Tagged: Oxfam

Long-Term Food Bank Users Risk Nutritional Problems

Families who rely too heavily on food banks may suffer nutritional deficiencies because so much of the produce is processed rather than fresh, it has been claimed.

Mel Wakeman, a senior lecturer specialising in health and nutrition at Birmingham City University, warned that families forced into prolonged use of food banks may not be eating a balanced diet.

She and students analysed food typically on offer at food banks and drew up menus based on the items available.

“We found that it’s very much processed food being donated, with little fresh produce,” said Wakeman.

“The meal plans we came up with revealed that in the long term there is a real risk of children and families becoming deficient in fibre, calcium, iron and a variety of vitamins.

“We’re not criticising what food banks are doing and, of course, only food that is safe to eat should be available, which limits the handling of perishable food.”

When Wakeman and her students looked at what was available at food banks, they found items such as tinned soup, meat, puddings and pasta sauce dominated.

“I would like to see more fresh produce in there,” she said.

“If levels of poverty continue to rise, then the level of support given to food banks may have to be increased so we don’t have a situation where families are prevented from accessing nutritious food. Over longer periods eating donated food that is often refined could result in nutritional deficiencies.”

In 2013-14 food banks helped feed almost a million people in the UK, about a third of whom were children. Many food banks say their services should be used as emergency stopgaps.

But there is anecdotal evidence that many people use food banks for longer periods. A project in south-west England told last year’s all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger and food poverty that it was supporting people for up to 12 weeks.

An Oxfam report gives the example of a single mother with three sons surviving for eight weeks with the help of food bank donations, while the user of a food bank in south-east London told researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, they had been using a food bank for almost a year.

Beyond the anecdotal evidence, however, it is hard to find out how many people are using food banks for long periods. The all-party inquiry said there were a huge number of initiatives in the UK and the “food aid landscape” was difficult to document. In its report, the inquiry “detected some concern among food banks and food assistance providers about an over-reliance on donations; both in terms of the quality and variety of food supplied and the reliability of future supply”.

It also said:

“A large number of food assistance providers told us that barriers around cost and storage prevented them from asking for donations of fresh food.”

The largest of the networks, the Trussell Trust, which runs 420 food banks in partnership with communities and churches, operates a strict policy of providing “nutritionally balanced ambient food” to help out in a short-term crisis and is careful to work with clients to make sure they do not become dependent on the food bank. Some of its centres provide fresh food.

Adrian Curtis, food bank network director at the Trussell Trust, said: “Although we do not place a limit on the length of support we offer to clients, our systems monitor usage with referral organisations to avoid dependency.

The charity’s Eat Well, Spend Less project aims to teach cooking skills and budgeting.

Wakeman raised the problem of over-reliance on food banks at a conference to discuss child poverty in Birmingham organised by the News in Brum organisation.

A series of meetings are to be held for members of the public to work out ways of helping the tackle the problem. A working group will also be established to help students work with community groups in the city on the issue.

Source – The Guardian, 18 Mar 2015

Government Dismisses Study Linking Use Of Food Banks To Benefit Cuts

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.

He added:

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.”

McAuley said:

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

http://www.welfareweekly.com/government-dismisses-study-linking-use-of-food-banks-to-benefit-cuts/

Benefit Sanctions Blamed For 54% Surge In Food Bank Demand As 20 Million Meals Given To Poorest In 2013

Oxfam Press Release: Big rise in UK food poverty sees 20m meals given out in last year

Food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves – a 54 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, according to a report published today by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust.

Below the Breadline warns that there has been a rise in people turning to food banks in affluent areas. Cheltenham, Welwyn Garden City and North Lakes have seen numbers of users double and in some cases treble. The massive rise in meals handed out by food banks and food aid charities is a damning indictment of an increasingly unequal Britain where five families have the same wealth as the poorest 20 per cent of the population.

