Three generations of a North East family joined more than 1,000 demonstrators in the North East to protest against Government cuts.
John and Isabelle Baker, their daughter Abby Schoneboom, her husband John and their children Oscar aged eight and four-year-old Maisie were part of the North East People’s Assembly event in Newcastle on Saturday.
Abby, 44, said: “We’re here because we’re appalled by the cuts.
“I grew up in Fenham which had excellent libraries and there was a welfare state when you needed it. I was able to go from a council estate to study at Oxford University. I think that’s not possible now because the support systems are being ripped away from under our feet.
“Communities are being shut down in an almost vengeful manner.”
Abby returned to Newcastle five years ago after living for 15 years in the US where she met husband John, 55, from New York.
He commented: “I come from a country where the health system is broken and you don’t want that.
“I think it’s a great shame about what’s happening to the NHS – it’s one of the things that makes Britain great.”
Isabelle, 69, added: “I worked in the public sector all my working life in libraries. It’s not just about libraries, everything is being taken away from us. It’s time to stand up and be heard. That’s why we’re all here.”
The number of people reliant on food banks to help feed themselves and their families could rocket to more than two million, according to new research.
Research by Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, forecasts that Tory plans for a further £12bn in welfare cuts could lead to a doubling in food banks users by 2017.
Trussell Trust, who operates over 440 food banks, gave out 1,084,604 emergency food parcels in 2014/15 – up from 61,468 in 2010/11.
The charity is just one of many food bank providers, charities and churches supporting hungry families across the UK.
The research also shows that rising food bank use is due to higher demand, rather than greater supply – as claimed by some government ministers.
According to a formula devised by Dr Loopstra, the number of food parcels given out per head of the population rises by 0.16% for every 1% cut in welfare spending.
Dr Loopstra said: “It coincides with spending cuts, welfare reform and record numbers of benefit claimants losing payments due to sanctions.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves seized on the figures, saying they were further evidence of the hardship and misery caused by Tory welfare policy.
“It would be an absolute disgrace for food bank use to double”, she said.
“The welfare state is there to provide a safety net. It’s not doing what it’s meant to do when people have to rely on charity.”
Reeves said David Cameron’s pledge of more savage cuts to welfare benefits means he has no choice but to cut working-age benefits, because the Tories have ruled out any changes to pensions and pensioner benefits.
“The Tories cannot achieve their £12bn of cuts to social security without doing so and hitting family budgets hard”, she said.
“Child benefit and tax credits are now on the ballot paper next week. Labour will protect them, and families across the country now know the Tories will cut them again.”
Reeves blamed benefit delays, sanctions and the hated bedroom tax for the increased demand on food banks.
She said Labour was the only party committed to reducing the reliance on food banks.
> But hang on… didn’t she say Labour didn’t want to be the party of the unemployed ? And aren’t Labour promising more Workfare ?
“A Labour government would do this by axing the bedroom tax, getting rid of benefit sanctions targets and introducing protections for people with mental health problems, carers, pregnant women and people at risk of domestic violence.”
She added: “It’s inevitable, if the Tories get back in, that we will see further food bank use.”
Trussell Trust’s Adrian Curtis said: “Despite welcome signs of economic recovery, hunger continues to affect significant numbers in the UK today.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 04 May 2015
I have just 21 weeks to wait before the start of the Rugby World Cup. To while away the time, I want to remember a rugby-playing Marxist from New Zealand who in 1934 taught the haka at a summer camp for unemployed men.
James Munro Bertram was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford when he volunteered to spend his summer with the Universities Council for Unemployed Camps (UCUC). Born in Auckland on 11 August 1910 to a Presbyterian family, he came to England with left-wing views and a training in journalism. He graduated in 1934 with a first in English, then took a second class degree in modern languages in the following year.
UCUC, though based in Cambridge, drew support from a number of English and Scottish universities, and is best understood as part of the broader tradition of student social service, sharpened by the…
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> Coming soon – the Pope is a Catholic, study finds….
Austerity policies such as cuts to welfare and local services are driving the rapid spread of food banks in the UK, according to an academic study.
The Oxford University research shows emergency food aid is most concentrated in areas where there are high levels of joblessness and benefit sanctions.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition persistently refused to acknowledge a link between its economic and social security policies and the explosion in food banks.
But the Oxford study, published in the British Medical Journal, shows demand for food parcels is strongest where poverty is accompanied by restrictions on, and reductions in, social assistance.
“More food banks are opening in areas experiencing greater cuts in spending on local services and central welfare benefits and higher unemployment rates.”
The study, which uses data supplied by the UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, finds food banks operated in 20 UK council areas in 2009-10. By 2013-14 they existed in 251 areas.
At the same time, the rate of food aid distribution tripled between 2010 and 2013 from about 0.6 food parcels per 100 people to 2.2 per 100.
