Tagged: Sheffield University

Food bank referrals in the North East rise 463% in one year

Nearly 60,000 people sought emergency food from the Trussell Trust in 2013-14 compared with just 10,510 in the previous financial year.

Across the country 45% said problems with benefits had driven them to claim, while 20% cited low income. And since April 2010 the total number of referrals in Britain has risen from 61,000 to over 900,000 – up by a factor of fifteen.

Trust chairman Chris Mould called the figures “shocking” and warned things were getting “worse rather than better” for the Northern poor.

He said: “This figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty. It doesn’t include those helped by other providers, people who are too ashamed to seek help, or the large number who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.

“It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions.

“Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest any time soon.”

The figures do not exclude repeat visitors but simply record the number of people cited on vouchers given by jobcentres, doctors and social services to claim food.

They are likely to inflame controversy over the link between food banks and the government’s welfare reforms. Critics claim organisations like the Trussell Trust are becoming an unacknowledged and unpaid part of the welfare system.

Changes since 2012 include raising the minimum jobseekers’ sanction from one to four weeks and the start of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.

Margaret Nelson, the Trust’s North East spokeswoman, said benefit sanctions were behind much of the rise and that many food bank users were “suicidal” when they came in.

She claimed some had benefits stopped for missing appointments even when they had phoned and been given permission.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We’re spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.

“The OECD say there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago, benefit processing times are improving and even the Trussell Trust’s own research recognises the effect their marketing activity has on the growth of their business.

“The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it’s been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

He cited an ONS survey which found fewer people saying it was “difficult to get by” in 2012 than 2010 and claimed benefit clearance times are “improving year on year.”

And he said: “There is no robust evidence that welfare reforms or benefit administration are linked to increased use of food banks.”

> ?????  How can they not be ?

Tory peer David Freud told the Lords last year that food bank use was driven by “supply”, saying more people were going because the food was free and available.

But a three-year study by Sheffield University this month argued rising demand was to blame, with benefit cuts and sanctions seen as a major cause.

The DWP insists it does not “refer” people to food banks but merely “signposts” them – a distinction not made by the banks themselves.

Meanwhile over 35 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders will call for “urgent action” from the three main party leaders.

Reverend Mark Bryant, the Anglican bishop of Jarrow, praised food banks’ efficiency and kindness but said society had “seriously got something wrong” to need them at all.

He said: “Something in a region of a third of the people they are helping are simply people whose benefits have been delayed.

“These are not people who are trying to work the system or anything like this. These are people who are entitled to benefits and the benefits system hasn’t delivered on time.

“You go to places like this, and you hear the stories, and you simply come away thinking ‘something isn’t right’. We have seriously got something wrong when people who for a whole variety of reasons are very vulnerable cannot afford either to feed themselves or to feed their families.”

Mr Bryant spoke at Gateshead Food Bank while on a joint visit with the Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, Seamus Cunningham.

Source – Newcastle Journal   16 April 2014

Need for food banks is caused by welfare cuts, research shows

> Research – perhaps by the same people who, after several years “research“, decided that on  the balance of probability the Pope was almost certainly a catholic – tells us what most people had already worked out for themselves : the rise in foodbanks and the welfare cuts are not unconnected.

The government’s welfare reforms, including benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, are a central factor in the explosion in the numbers of impoverished people turning to charity food banks, an academic study has said.

The study, part of a three-year investigation into emergency food provision, was carried out by Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a Sheffield University researcher who co-authored a recently published government report into the extent of food aid in the UK.

That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear causal link between welfare reform and food bank demand in the UK. But Lambie-Mumford’s new study, to be published on Wednesday, says the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered“.

The report warns that as social security safety nets become weaker, there is a danger that charity food could become an integral part of the state welfare provision, or even an replacement for formerly state-funded emergency welfare schemes.

> And that is a really scary prospect – having to go cap-in-hand to charities in order to survive. How very Victorian.

Lambie-Mumford’s study was based on 25 in-depth interviews with a range of food bank staff and volunteers in 2012 and 2013 and found many food banks were adapting to demand by scaling up food collection and storage provision “to accommodate the future trajectory of need“.

Her paper will be presented to an all-party committee of MPs which meets on Wednesday to finalise the terms of an inquiry into hunger and food poverty. The inquiry will examine the rise of food banks, an issue that has become politically highly charged as ministers attempt to deflect criticism that austerity policies, including welfare cuts, have had the effect of compelling more people on low incomes to rely on food aid.

> Well, what kind of result  did they expect austerity policies to have ? The clue is in the name…

Lambie-Mumford said her research showed that food banks were expanding to meet rising demand caused in part by a squeeze on welfare entitlements which made already poor people even worse off. This was compounded by inadequate processing of social security claims, including payment delays and “arbitrary and unfair” sanctioning decisions that left claimants without any income at all.

There were other factors which had contributed to the rise of food banks, such as low wages and the rise in the cost of food. But it was important that MPs did not duck or underplay the importance of welfare reform. “The tricky thing is that welfare reform is the most political aspect of a political issue. But we should not shy away from it for this reason,” she said.