The report details how a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out by food banks and other charities. Food prices have increased by 43.5 per cent in the past 8 years. During the same time the poorest 20 per cent have seen their disposable income fall by £936 a year.

People using food banks who are featured in the report spoke of the struggle to feed themselves and of deteriorating health. One woman described her situation as, “like living in the 1930s and through rationing”, while another said “I wouldn’t eat for a couple of days, just drink water”. Research shows that over half a million children in the UK are living in families that are unable to provide a minimally acceptable diet.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: “Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. Why is the Government not looking into this?

“We truly are living through a tale of two Britains; while those at the top of the tree may be benefiting from the green shoots of economic recovery, life on the ground for the poorest is getting tougher.

“At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope with a perfect storm of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices. The Government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren’t left behind by the economic recovery.”

Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty said: “Protecting its people from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of Government. Most of us assume that when we fall on hard times, the social security safety net will kick in, and prevent us falling into destitution and hunger. We want all political parties to commit to re-instating the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system, and draw up proposals to ensure that no one in the UK should go hungry.”

Chris Mould, Chairman of The Trussell Trust said: “Trussell Trust food banks alone gave three days’ food to over 300,000 children last year. Below the Breadline reminds us that Trussell Trust figures are just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, which is a national disgrace.

“The troubling reality is that there are also thousands more people struggling with food poverty who have no access to food aid, or are too ashamed to seek help, as well as a large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.

“Trussell Trust food banks are seeing parents skipping meals to feed their children and significant repercussions of food poverty on physical and mental health. Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.”

The report will feature on tonight’s Dispatches, to be broadcast at 7.30pm on Channel 4. The documentary, Breadline Kids, will follow three families in their daily lives as they struggle to feed themselves.

In total, Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that the three main food aid providers – Trussell Trust, Fareshare and Food Cycle – gave out over 20m meals in 2013-4, up from around 13m, a year earlier. The Trussell Trust, the only robust source of statistics showing how many people actually visit food banks, reported in April that 913,138 people were given three days’ emergency food between April 2013 and March 2014 – the equivalent of over 8 million meals.

Benefit sanctions is one of the major factors contributing to the increase in food bank usage. Since the new sanctions policy was implemented in October 2012, over 1 million sanctions have been applied.

A recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that “DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479.pdf; p.29)

Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust are calling on the Government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and cause of the increases in food bank usage. The organisations are also calling on all political parties to re-instate the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system.

Source – Welfare News Service,  09 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/benefit-sanctions-blamed-54-increase-food-bank-usage/

Workfare’ Scheme ‘Holed Below The Waterline’, Says Unite

 

Unite Union Press Release:

The opposition of nearly 350 charities to the government’s new ‘workfare’ programme has ‘holed the scheme below the waterline’, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Thursday 5 June).

Unite has welcomed the news that 345 voluntary sector organisations, including household names such as Shelter, Crisis, Scope and Oxfam, have pledged not to take part in the Community Work Placements (CWP) programme.

 The indications are that the flagship scheme of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has been delayed yet again

This week was meant to be the deadline for organisations to start the new mandatory CWPs which require that jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants do six months work placement – or risk losing their benefits.

Unite, which has 60,000 members in the voluntary sector, has branded the scheme as “nothing more than forced unpaid labour.”

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The mounting opposition from the not for profit sector has holed one of Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship projects below the waterline. More waves of opposition will sink this scheme once-and-for all.

“This obscene programme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour.

“Unite welcomes the fact that so many charities have given this scheme the thumbs down as they can see that it is grossly unfair and a perversion of the true ethos of volunteering.

“Questions have to be asked about the government’s slavish reliance on the controversial private sector contractors, such as G4S, to implement the CWP programme.

“It was G4S and its security shambles that was the only blot on the London Olympics two years ago.

“We are against this scheme wherever Duncan Smith wants to impose it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.

“It is outrageous that ministers are trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits clawed back.

“What the long queues of the unemployed need are proper jobs with decent pay and a strong structure of apprenticeships for young people to give them a sustainable employment future.”