There were stark variations between local areas, from a low of less than 0.1 food parcels per 100 people in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a high of eight parcels per 100 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
These in part reflected the fact that some areas had more or longer-established food banks, the study found.
Even taking this into account, higher rates of food parcel distribution were still “significantly associated” with welfare cuts and austerity measures.
In particular, the prevalence in an area of benefit sanctions – where unemployed claimants who do not meet jobcentre rules have their payments stopped for at least four weeks – was a strong indicator of food parcel use.
The study says:
“The rise in food bank use is … concentrated in communities where more people are experiencing benefit sanctions.
“Food parcel distribution is higher in areas where food banks are more common and better established, but our data also show that the local authorities with greater rates of sanctions and austerity are experiencing greater rates of people seeking emergency food assistance.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said:
“The government spends £94bn a year on working-age benefits and provides a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.
“The vast majority of benefits are processed on time with improvements being made year on year and the number of sanctions has actually gone down.”
The lead author of the study, Rachel Loopstra, said it was likely to have “underestimated the true burden of food insecurity in the UK” because food aid provision is patchy and data collection is relatively crude.
She called for further research to capture the full extent of food insecurity and food bank use in the UK. One of the last acts of the coalition was to reject a cross-party call for the government to collect robust data on food poverty.
The study is the latest in a string of separate reports linking welfare reform to food bank use, from poverty charities, churches, MPs, and food banks.
Source – The Guardian, 09 Apr 2015
Coalition claims that it has presided over a jobs revival have come under fresh scrutiny with research showing that as few as a fifth of the 2 million jobless people whose benefit has been taken away are known to have found work.
The research, due to be presented at a Commons select committee inquiry into welfare sanctions on Wednesday, suggests that hundreds of thousands are leaving Jobseeker’s Allowance because of benefit sanctions without finding employment, though the report’s authors decline to provide an exact figure.
Written by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the report raises questions about why so many of those losing their benefit then disappear from the welfare system – possibly to rely on food banks.
Prof David Stuckler, of Oxford University, said that benefit sanctions “do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.
> No, what we need next is a stop to sanctions. Then you can do all the cost-benefit analysis stuff, in the knowledge that your research is not being made obsolute by people continuing to be sanctioned every day.
“If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”
However, the Department for Work and Pensions, which is expected to hail a further rise in UK employment on Wednesday, countered that it was proud that 1 million jobless people were now subject to the “claimant commitment”, which sets out tougher requirements on the jobless to find work or risk losing their benefit payments.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said:
“It is only right that in return for government support – and in return for their benefits – jobseekers are expected to do all they can to find work. Although on benefits, they still have a job: the job is to get back into work.
> This would be the government support we paid into, via National Insurance, when we were working, right ? So its our money, IDS, not yours.
“The claimant commitment, which is deliberately set to mimic a contract of employment, makes this expectation explicit. It has created a real change in attitudes. Already more than a million people have signed up to – and are benefiting from – this new jobseeking regime.”
> What real-life employment contract does it mimic !? The sort used for slaves on the old southern US plantations perhaps ?
The Oxford-based research showed that between June 2011 and March 2014, more than 1.9m sanctions were imposed on people receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), with 43% of those sanctioned subsequently ceasing to try to claim the benefit. Only 20% of those who left gave as their stated reason that they had found work.
The Department for Work and Pensions conducts no systematic research into what happens to those sanctioned, so the new findings start to fill an evidential gap in what has been one of the biggest but least publicised changes to the welfare system since the government came to power.
The 1.9m benefit removals between June 2011 and March 2014 represent a 40% increase compared with the previous seven years. The figures are based on official monthly and quarterly data from databases covering UK local authorities between 2005 and 2014.
The highly emotive dispute about a central aspect of government welfare reform centres on whether jobcentre staff, driven by senior management, are following arbitrary and poorly communicated rules that punish not just the feckless but some of the most vulnerable in society, including mentally ill and disabled people. Many independent witnesses have urged the DWP inquiry at least to suspend the sanctions regime for those claiming employment support allowance, the main disability benefit .
Study author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, said:
“The data did not give us the full picture of why sanctioned people have stopped claiming unemployment benefit. We can say, however, that there was a large rise in the number of people leaving JSA for reasons that were not linked to employment in association with sanctioning. On this basis, it appears that the punitive use of sanctions is driving people away from social support.”
The study also shows widespread variation in how local authorities used sanctions. In Derby, Preston, Chorley and Southampton, researchers found particularly high rates of people being referred for sanctions. In some months, more than 10% of claimants in these areas were sanctioned – the highest rates nationwide.
Co-author Prof Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:
“There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis of sanctioning, looking at it not just in narrow terms of unemployment benefit, but also the bigger picture, focusing on employment, health, and other social costs.”
