Thousands of people across the North were already waiting to downsize before the bedroom tax came into force.
Almost 40,000 households across the North of England were on the waiting list for one-bedroom social homes just as the so-called Bedroom Tax came into force – half the total number of households on the list.
It compares with just 22% of households on the waiting list who were hoping for a social home with more than four bedrooms.
The controversial tax, which has reduced housing benefit available to families deemed to have extra bedrooms, was brought in by the coalition in April 2013.
Opponents warned at the time that people had ‘spare’ bedrooms only because of a lack of available smaller properties following years of councils selling off their social housing stock.
Now, figures reveal a chronic shortage of smaller homes in the North of England leaving thousands of households unable to move out of larger homes.
Meanwhile, they continue to be hit with cuts to their housing benefits despite major opposition to the policy.
Labour MPs across the North have reacted with fury at the figures, which they say highlight their concerns that thousands have been unfairly hit with the “pernicious” and “ideological” bedroom tax thanks to government failure to build enough homes.
Among them, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery slammed the bedroom tax which he claimed was making the most vulnerable pay for the shortage of housing across the region.
“It’s a complete and utter bottleneck where families can not move because the homes are not available. They are then subject to this pernicious tax while they are struggling to make ends meet at this moment in time anyway.
“The government knew the consequences of this. They did understand and they still pushed ahead with this. The election can not come quick enough for these people.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the figures dispel a myth about people who are being hit by the bedroom tax.
He said: “This blows the myth out of the water and Labour will be rid of it. It was a pretence and a myth right down the lines about people having too many bedrooms.
“There simply aren’t enough one-bedroom properties for people to move into. It’s nonsense. These are people, human beings in houses they have been living in 40 years. We’re talking about them as if they’re subhumans. It’s a disgrace.”
And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who was housing and planning minister from 2007 to 2009, said that housing supply had failed to keep up with a changing society that was seeing an aging population with more people moving to one-bedroom properties as partners passed away and children left home.
But he denied that Labour had been part of the problem or that they too had failed to ensure enough homes were built.
He said: “I would strongly disagree with that. We knew in full terms about the changing society. That’s why we needed to build more homes because we understand people are living longer and more people are living in one-person households.
“This government will have been aware of that too, and yet they still impose this grossly unfair tax. They know they don’t have the properties, they knew all along the difficulties this would” cause.”
And he added: “Where are the priorities with this government? It is not with people in the North who are suffering with housing problems. It’s about indifference – they don’t care about communities in Hartlepool.”
But a government spokesperson said the government was committed to building new homes across England and claimed ending the spare room subsidy had been a “necessary” move.
She added: “Nearly 217,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. Our affordable homes programme is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, with £19.5 billion of public and private funding.
“We have also given the North East of England £13.8m since 2013 to support vulnerable people affected by welfare reforms and there has been a 12% fall in the number of people in the North East affected by the policy, as tenants take action.
“Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, return fairness to the system and make better use of social housing stock.
“Every day the policy saves taxpayers over £1m.”
The North MPs were joined in their criticism by Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland. All five reiterated Labour’s pledge to abolish the bedroom tax if they win this year’s election.
The party became one step closer to delivering the promise in September 2014, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats came together to voted in favour of a bill brought in by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George.
If passed, it will mean the bedroom tax will not apply unless a tenant has been offered a different property and has refused to move.
> Hmmm…call me a cynic, but might that not just be circumvented by offering absolute shitholes that no-one wants to live in, then penalizing people for not wanting to live in them.
But prime minister David Cameron has shown no sign of revoking the policy, while a government spokesperson said it was saving the taxpayer £1m every day.
Almost 20,000 Wearside families are struggling with the cost of sending their children to school, a new report has revealed.
Every year parents are forking out an average of £770 per child to meet the basic needs of their child’s schooling, according to a study published today by the Children’s Commission on Poverty.
Backed by the Children’s Society, the report found 78 per cent of parents in the North East are struggling to meet the costs of school clothing, sports kits, school meals, trips, books, materials for classes, stationery, computers for homework, travel to and from school and summer clubs or activities.