Unite is opposing workfare in local government and will be raising it as an industrial issue with local authorities which do not sign the pledge. So far, 13 local councils have signed up not to implement any workfare programmes – and more are actively considering doing so.

With so many council cuts, Unite is determined that workfare placements are not used to replace paid jobs.

Unite’s growing community section will be on hand to support unemployed people forced onto workfare schemes.

> This last paragraph looks interesting….

Source – Welfare News Service,  05 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/workfare-scheme-holed-waterline-says-unite/

Britain’s richest 1% own as much as poorest 55% of population

Britain’s richest 1% have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55% of the population put together, according to the latest official analysis of who owns the nation’s £9.5tn of property, pensions and financial assets.

In figures that also lay bare the extent of inequality across the north-south divide, the Office for National Statistics said household wealth in the south-east had been rising five times as fast as across the whole country.

The average wealth of households in the southeast had surged to £309,000 at the end of 2012, up 30% since the first wealth report published by the ONS covering 2006-8 – while the average rise in England was only 6%.

But wealth in the north-east had fallen, the only region where it did so, to an average of just under £143,000. In Scotland the figure was £165,500.

Northern regions lost out after a dramatic rise in stock market values that was grabbed mostly by households in the south east, the ONS figures show.

The situation is likely to have worsened following an 18% surge in house prices over the past year in the south-east and even higher at the top end of the market.

A rush to save among richer households as the recession deepened boosted the nation’s total wealth and ensured Britain’s long-established financial inequality remained in place, with the top 10% laying claim to 44% of household wealth – while the poorest half of the country had only 9%.

Rachael Orr, Oxfam‘s head of poverty in the UK said the figures were a “shocking chapter in a tale of two Britains“.

The charity recently reported that five billionaire families controlled the same wealth as 20% of the population. “It is further evidence of increasing inequality at a time when five rich families have the same wealth as 12 million people,” she said.

We need our politicians to grasp the nettle and make the narrowing gap between the richest and poorest a top priority. It cannot be right that in Britain today a small elite are getting richer and richer while millions are struggling to make ends meet.”

Duncan Exley, director of the Equality Trust, said: “The grotesque concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority is fracturing our society, weakening our economy and giving disproportionate power to the richest. Unless policymakers adopt a clear goal of reducing the gap between the richest and the rest, they will have to govern an increasingly dysfunctional nation.

The report comes after French economist Thomas Piketty has ignited international debate about inequality by documenting the rapid accumulation of assets by the top 1% over the four decades since the 1970s.

Britain’s top 1% saw their share of wealth increase slightly in the four years before 2012, grabbing the same share as 54.9% of the population, up from 54.2% in 2008/10.

But the Treasury said the report showed that wealth inequality had remained the same throughout the six years up to 2012 while income inequality had declined to levels last seen in 1986. A spokesperson said the government’s efforts to protect the poorest during the recession had worked.

The effects of the Great Recession are still being felt which is why we have taken continued action to help hardworking people by cutting income tax and freezing fuel duty.

“And we want to help more people to save for their future or own their own home which is why we are giving people more flexibility over their pensions and introducing Help to Buy. At the same time we have introduced new higher rates of stamp duty on the most expensive homes and done more than any previous government to crack down on tax evasion and avoidance in order to ensure that everyone pays their fair share in tax.”

> If the government executed every poor person in the UK, a government spokesman would then be wheeled out to claim that by killing everyone they had in fact improved the victims lot, since they would no longer have to buy food, heating, housing, etc, thereby making everyone better off.

And dead, of course, but you can’t have everything…

Critics of the wealth report said it failed to capture the huge diversion of wealth to offshore tax havens, which account for trillions of pounds worth of savings.

A series of investigations into offshore tax havens have documented the success of their banks in attracting a steady rise in the savings and financial assets of the richest 1%.

