Tough measures designed to force benefit claimants to find work are instead making them ill, a study by North East academics has warned.
Claimants who have their benefits cut are sometimes left to go without food or the ability to heat their homes, a study found.
And this has an impact on their health – particularly because some of these affected are already ill or disabled.
The study was carried out by researcher Kayleigh Garthwaite and Professor Clare Bambra of Durham University.
Their findings were presented to MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an investigation into “sanctions” which can imposed on people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and some people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit paid to people who are ill or disabled.
Claimants can have their benefits cuts off, known as a sanction, if officials believe they have failed to prove that they are looking for work.
But critics including a number of North East MPs argue that some claimants have lost benefits for no good reason. In a Commons debate in January, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman and other Labour MPs said they believed job centre staff were given unofficial targets for the number of sanctions issued.
The study by Dr Garthwaite and Professor Bambra was part of a five year project looking at why some groups of people are healthier than others, which has focused on foodbank users in Stockton on Tees.
In a paper presented to MPs, they said:
“Sanctions led to loss of their only source of income, resulting in sanctioned ESA recipients often going without sufficient food and/or energy required to maintain good health or recover from illness.”
In some cases, benefits were taken from people who did not understand the complex rules, including people mental health conditions, the academics said.
“Sanctions have led to cases of a total loss of income resulting in an inability to eat or heat at the levels required for maintaining good health or recovering from ill health.
“Indeed sanctions have exacerbated ill health. The sanctioning of people with mental health problems is a particular problem – with the stress and anxiety of income loss adding to their underlying condition.”
The academics said sanctions for ESA claimants “should be relaxed or removed – particularly for those with mental health problems”.
Dr Garthwaite also spoke to MPs at Westminster, where she warned that claimants often had no idea that there was an official hardship fund available to help people who had entirely run out of money.
She told them that some food bank users had resorted to eating food they knew would be bad for them because of medical conditions – such as an intolerance for wheat – because they had nothing else.
Defending the policy, Employment Minister Esther McVey told the committee that studies had shown sanctions encouraged people to find work.
“All the international evidence suggests that sanctions do have a positive impact on people getting into work, and there are two parts of that: as a deterrent, it has a positive impact on moving people into work, and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards.”
The Government publishes figures showing how many sanctions have been imposed.
In Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Tees Valley, sanctions were imposed 92,326 times since 2012.
The job centre which has cut benefits most often is James Cook House in Middlesbrough, which imposed 7,068 sanctions.
John Street job centre in Sunderland imposed 4,922 sanctions.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Feb 2015
A damning report today reveals the “totally unacceptable” inequalities driving a widening health divide between the North East and the South.
Experts are warning the current approach to tackling the gap is failing, and the situation is only likely to get worse.
According to the report, a baby girl born in Coxhoe, County Durham, can expect to live for 15 fewer years in good health than a baby girl born in Richmond, London.
Public health experts have now highlighted how devolved powers from central government to the North East could play a vital role in helping close this gulf.
Due North: the report of the Inquiry on Health Equity for the North, is the outcome of an independent inquiry, commissioned by Public Health England.
Professor Clare Bambra from Durham University’s Department of Geography and an Inquiry panel member, said:
“The differences in people’s health in the north compared to other parts of the UK are totally unacceptable. Without a radical change to the current approach to health inequality, we are likely to see things getting worse.”
In the North East, 18% of residents are classed as living in poverty, compared to 12% in the South East. During the past 20 years the region has consistently had lower employment rates than the South for both men and women. These factors, among others, have had a subsequent knock-on effect on general health.
In more recent years, massive efforts and tens of millions of pounds have been spent across the North East on schemes aimed at improving wellbeing. Newcastle and Sunderland are just some of areas that have implemented ways of reducing inequality by campaigning for the payment of a Living Wage.
But the report sets out a number of recommendations including the use of devolved powers to ensure decisions about health issues in the North East are made in the North East. It states:
“Devolution is central for addressing health inequalities with the rest of England. Devolution means regions in the North retaining more power and resources to collectively develop solutions that build on the assets and resilience of the North.”
