Vital voluntary lifeline services used by hundreds of people in Hartlepool face an uncertain future.
There are fears councillors could pull the plug on funding for groups – which last year totalled about £120,000.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s Finance and Policy Committee is to meet on November 24 to decide whether cash given to Voluntary Community Sector (VCS) groups should be axed in a bid to balance the books.
It comes after the Government has shrunk the local authority’s budget by 40 per cent and it must find savings of £7.4m for 2015/16.
Grants of between £4,000 and £10,000 from the Community Pool budget were handed out to nine town groups in the 2014/15.
But some of them are now fearing for their future and have admitted that they may have to reduce the services they offer, or even face closure as a result of the cost-cutting measures.
They say this will have a drastic impact on the town’s families and other vulnerable people who depend on them.
Keith Bayley, manager at Hartlepool Voluntary Development Association (HVDA) which supports VCS groups throughout the town, said:
“At the Finance and Policy Committee meeting the council will consider stopping all grant funding for VCS groups.
“This comes after a decision last year to reduce the budget by 50 per cent.
“Groups which provide services to some of the most disadvantaged people in Hartlepool are likely to suffer most with people with disabilities, people who cannot afford to feed themselves, the lonely and isolated and people with mental health problems likely to be some of the main losers.
“Having some level of grant funding for VCS groups and the services they provide allows the council to support some of the most vulnerable people in Hartlepool at a very low cost compared to other areas where the council pays for such services delivered via contracts.
“Grants are usually a partial contribution to service delivery costs where services are being delivered by a VCS group who, in turn obtain or raise the rest of the money from other sources.
“This is an important reason why some services provided by VCS groups and funded by grants provide such good value for money.
“It also allows the council to stand alongside and support local people who are trying to find solutions to some of the most pressing problems faced by local people.”
The council’s chief executive Dave Stubbs laid the blame at the door of the Government.
“Over the last four years we have seen our level of Government funding cut by almost 40 per cent and for 2015/16 we have to find savings of £7.4m to balance the books.”
“As we have stated on a number of occasions previously, this will inevitably result in some very tough decisions.
“A report to the Finance and Policy Committee on November 24 will set out a range of savings proposals, including withdrawing funding for some voluntary and community sector groups as part of a package of major cuts that we have had to identify due to the significant reductions in our grant from government.
“It is important however that any decision on the budget is not viewed in isolation because overall the council continues to direct resources to protect the most vulnerable people in the town.
“Hartlepool and other councils in the North-East have had cuts of double the national average and have more deprived communities that need significant support.
“We continue to urge the Government to address this unfairness at every opportunity.”
The Hartlepool services which received money in the 2014/15 pot of cash were Hartlepool PATCH which received £10,000, and The People’s Centre, in Raby Road, which also received £10,000.
Others were Making a Difference which got £10,000, Hart Gables which was rewarded £9,950.04, the Salaam Community Centre which got £9,888, Hartlepool Mind with £8,719, West View Project which received £6,195, Hartlepool Foodbank which was granted £5,518.46 and Epilepsy Outlook which got £4,729.50.
At a subsequent council meeting in May, councillors also approved an additional one-off contribution of £21,143 to the Community Pool programme, out of which Hartlepool Foodbank received a further £2,111, Age UK Teesside received £9,032, and Hartlepool Access Group received £10,000 for its Shopmobility scheme.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 17 Nov 2014
A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
‘Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems.
All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just 5% of respondents move into work, while 60% of people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut.
The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult.
80% of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70% were worried about their benefits being cut.
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem.
For most people (90%), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment.
“The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work.
“It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes.”
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems.
“There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
“We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
The report has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society.
Read Catherine Hale’s report here
Mind is promoting a campaign in support of changes to the current system, which you can read about and sign up to here
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 2014
Women, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities may be put off taking part in Britain’s political system because of abuse or threats of physical attacks, a North East MP has warned.
Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington & Sunderland West and the Shadow Equalities Minister, said attempts to make councils and Parliament more representative were being undermined by fears that candidates would face discrimination.
And she said that every party had to act to stamp out intimidation and prejudice in politics.
She was speaking as the Commons debated the findings of an inquiry which found candidates standing for election need protection from racist, Islamaphobic and anti-semitic attempts to smear them.
The findings were published by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Electoral Conduct.
Jeremy Beecham, who led Newcastle City Council for 17 years and is now a Labour peer, revealed that he had faced anti-semitic campaigning from political opponents when he first stood as a councillor in the city in 1967.
The inquiry also highlighted the case of Parmjit Dhanda, a former Labour MP, whose children found a severed pig’s head outside his house after his election defeat in 2010.
Gay rights group Stonewall highlighted a number of incidents of homophobic behaviour by candidates from many parties including an example from 2007 in which a Labour party council candidate with parliamentary ambitions, Miranda Grell, labelled her opponent a paedophile.
Ms Grell was convicted in 2007 by magistrates in Waltham Forest of two counts of making false statements about another candidate.
Mrs Hodgson told MPS: “None of us goes into politics without the fear of attack, and none of us is immune from attack on some level; but we should always expect any attacks on us to be based on choices or decisions that we have made, the things we have said, the way we have voted, or what we have done.”
But she warned: “I am sure that for many candidates the threat of their skin colour, background or faith – not to mention their children’s or relatives’- being turned into smears or innuendo or leading to harassment or abuse such as we have heard about today is a real consideration. I worry that the fear I have described will mean that many excellent candidates never seek their local party’s nomination or get the chance to be elected.”
The number of MPs in the House of Commons from ethnic minority backgrounds has increased. After the 2010 General Election there were 27 minority ethnic MPs, 12 more than in the previous Parliament.
It means 4.2% of MPs are from an an ethnic minority compared to 17.9% of the UK population as a whole.
The 2010 census of local councillors in England, carried out by the Local Government Association, showed that 4% came from an ethnic minority background, compared to 20% of the English population as a whole.
Equalities Minister Helen Grant said: “The inquiry on electoral conduct was thorough and detailed and made recommendations to a number of bodies, including the Electoral Commission, the police and political parties. Building its findings into current work and guidance and working with the right organisations is the best way to ensure that political life becomes a battle of ideas, not of race hate and discrimination.”
Source – Newcastle Journal,