There was also a clear disparity between women and men over who owns the most homes, pensions, cars and stocks and shares. The average value of men’s total pension wealth was nearly twice as high as women’s in 2010/12 – £63,000 compared with £34,800.

The power of the grey pound is highlighted in the report by several measures, including one showing that couples without children, where one person is over and the other under the state pension age, have the highest total wealth at £607,800, up from £452,000 in 2006.

Source – The Guardian,  15 May 2014

Chaos At The DWP As Bungled Help To Work Scheme Attempts To Launch

the void

Unlike Help To Work, the new Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign has already been a huge success. Unlike Help To Work, the new Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign has already been a huge success.

Despite wildly optimistic claims from the DWP, today’s launch of mass workfare seems to be in chaos behind the scenes.  With barely any information yet available on the scheme it appears that the flagship Help To Work programme has no-one actually running it, no guidance for companies involved and no real plan to deal with the huge influx of claimants to Jobcentres from daily signing.

According to the BBC a mere 70 so-called charities have signed up to provide placements on the scheme which will involve forcing unemployed people to carry out 780 hours of unpaid work.  For ‘Help To Work to be successful, these charities will need to accept hundreds, or possibly thousands of placements each.  Predictably the DWP are not saying who the charities are.  So far the only voluntary sector organisation…

View original post 551 more words

Bedroom tax hitting North East the hardest

Benefit claimants in the North-East and North Yorkshire have been hit harder by Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ than any other region, a new study has revealed.

The report, by Oxfam and the New Policy Institute (NPI), warns that wide-ranging cuts are changing the shape of welfare support at a time when rising prices are making it harder for families to make ends meet.

The study, Multiple Cuts For The Poorest Families, found 28,000 of the poorest households in the region are being hit by the bedroom tax and are £12.80 per week worse off, with around 3,000 at least £20 a week out of pocket.

As a result, job seekers, carers, single parents or those with a disability or illness who are unable to work are being pushed deeper into poverty, it said.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones (Labour) said the record use of food banks was a clear indication that not only the unemployed, but also those in low pay, are being forced to rely on charity to survive.

He said: “In the year 2014 it is a national scandal. It is a situation where they are forcing people to move who have lived in the same homes for many years. The Government is treating people’s home as commodities rather than homes.”

But cuts to council tax benefit are more widespread in the region, where 103,000 of the poorest households have seen a cut in their cash payments.

These households now have to pay around £2.40 per week in council tax, a charge they were previously deemed too poor to pay.

The worst off are those 40,000 households who have seen both cuts in their housing benefit and their council tax benefit.

North-West Durham MP Pat Glass (Labour) said: “People who have never been in debt before are now in debt.

 “What worries me more is that people who are on the margins do not seem to be able to hold on any more are falling into all sorts of problems.”

Renters in the private sector have also seen their housing benefit slashed too, through cuts to the Local Housing Allowance.

The research estimates that this has affected 29,000 of the poorest households in the area, costing them around £7.80 per week.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam chief executive, said: “This is the latest evidence of a perfect storm blowing massive holes in the safety net which is supposed to stop people falling further into poverty.”

In London, where the population is two-and-a-half to three times greater than the North-East, around 34,000 of the poorest households are being hit by the bedroom tax.

On average they are £20 per week worse off, the highest cut of any region, and around 7,000 are being hit by at least £25 per week.

But cuts to council tax benefit are much more widespread in the capital where 240,000 of the poorest households have seen a cut.

Geraldine Kay, chief executive of Derwentside Homes, the social landlord  which manages former council housing stock in the north-west of County Durham, said: “The North-East has been disproportionately adversely affected by welfare reforms compared to all other regions with the exception of London for a different reason.

“In London the issue is the extortionate cost of housing, to buy or to rent, exceeding the benefit cap.

“In the North-East it is the ‘bedroom tax’ that is causing particular hardship as our housing stock is dominated by two and three bedroom family homes with very few flats and apartments.

“There are simply not the smaller properties for people to downsize into and tenants are caught in the ‘bedroom tax’ poverty trap.”