Ms Bambra said:
“Central government takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to health spending. Devolution would allow us to address the problems we have here. In recent years we have lost our regional agencies in the North East so there is less focus on us.”
The report also recommended “collecting better data on children in the early years” so they can be tracked over time, monitoring inequalities in development.
In Sunderland over the last two years, figures showed 10% of reception-age children are obese, with local variations of 13 to 17% in some areas. By Year 6, the figure is 21% average, with some areas spiking at 26 to 34%.
Just days ago, plans to build a McDonald’s near a Newcastle school were rejected by councillors. Hundreds of people objected over fears the restaurant would promote unhealthy eating to children from nearby Kenton School.
Ms Bambra said:
“Lots of children’s life chances are determined before they are even born. We need to improve peoples’ access to affordable, healthy food.”
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said:
“This report highlights the need for Government to take action on poverty and the underlying causes of health inequalities.
“Many people in our region also still suffer ill health as a result of our industrial past. Ministers should prioritise those parts of our country with greatest need, not shift resources into more affluent areas.”
However, Coun Lee Martin, leader of Wearside’s Conservatives, said:
“If Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had done exactly what the coalition are doing on jobs, welfare reform, and education then the gap would have closed in the last 20 years. If anything we need to go further in tackling poverty and poverty of aspiration. Some of the North East’s councils adopting the Living Wage would be a start. I’m all for more powers being devolved but let’s have them devolved to people the public can elect directly rather than faceless council leaders.”
Prof Eugene Milne, director of Public Health at Newcastle City Council, said efforts were underway on Tyneside to address some of the most prolific health concerns. He added:
“We know that we have an extensive public health programme which aims to improve the general health of the local population – as a result we have made progress in key areas over recent years.
“However, this report correctly points to a continuing divide across the country, and between the rich and the poor in our society. We welcome that debate.
“Even with the rate of progress that we have, we know that it would take many decades to close the gap between the north and the south. Larger scale action is needed if the problem is to be addressed.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 15 Sept 2014
The legacy of Margaret Thatcher includes the premature death of many Britons and a continuing burden of suffering, academics have claimed.
The experts the universities of Durham, Liverpool, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh denounce the policies on the well-being of the British public after they concluded their study into social inequality in the 1980s.
They accuse the governments of Thatcher of wilfully engineering an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by distmantaling traditional industries to undermine the power of working class organizations.
> This is not difficult to believe. Nor is it difficult to believe that her current heirs, and their Lib Dem collaborators, are continuing the job of selling off everything and grinding the poor into the dirt.
Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel from Liverpool University said: “Margaret Thatcher’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being”.
Dr. Scott-Samuel added that around 5,000 excess deaths — attributable to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis — were witnessed towards the end of 1980s in addition to 2,500 excess deaths per year because of unemployment caused by Thatcher’s policies. The study said that the poverty rate had witnessed a rapid rise to 12% in 1985 from 6.7% in 1975 in the UK.
So many people died because of increase in infections on wards that were a result of policy changes in healthcare like the outsourcing of hospital cleaners.
Co-author Professor Clare Bambra, from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, said that their paper draws a very clear picture of impacts made by the politics on health inequalities.
The group also took aim at the coalition government . Prof David Hunter, of Durham Univ’s Centre For Public Policy & Health, said: “Taking its inspiration from Thatcher’s legacy, the coalition government has managed to achieve what Thatcher felt unable to, which is to open up the NHS to markets and competition. It’s task was made consideralby easier by the preceding Labour government which laid the foundations for the changes introduced in April 2013.”
> Yes, and it’s important to emphasise New Labour’s , and Tony Blair’s in particular, role in setting things up for the current government’s excesses. As much heirs of Thatcherism as the current mob.
The findings of the study have been published in the International Journal of Health Services.
Source – Durham Times 14 Feb 2014