The welfare minister Lord Freud notoriously claimed last year that more people were going to food banks because the food was free, thereby triggering “almost infinite demand”. Last month Freud admitted people did not turn up “willingly” at food banks but said it was “very hard to know why” they did go.

> And its people of this calibre making welfare decisions ?

The Trussell trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, has insisted repeatedly that welfare reform is the biggest driver of demand for food parcels. Its third-quarter data, published in March, showed that it helped 614,000 people in the first nine months of this year. Its final-year figures, expected next week, are likely to show that demand has more than doubled in the past 12 months.

More than eight out of 10 food bank managers interviewed for the study acknowledged the impact of welfare changes and welfare processes as a factor in driving demand.

A DWP spokesperson said: “This report, which is based on just 25 interviews, fails to consider how welfare reforms are helping people off benefits and into jobs. The truth is that we now have record numbers of people in work, the highest employment rate for five years, and falling unemployment.”

> I should imagine its easy to spot a DWP spokesperson – they must have very long noses by now.

Source – Welfare News Service  08 April 2014

http://www.scoop.it/t/welfare-news-service/p/4019225517/2014/04/08/need-for-food-banks-is-caused-by-welfare-cuts-research-shows

How the UK government hid 1 million jobless from unemployment figures

This is a few months old, but well worth reprising…

One of the purported achievements of the Coalition government’s disastrous economic policy of austerity, has been the unemployment figures.  Pundits say that at 7.8% (2.51m) they are nothing to shout about but not the disastrous rates seen in states such as Greece (26.9%) or Spain (26.3%). In reality, the unemployment rate is more than double this in many areas, while those in employment are facing ever worsening conditions to retain their non-jobs.

We have the Thatcher government to thank for the majority of the statistical trickery which currently renders the government released unemployment figures redundant.  Prior to 1979, the unemployment rate was anyone registered as unemployed, this was converted to a percentage of the total workforce and that was the published unemployment rate.  Then some changes came in:

  1. Redefining Unemployment:  originally defined as those ‘registered’ unemployed, changed to only count ‘claimants’ – this obviously reduced the number greatly as many unemployed people do not, for various reasons, claim benefits.
  2. Cutting Benefit Entitlements: By making changes to the benefit system (who is eligible and not) the government can magic away unemployment numbers by simply removing eligibility for benefits.  If the person cannot claim, they are not classed as unemployed.
  3. Training Schemes & Work Programmes: the conservative government of the 80’s began to double count those in training & work programmes.  First, they excluded them from the unemployed figures, then they added them to the total workforce figures – this means that simply by recruiting people into a work programme, the government has reduced the unemployment figures.  Prior to Thatcher, these schemes were not counted as employment.

The Thatcher government was able to show a drop in unemployment of 550,000 in July 1986, and 668,000 in 1989 by transferring those unemployed into work programmes.  They also kept an average 90,000 unemployed under 18 year olds off the books by making them ineligible to claim benefits.

Sadly, none of these changes have since been reversed, giving the UK public a much skewed view of unemployment and underemployment.  If we look at the research prepared by other bodies without such downright deceitful exemptions, we reveal a more realistic picture of the economic woe being meted out across the country.

A study put together by Sheffield University last year set out to establish the real level of unemployment in the UK, given that there has been little change in the published unemployment statistic, we can suppose they still hold relatively true.  The study found:

  • For Britain as a whole in April 2012, the new figures point to more than 3.4 million unemployed. This compares to just 1.5 million on the claimant count and 2.5 million according to the Labour Force Survey – the government’s two official measures of unemployment. The difference is attributable to extensive hidden unemployment.
  • An estimated 900,000 unemployed have been diverted onto incapacity benefits. These are men and women with health problems who claim incapacity benefits instead of unemployment benefits. They do not represent fraudulent claims.
  • Hidden unemployment is disproportionately concentrated in the weakest local economies, where claimant unemployment is already highest. The effect has been to mask the true scale of labour market disparities between the best and worst parts of the country.
  • In the worst affected districts, the real rate of unemployment is often around 15 per cent. Knowsley in Merseyside tops the list with a real rate of unemployment estimated at 16.8 per cent.
  • The older industrial areas of the Midlands, the North, Scotland and Wales mostly have the highest rates of unemployment. In large parts of the south of England the rate is still only 3-4 per cent.
  • Comparisons with similar data for earlier years shows that Britain was still a long way off full employment before the 2008/9 recession. Full employment is now still further away and the real rate of unemployment is higher than at any time since 1997.
  • The report casts serious doubt on the likely impact of the Coalition government’s reforms, notably the Work Programme and Universal Credit, which are founded on the assumption that unemployment can be brought down by encouraging the unemployed to find work. The evidence points to large and continuing shortfalls in job opportunities away from the most prosperous parts of southern England.

One of the more worrying points in the survey is the widening gap between ‘claimant count’ and unemployed , as ever increasing numbers of people fund themselves without a job or eligibility to claim social security.  For this expanding pool of people, exploitation beckons.

