The Government has been accused of cruelty and running a ‘postcode lottery for benefits‘ after it emerged a rural district had by far the highest proportion nationally of Jobseekers Allowance claimants being sanctioned.
A report by homelessness charity Crisis said 15.4 per cent of jobseekers in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, had been sanctioned, making claimants there three times more likely to have their benefits stopped than in its southern Yorkshire Dales neighbour Craven.
It found just 6.2 per cent of claimants in Richmondshire’s northern neighbour Durham had been sanctioned, while 10.9 per cent of claimants in Hambleton had had their benefits stopped, giving that area the tenth highest rate of sanctions in the country.
Crisis said evidence was mounting of “a punitive and deeply flawed regime”.
In 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced sanctions of between one week and three years if a claimant fails to comply with jobseeking requirements, such as attending interviews or undertaking work-related activity.
Senior pastor Ben Dowding, of the Store House foodbank, in Richmond, said he was surprised the area had topped the national sanctions table and that staff at the town’s Jobcentre – the only Jobcentre in the district – had often demonstrated compassion rather than being strict on claimants.
> Although presumably not so compassionate that they don’t keep sending his foodbank customers.
“Statistics only tell one side of the story, but having worked with the Jobcentre staff, they have always proved to be very caring individuals.”
Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said he believed the area’s high sanction rate reflected jobseekers’ problems reaching the Jobcentre or work, adding that it took claimants in Hawes five hours of travelling and waiting to sign on in Richmond and return home.
A DWP spokesman said Jobcentre staff took claimants’ personal circumstances into account and said there could be a number of factors that had led to Richmondshire having the highest proportion of sanctions.
He said: “Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who refuse to take up the support which is on offer.”
> As ever, the only people not asked for their opinion appear to be the unemployed, especially those who have been sanctioned. However, the original story received this comment:
When claimants apply for jobs it goes on a jobsite how many . My daughter applied for 17 one day but only 2 registered she took a picture of the jobs she had applied.
The next signing on Richmond said you only applied for 2 jobs – she said no look at this picture proving I applied for 17. So the system was not working correct but guess what sanctioned.
The staff at Richmond must be on good bonuses.
Source – Northern Echo, 11 Mar 2015
More than 230,000 people across the region are at risk of losing their right to vote, under a radical elections shake-up.
They are on course to drop off electoral rolls because of moves to require residents to register individually, rather than allowing one person to sign up an entire household.
Before the switch – to combat electoral fraud – election chiefs have sought to “match” voters from existing databases, automatically transferring names they can verify.
But, in County Durham alone, 45,989 people – or 11 per cent of the adult population – could not be matched and are currently missing from the new register.
There are also huge numbers to be found in Darlington (8,506, 11 per cent), Middlesbrough (11,026, 11 per cent), Richmondshire (3,996, 11 per cent) and – in particular – Newcastle (36,678, 18 per cent) and York (36,283, 23 per cent).
Areas with a high density of young adults, private renters and students have the most alarming gaps in their new rolls.
Missing voters have already been chased up with letters, asking them to provide additional information – their National Insurance number and date of birth – so they can be registered.
But Labour has warned the change is being rushed, calling for “block registration” of students and people in residential homes, to ensure they stay on lists.
Stephen Twigg, the party’s constitutional affairs spokesman, said:
“There is real concern about a large number of people falling off the register.
Warning 7.5m names were already missing, Mr Twigg added:
“If an unintended consequence of IER is that the situation gets even worse, all of us should be very concerned.”
But David Collingwood, Durham’s electoral services manager, played down talk of problems, saying:
“New enquiry forms for further information will be followed up with personal visits if necessary.
“We are confident this process will see the majority successfully switched to the new system and be eligible to vote.”
Jenny Watson, its chairwoman, added:
“There’s still more work to do. Every electoral registration officer has detailed plans in place to reach those residents they were not able to transfer automatically.”
IER – described as the biggest change to the electoral registration system in almost 100 years – has been deliberately delayed until after next year’s general election.
But Mr Twigg said rolling over existing lists would not capture people who have moved house – or turned 18 – since the last registers were compiled.
Source – Northern Echo, 31 Oct 2014
Housebuilding has collapsed in most of the region – despite Government claims of a “success story”.
The number of ‘affordable homes’ being built has fallen in 13 of 17 areas since the Coalition came to power, after housing programmes were axed.
And it has plunged sharply in many areas, including in Hartlepool (down 62.5 per cent), Middlesbrough (down 59.1 per cent) and Stockton-on-Tees (down 54.5 per cent).
The lack of new homes is even more acute in North Yorkshire, in Hambleton (down 76.9 per cent), Ryedale (down 66.7 per cent) and York (down 85.2 per cent).
In Richmondshire, not a single affordable home – those available at lower rents, or for shared ownership – was completed in 2013-14.
Yet, in 2010-11, the year the Coalition came to power, 60 were built, the official figures show.
Only South Tyneside, where 1,050 affordable homes were completed last year, bucked the trend, cutting the decline across the region to 15.3 per cent.
Last week, the department for communities and local government (DCLG) claimed its record on affordable housing since 2010 was a “clear success story”.
But ministers totted up four years’ of figures to reach that tally – and the statistics for previous years reveal a different story.
Rachel Fisher, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, said: “It is nowhere near enough.
“Demand is still far exceeding supply. England needs around 240,000 new homes a year. We need to build more of the right homes, in the right place, at the right price.”
Emma Reynolds, for Labour, said: “We have repeatedly called for action on housing supply, particularly on the need for more affordable homes, but this government has failed to act.
“Under David Cameron, the number of homes built has fallen to the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s.”
The chronic shortage of housing is an issue rising up the political agenda, with hundreds of thousands of families languishing on council waiting lists.
Meanwhile, town halls remain barred from borrowing money to build homes, as the Government relies on the private sector to step in.
But Kris Hopkins, the housing minister said: “Our affordable house-building efforts are a clear success story, with nearly 200,000 new affordable homes delivered since April 2010.
“It means families have new homes available to them, whether to rent at an affordable rate or to buy through our shared ownership schemes.”
Across England, 41,654 affordable homes were built last year – well down on the 53,172 in the year before the last general election.
Source – Northern Echo, 20 June 2014