“The coalition government has embarked upon an unprecedented experiment to reform social security. I hope policymakers will be informed by these findings and see the value of investigating the consequences.”
Separate evidence in front of the DWP select committee inquiry includes witness statements from former jobcentre staff suggesting senior management threaten staff if they do not take a harsh approach to claimants. There is also cumulative evidence that many of those sanctioned have little or no knowledge of why they are being punished.
The main union representing jobcentre staff, PCS – also due to give evidence on Wednesday to the select committee inquiry – suggests:
“While there is considerable anecdotal evidence about the inappropriate use of sanctions, there is a lack of empirical evidence. We believe that DWP should publish a more detailed breakdown of sanctions, and specifically more detailed explanations as to why they were imposed. PCS’s survey of our adviser members showed that 61% had experienced pressure to refer claimants to sanctions where they believed it may be inappropriate to do so.”
DWP select committee inquiry member Debbie Abrahams said:
“This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people “off-flow”. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”
The government counters that its policies are turning the UK into the jobs factory of Europe, and dismisses the idea that the unemployment figures are being subverted by sanctions.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin and Patrick Wintour, for The Guardian on Tuesday 20th January 2015
Anyone with half a brain cell knows that the current government are not adverse to lying about their ‘achievements’ – even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
So we come to the claims of government that they have been responsible for increased employment and a reduction in the numbers of people claiming benefits – claims which are contested by academics at the University of Oxford.
Digging deeper into government claims, the academics found that hundreds of thousands of jobseeker’s allowance claimants stop claiming without finding employment – the ‘disappear’ from the welfare system.
Prof David Stuckler, of Oxford University, said that benefit sanctions “…do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.
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MP Debbie Abrahams has revealed that Oxford academics will report next month on what has happened to half a million jobseekers allowance (JSA) claimants who were sanctioned and subsequently disappeared from official employment statistics.
The Oxford University study led by Professor David Stuckler and Dr. Rachel Loopstra, is in the process of analysing what has happened to the 4.5 million people who have been sanctioned under the Coalition government’s sanctioning regime.
Their research will be published in full later this month for full peer review. According to Abrahams:
“Since the government’s regulations came into effect in October 2012 about half of all sanction decisions have led to people on JSA having their social security payments cut for a least 4 weeks, affecting over 2 million people.
“Of those sanctioned, one in four leave JSA, and their preliminary statistical analysis is revealing that most of those who leave do so for reasons other than employment.”
The research suggests more than 500,000 Job Seekers Allowance claimants have ‘disappeared’ since the sanctions regime was toughened in October 2012.
This could mean the claimant count – one of the ways of measuring unemployment – is actually 20,000 to 30,000 higher each month than government figures.
This suggests that, in August 2014, the claimant count could have hit one million instead of being at 970,000.
“Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers as well as the sick and disabled. And we shouldn’t forget that most people on social security are actually in work but are struggling to make ends meet.
“I’ve always maintained that the real reason the government is doing this is to get them off the JSA claimant figures, so it looks like there are fewer people who are unemployed.
It directly contradicts the government’s current claims about these people coming off JSA because they’ve gone into work.
“Iain Duncan Smith will try and say these statistics are unreliable but the fact is these are the DWP’s own statistics so they can’t wriggle out of it using that excuse!”
Stuckler and Loopstra, who have analysed data from 375 local authority areas have said they are ‘shocked’ by what they have found so far.
Talking about his research findings Professor Stuckler said: “The data clearly show that many people are not leaving JSA for work but appear to be being pushed off in unprecedented numbers in association with sanctions.”
> Well, it’s nice that academics and politicians are finally catching up with what the rest of us already knew… question now is, what are they going to do with their new-found knowledge ?
Source – Benefits & Work, 07 Nov 2014
The issue of health inequality in an increasingly unequal UK is the topic of the Wolfson Annual Lecture at Durham University’s Stockton campus later this year.
The free public lecture entitled “Health Inequalities and the one per cent” will be given by Professor Danny Dorling, from the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford University.
Prof Dorling, who is the author of Bankrupt Britain: An Atlas Of Social Change, highlights the fact that health inequalities are growing in the UK as the super-rich get richer.
“Before tax, they consume about 15 per cent of all income, or around 10 per cent after paying income tax.”
In no other Western European country does a small group of people take such a large share of the cake, he adds.
“Even as the overall size of that cake shrank during the great recession, their share rose while that of the rest fell.”
Prof Dorling asks what are the implications for everyone else in British society and suggests that the effects of such a wealth gap are not beneficial.
Anyone is welcome to attend the November 19 2014 lecture, which begins with lunch at 12.45 and ends at 3pm, but places are limited and must be booked in advance by contacting Suzanne Boyd on 0191 3340013.
The venue is the Ebsworth Building, Durham University, Queen’s Campus, Stockton.
Source – northern Echo, 02 Sept 2014