The government is pressurising people into ever more exploitative work programmes in order to reduce unemployment figures by threatening withdrawal of social security for non-compliance.  In 2011, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government announced a plan to increase uptake of Workfare (the term given to these schemes) by 100,000.  They also made changes to the programme they inherited from New Labour as follows:

1. A jobseeker who leaves a placement after 1 week loses their welfare payments for 6 weeks.  If they do this a second time, they lose them for 13 weeks.  The third time, three years.

2. Placements can be mandated for up to 30 hours a week for as long as 6 months.

3. The scheme has been opened up so corporations in the private sector can exploit this taxpayer funded, forced labour.

This means that someone who finds themselves unemployed must work up to thirty hours a week, for up to six months at a time, stacking shelves for Tesco or Poundland simply to receive as little as £53 per week, which they are already entitled to as part of the social contract of Britain.  Also, Tesco isn’t paying the £53; we are, through our taxes.

Although an interview is supposed to be guaranteed at the end of the term, it is not required that the workfare provider has a vacancy open.  An interview for a job that doesn’t exist is no interview at all.

Corporations get free labour, the government gets to massage the unemployment figures (Workfare victims are counted as employed) and the unemployed get shafted.

Anyone doubting this critique would do well to read the findings of the DWP’s own analysis of the performance of their work programmes.  These schemes cost the taxpayer £5bn, yet only 1 in 10 people found employment lasting up to 3 months.  The figures are even worse for the sick and disabled people forced into the work programmes – only 1 in 20 finding lasting employment.

The picture doesn’t get any rosier for those who have managed to find employment either.

Employers are less likely to provide real jobs than ever.  As the market favours the employer, there has been an unprecedented month on month fall in wages through the entire 36 months of the Coalition government, and wages were already falling before they arrived.

On top of hidden unemployment, the UK also has an ever growing problem with underemployment; the case of people unable to find jobs with sufficient hours/pay to meet their needs.

A recent paper by researchers at the University of Stirling revealed that underemployment rose from 6.2% in 2008 to 9.9% in 2012. The rate hit 30% among 16 to 24 year olds.

We have also seen the rise of ‘zero hour’ contracts. Almost unheard of a few years ago, more than a million UK workers are now under these contracts.  These contracts have no specified working hours – meaning that an employee is placed on permanent stand by until or unless the employer needs them.  While classed as employed, the person has no wage security as they cannot guarantee their pay from one week to the next.  They also receive no sick pay, leave or other basic terms and conditions.

The Resolution Foundation recently published a review of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts which found serious issues of the spike in their use:

  1. Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts earn less than half the average wage (£236 vs. £482 per week) of those on proper contracts.
  2. Workplaces using ‘Zero Hours’ contracts have a higher proportion of staff on low pay(within £1.25 of minimum wage) than those who do not.

These factors have allowed the UK Labour Market in recent years to combine a relatively high level of employment and an unprecedented squeeze on wages.

  1. Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts work 10 hours a week less, on average, than those who are not (21hrs – 31hrs).
  2. 18% of those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are seeking alternative employment or more hours versus 7% of those in ordinary contracts

These factors have contributed to the rise in underemployment in the UK since 2008.  An ONS survey last year revealed more than 1 million people had been added to the rank of the underemployed since the 2008 bailout of the banks.

  1. ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are hitting young people the hardest, with 37% of those on such contracts aged between 16-24.
  2. ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are more likely to be held by those without a degree, and with a GCSE as their highest level of education.
  3. Non UK Nationals are 15% more likely to be employed on such a contract than UK Nationals.

It is not difficult to see the advantages of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts to employers – they can achieve maximum flexibility of their workforce, effectively retaining them on a pay as you go basis.  It is also clear that in the short term, the government of the day also enjoy the advantage of hiding the true effects of their cut throat economic policies.  But the ordinary human being seeking to meet the rising cost of living is losing on all counts.

Between 2008 and 2012, inflation rose 17% according to the Consumer Price Index, while incomes increased just 7% – this translates to a real terms pay cut of 10% for working people.  But the Consumer Price Index measurement tracks the rising cost of an imaginary list of products and services that the poorest workers are unlikely to ever buy.  The UK Essentials Index however tracks inflation of the bare essentials that would the poorest would buy – and these have risen by an eye watering 33% during the same period.  This means that not only is the impact of unemployment hitting the country disproportionately, but underemployment and exploitative employment conditions are too – with the poorest being the worst affected.

There was a piece on the Guardian this morning talking about the triple boost to the UK economy of increased factory output, house prices and car sales, and trumpeting this as a sign of economic recovery.

But what is the point of this increased GDP if it is won at the expense of people wages and livelihoods?  Surely, if the inequality in the UK between rich and poor is growing, unemployment is rising, underemployment is rising and wages are falling – this is a recession.  It speaks volumes for the broken economic measures of growth at play here that a real world recession for the majority, is applauded as a recovery, when all that is recovered are the profits for transnational corporations and incomes of high earners, most of whom pay little or no contributions in tax.

Get Involved

Boycott Workfare – get involved in the campaign to outlaw workfare

UKUncut – get involved in demanding proper tax contributions from those corporations benefitting from these nightmare employment schemes.

DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts do extraordinary work highlighting the state’s assault on disabled people.  Please support them

Source – BS News,  07 Aug 2013