Conservative Stockton South MP James Wharton said hundreds of thousands of people are on waiting list for homes while hundreds of thousands more have properties bigger than they needs, which are paid for by the taxpayer.

He said: “The housing system this government inherited was in need of major reform and by paying for what people need, rather than over the odds, the taxpayer can get people into the right sized homes and free up properties for those in desperate need.”

> Except… that doesn’t work. Surely he’s grasped the fact by now ?

 

Source – Northern Echo   22 April 2014

Britain’s Five Richest Families Worth More Than Poorest 20%

This article  was written by Larry Elliott, economics editor, for The Guardian on Monday 17th March

The scale of Britain’s growing inequality is revealed today by a report from a leading charity showing that the country’s five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population.

Oxfam urged the chancellor George Osborne to use Wednesday’s budget to make a fresh assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together.

The development charity, which has opened UK programmes to tackle poverty, said the government should explore the possibility of a wealth tax after revealing how income gains and the benefits of rising asset prices had disproportionately helped those at the top.

Although Labour is seeking to make living standards central to the political debate in the run-up to next year’s general election, Osborne is determined not to abandon the deficit-reduction strategy that has been in place since 2010. But he is likely to announce a fresh crackdown on tax avoidance and measures aimed at overseas owners of high-value London property in order to pay for modest tax cuts for working families.

The early stages of the UK’s most severe post-war recession saw a fall in inequality as the least well-off were shielded by tax credits and benefits. But the trend has been reversed in recent years as a result of falling real wages, the rising cost of food and fuel, and by the exclusion of most poor families from home and share ownership.

In a report, a Tale of Two Britains, Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries – the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn.

The most affluent family in Britain, headed by Major General Gerald Grosvenor, owns 77 hectares (190 acres) of prime real estate in Belgravia, London, and has been a beneficiary of the foreign money flooding in to the capital’s soaring property market in recent years. Oxfam said Grosvenor and his family had more wealth (£7.9bn) than the poorest 10% of the UK population (£7.8bn).

Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

The UK study follows an Oxfam report earlier this year which found that the wealth of 85 global billionaires is equivalent to that of half the world’s population – or 3.5 billion people. The pope and Barack Obama have made tackling inequality a top priority for 2014, while the International Monetary Fund has warned that the growing divide between the haves and have-nots is leading to slower global growth.

Oxfam said the wealth gap in the UK was becoming more entrenched as a result of the ability of the better off to capture the lion’s share of the proceeds of growth. Since the mid-1990s, the incomes of the top 0.1% have grown by £461 a week or £24,000 a year. By contrast, the bottom 90% have seen a real terms increase of only £2.82 a week or £147 a year.

The charity said the trends in income had been made even more adverse by increases in the cost of living over the past decade. “Since 2003 the majority of the British public (95%) have seen a 12% real terms drop in their disposable income after housing costs, while the richest 5% of the population have seen their disposable income increase.”

Osborne will this week announce details of the government’s new cap on the welfare budget and has indicated that he wants up to £12bn a year cut from the benefits bill in order to limit the impact of future rounds of austerity on Whitehall departments.

Oxfam said that for the first time more working households were in poverty than non-working ones, and predicted that the number of children living below the poverty line could increase by 800,000 by 2020. It said cuts to social security and public services were meshing with falling real incomes and a rising cost of living to create a “deeply damaging situation” in which millions were struggling to get by.

The charity said that starting with this week’s budget, the government should balance its books by raising revenues from those that could afford it – “by clamping down on companies and individuals who avoid paying their fair share of tax and starting to explore greater taxation of extreme wealth”.

The IMF recently released research showing that the ever-greater concentration of wealth and income hindered growth and said redistribution would not just reduce inequality but would be economically beneficial.

“On average, across countries and over time, the things that governments have typically done to redistribute do not seem to have led to bad growth outcomes, unless they were extreme”, the IMF said in a research paper. “And the resulting narrowing of inequality helped support faster and more durable growth, apart from ethical, political or broader social considerations.”