Collectively, Sunderland parents are spending £26,899,261 on meeting school costs and 19,303 families are struggling, according to the report.
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Wasington and Sunderland West, said:
“Schools have a growing responsibility to ensure that the significant disadvantages that their pupils face because of poverty are addressed, and they now have significant funding through the pupil premium to help them do that.
“Practical steps could be making sure that uniforms are generic so they can be bought cheaply in supermarkets, running breakfast clubs so that children who don’t get fed on a morning aren’t prevented from learning by hunger, or homework clubs so that children can use computers and other resources they might not have at home.
“Child poverty is a millstone around the neck of children throughout the rest of their lives, and it benefits us all to do everything we can to alleviate its symptoms as soon as possible.”
The Children’s Commission on Poverty, a panel of children aged 10-19 from across England, found the costs are not only affecting family finances, but also harming the wellbeing of the poorest children.
It discovered more than half of the poorest families are borrowing money to pay for essential school items, almost two-thirds of children living in the poorest families are embarrassed as a result of not being able to afford key aspects of school and more than 25 per cent said this had led them to being bullied.
Across County Durham, parents spent £47,073,023 on school costs, with 34,702 families classed as struggling.
The report also found that a third of children living in the poorest families had fallen behind at school because their family couldn’t afford the computer or internet facilities.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:
“Children are being penalised and denied their right to an equal education simply because their parents cannot afford the basics. This is just not right.
“The Government needs to listen to this crucial report by young commissioners and act to make sure no child is stopped from getting an education equal to their peers. It must stop children from being made to suffer because they are living in poverty.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 29 Oct 2014
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014
Sunderland could lose more than £600,000 after ministers agreed to plough ahead with a reduction of the Education Services Grant (ESG).
After months of consultation, the Government has agreed to slice £200million from the grants.
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, says she has concerns about the move.
She said: “This grant is an important part of the funding schools and councils get to provide pooled services for pupils and drive improvements in standards.
“After councils have repeatedly warned ministers that slashing this grant risks them not being able to fulfil their statutory duties, it’s disappointing that they’ve gone ahead with it anyway.
“I’ll be monitoring the impact that it has on the quality of education that local children receive.”
The grants will be cut from £113 to £87 for each pupil at a local authority school.
It is estimated Sunderland will lose about £620,000 from the 2015-16 budget, which this year stands at £2.92m.
Durham’s grants of £6.49m could be slashed by about £1.5m and South Tyneside’s £2.13m could be reduced by about £490,000.
Money from the grants is used to pay for services to support pupils, such as clothing, extra curricular activities, performing arts and music and outdoor education.
Councillor Pat Smith, cabinet portfolio holder for children’s Services for Sunderland City Council, said: “We will need time to consider how these latest reductions in Government funding will further impact on the services we are able to supply to schools within our city.
“The Education Services Grant is paid to local authorities and academies to reflect the statutory and regulatory duties each are responsible for.
“These include school attendance, school improvement, employer responsibilities and the production of accounts.
“We will now have to determine what long-term effects these cuts in funding will have. For the local authority this needs to be considered alongside other significant reductions in funding.”
Plans to cut the grants have gone ahead despite numerous protests, including from cellist and conductor Julian Lloyd-Webber, who said some authorities were already struggling to provide music education.
However, the Government said it will be making £18million available to set up a series of music hubs.
Announcing the cuts, Schools Minister David Laws, said: “We have had to make some tough decisions, and we expect local authorities and academies to do so too.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 26 July 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,
Postal voting is far more popular in the region than in the rest of the country, and ‘experts’ fear voting in the North could be left open to greater risk of fraud as a result.
Figures released by parliament reveal that the top eight constituencies in the UK for using the system are all in the North. But fears have been raised that postal voting systems are more susceptible to rigging.
Richard Mawrey QC, who tries cases of electoral fraud, has criticised the ‘on demand’ postal voting system and has called for it to be scrapped.
“Postal voting on demand, however many safeguards you build into it, is wide open to fraud,” Mr Mawrey – a deputy high court judge and election commissioner – said last week.
