is that they are not universal values, but are particular values of this country.
“In that respect, these purportedly universal values are, in fact, very British and their promotion must be a very good thing.”
He said he wanted to ask “whether we need to consider introducing, as the Canadians have, a Minister for integration.”
Canadian Minister Jason Kenney had succeeded in “formulating and promoting integration of people of many different faiths,” Mr Opperman said.
“His portfolio includes citizenship, multiculturalism, immigration and integration. It is the unification of those strands of Government Departments and the difficulties faced that we genuinely need to address.”
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said he agreed with Mr Opperman that British values were not shared by everyone.
He said: “British values are not universal around the world, and we should be proud that they are very widely, if not universally, accepted here at home.
“Those universal values flower in Britain because of the protection of our strong democratic state, defended through liberty – with blood, in times gone by – by our forefathers and the forefathers of those from many different backgrounds.”
The Department for Education says that the new regulations will take effect in September 2014.
Schools will be expected to show how they are promoting fundamental British values and challenging pupils, staff or parents who express opinions contrary to those values.
Action will also be taken against schools where, for example, girls are disadvantaged on the grounds of their gender – or where prejudice against those of other faiths is encouraged or not adequately challenged.
Labour MP John Denham said teaching British values was “ill-judged and may be counter-productive”, adding: “All the attention has been focused deliberately on one community, the Muslim community.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 29 June 2014
People are fond of gazing back at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I remember reading somewhere that no one ‘does’ nostalgia like the British. I love the 70s, I Love The 80s and Dominic Sandbrook’s lightweight, but subtly ideological history series The 70s always present the past as the ideal time in which to live. In Sandbrook’s case, the blemishes, lumps and bumps that define eras and epochs are simply burnished or given a right-wing twist. “Thatcher arrived to save the country from the unions” was the unspoken message at the end of Sandbrook’s series, which ignored the fact that management ineptitude and a chronic lack of investment was mostly culpable for Britain’s economic and industrial decline. In the case of the I Love… series, talking heads from showbusiness were interviewed on camera to talk about how wonderful Kickers and Kappa tracksuits were. “I really loved Kickers and…
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The number of infants being taught in over-sized classes of more than 30 pupils has shot up across the North East, it has emerged.
New statistics reveal that more than 3,000 five to seven-year-olds in the region are now being taught in classes above the legal limit.
And that’s more than double the figure in 2010, when the current government came to power.
Officially, a limit on class sizes introduced by the previous government is still in force. It means there should be no more than 30 youngsters in a class.
However, rules requiring head teachers to act if classes were too large by recruiting more teachers were relaxed in 2012.
Figures published by the Department for Education show that 3,035 infants in the North East were taught in classes larger than 30 in January this year compared to 1,230 in January 2010. That is an increase of 147%.
In Gateshead, the number of pupils in super-sized classes is 312, more than triple the figure in 2010.
In Sunderland, the number increased hugely from 31 pupils to 469, while in Newcastle, it went from 318 to 596, and in Northumberland from 93 to 125.
There are some cases where schools are allowed to ignore the size limit, for example if a parent wins an appeal for a place and this pushes the numbers above 30.
Pat Glass, MP for North West Durham and member of the Education Select Committee said: “These figures show just how out of touch the Government’s priorities are when it comes to education. Across the North East region we are seeing infant class sizes rise.
“Under the Tories we’re heading back to the bad old days in schools with children taught in overcrowded classes is school buildings starved of investment.
“Instead of improving the standard of our schools David Cameron and Michael Gove are wasting resources on pet projects such setting up new Free Schools.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The average infant class size is up only marginally, from 27.3 to 27.4. However we recognise the significant pressure on school places as a result of demographic trends over the last decade.
“That is why we are giving local authorities £5bn to spend on new school places over this parliament – double the amount allocated by the previous government over an equivalent period.
“This funding has already led to the creation of 260,000 new school places, all of which are in areas where there is a shortage of places, and many more new places are planned.
“In addition to this we are setting up free schools, which tend to be smaller schools and have smaller class sizes. The vast majority of free schools are being set up where there is a need for new places.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The rise in class sizes demonstrates the lack of forward planning on pupil numbers.”
Source – Newcastle Joornal, 13 June 2014