Phillips said: “Increasing inequality is a sign of economic failure rather than success. It’s far from inevitable – a result of political choices that can be reversed. It’s time for our leaders to stand up and be counted on this issue.”

Landed gentry to self-made millionaires

Duke of Westminster (Wealth: £7.9bn)

Gerald Grosvenor and his family owe the bulk of their wealth to owning 77 hectares (190 acres) of Mayfair and Belgravia, adjacent to Buckingham Palace and prime London real estate.

As the value of land rockets in the capital so too does the personal wealth of Grosvenor, formally the sixth Duke of Westminster and one of seven god parents to the new royal baby, Prince George.

The family also own 39,000 hectares in Scotland and 13,000 hectares in Spain, while their privately owned Grosvenor Estate property group has $20bn (£12bn) worth of assets under managemenSpaint including the Liverpool One shopping mall, according to leading US business magazine Forbes.

Reuben brothers (£6.9bn)

Simon and David Reuben made their early money out of metals. Born in India but brought up in London, they started in local scrap metal but branched out into trading tin and aluminium.

Their biggest break was to move into Russia just after the break-up of the Soviet Union, buying up half the country’s aluminium production facilities and befriending Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch associate of Nat Rothschild and Peter Mandelson.

The Reuben brothers are still involved in mining and metals but control a widely diversified business empire that includes property, 850 British pubs, and luxury yacht-maker Kristal Waters. They are also donors to the Conservative party.

Hinduja brothers (£6bn)

Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja co-chair the Hinduja Group, a multinational conglomerate with a presence in 37 countries and businesses ranging from trucks and lubricants to banking and healthcare.

They began their careers working in their father’s textile and trading businesses in Mumbai and Tehran, Iran but soon branched out by buying truck maker, Ashok Leyland from British Leyland and Gulf Oil from Chevron in the 1980s, while establishing banks in Switzerland and India in the 1990s.

The family’s London home is a mansion on Carlton House Terrace, overlooking St James Park and just along fromclose to Buckingham Palace, which is potentially worth £300m. They have links with the Labour party.

Cadogan family (£4bn)

The wealth of the Cadogans family is built on 90 acres36 hectares of property and land in Chelsea and Knightsbridge, west London.

Eton-educated Charles is the eighth Earl of Cadogan and ran the family business, Cadogan Estates, until 2012 when he handed it over to his son Edward, Viscount Chelsea.

Charles, who is a first cousin to the Aga Khan, started in the Coldstream Guards before going into the City.

He was briefly chairman of Chelsea Football Club in the early 1980s and his family motto is: “He who envies is the lesser man.”

Mike Ashley (£3.3bn)

Ashley owns Newcastle United football club and became a billionaire through his Sports Direct discount clothing chain which he started after leaving school.

He was the sole owner of the fast growing business, which snapped up brands such as Dunlop, Slazenger, Karrimor and Lonsdale, until it floated on the stock market in 2007. He now owns 62%.

Ashley is a regular visitor to London’s swankiest casinos but is famously publicity-averse

Source – Welfare News Service,  17 March 2014

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Stop Workfare In Its Tracks – Join The Week Of Action 29 March – 6 April 2014

the void

salvation-army-workfare In April George Osborne’s mass workfare scheme will begin.  Unemployed people will be sentenced to 780 hours community work simply for being unable to find a job. Not even lone parents with young children are to be exempt from the scheme which will see so-called charities like Groundwork UK and the Salvation Army paid by the tax payer to force people to work for free.  Part time workers and those currently genuinely volunteering will also face being sent on unpaid work.

Collective action can halt this forced labour scheme in its tracks.  A week of action against workfare has been called beginning on the 29th March.  An escalation in the campaign against unpaid work is vital and there is no better chance than this.  It only takes a few people to get the ball rolling, and protests against organisations using workfare have proved to be effective.  Boycott Workfare can offer…

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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