“It’s open to fraud on a scale that will make election rigging a possibility and indeed in some areas a probability.”
He added that postal voting can be easily manipulated and people can be forced into voting for a particular candidate.
Four North constituencies – Houghton and Sunderland South, Washington and Sunderland West , Newcastle and Sunderland Central have more than half of their voters taking part by post, the highest numbers in the country.
Four others – South Shields, Newcastle central, Blyth Valley and Jarrow – are also in the top ten nationally for postal voting.
And across the region 17 other constituencies, from Stockton to Tynemouth, have at least a quarter of voters choosing to vote by post. The average uptake of postal votes across the UK was just 18.8% of voters, up from 15% in 2005.
Dr Alistair Clark is a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, specialising in electoral integrity. He believes that the postal voting system in the UK has fundamental problems.
“There are difficulties with the system, particularly since the extension of it to being on demand,” he said. “The main difficulty relates to the security of the ballot – we have no idea who is actually completing the ballot papers – anyone could be filling them out.
“Although signatures have to be provided and matched up, signatures can change over time, and this creates a whole level of additional difficulties for election officials.”
A postal voting-only system was trialled by many North constituencies in the early 2000s, which is the likely reason why the proportion of take up in the region is so high.
But Ronnie Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley – where 46% of ballots were posted – believes there are also other factors.
“We have a very ageing population but we also have a lot of younger people,” he said.
“The older people might not want to leave their homes to vote while the younger people might be away working outside of the North East.”
He doesn’t believe there is too much cause for concern, saying: “I think postal voting is handy and it does work.
“It’s got to be well marshalled though because we’ve seen it fiddled in other parts of the country in the past.
“There is a security risk and we have to be vigilant about it.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West – where 50.8% were posted – is also in favour of postal voting.
“While we should always look at how we can increase security, the experience in Sunderland and across the country is that postal voting allows and encourages more people to use their vote at local and national elections, which is good for democracy,” she said.
“Of course, any abuses of the system should always be investigated, and perpetrators prosecuted, but there’s no reason whatsoever to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Since 2001, anyone on the electoral roll has been able to apply for a postal ballot.
The Electoral Commission said it would not be “proportionate” to end postal voting altogether, and the government has no plans to abolish the current system, saying it had made it easier for many people to vote.
However, from June this year, anyone who wants a postal vote will have to apply individually and prove their identity, as the government is introducing individual electoral registration which ministers say will help stamp out some abuses.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 March 2014
MP Sharon Hodgson has called on Ministers to apologise for the Government’s treatment of striking miners during 1984/5 dispute.
The Washington & Sunderland West MP has joined a new campaign to seek an apology from senior politicians.
The ‘Justice for the Coalfields’ campaign has been launched after the release of previously-confidential cabinet papers revealing that the Thatcher Government had a secret plan to close 75 pits at the cost of some 65,000 jobs, sought to influence police tactics to escalate the dispute, and actively considered deploying the Army to defeat the miners and unions.
Mrs Hodgson has joined colleagues in writing to Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude demanding a formal apology from Ministers for the actions of the Government during the time of the strike, and for the release of all information on collusion between the Government and the police at the time, particularly around the Battle of Orgreave, the pitched battle between miners and police in South Yorkshire in 1984.
Mrs Hodgson said: “The Miners’ Strikes may be a distant memory for some, but the wounds are still raw for many people around here, with communities and families torn apart.
“It was no surprise when these Cabinet papers showed that the Government had been lying about its plans for widespread closure and the use of force against striking miners, but that doesn’t let them off the hook. The very least that coalfield communities deserve is an official apology and complete transparency from the Government about the secret plans being made at the time. Any less would just be one more insult.”
> All very nice, although I cant help feeling they’ve been all respectful and waited until Thatcher died before raising the point.
But what I’d really like to see is a few Labour MPs – especially North East ones – getting equally worked up about what is happening right now. Or do we have to wait another 30 years until they get around to that ?
Source – Sunderland Echo 29 Jan 2014