More than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for the north of England to ‘secede from the UK and join Scotland’.
A total of 5,396 people have signed a petition on Change.org in support of the north of England joining Scotland and ‘regaining control over its own destiny’.
Despite being created a year ago, during the throes of the Scottish independence campaign, the petition attracted a number of signatures following the Conservative Party’s win in last week’s general election.
The petition states:
“The deliberations in Westminster are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the north of England.
“The needs and challenges of the north cannot be understood by the endless parade of old Etonians lining the front benches of the House of Commons.
“We, the people of the north, demand that in the event that Scotland becomes independent, the border between England and the New Scotland be drawn along a line that runs between the River Dee and the mouth of The Humber.”
The border between a ‘new Scotland’ and England would see everywhere north of Sheffield joining the newly-created country.
One supporter added:
“I have more in common with the Scots, than the Etonian-led Southerners who do not care what happens in the North.”
Another pointed out that the petition could bring up the topic of increased Northern representation.
Despite being closed, the petition is still gathering signatures since last Thursday’s vote, partly thanks to the #TakeUsWithYouScotland hashtag on Twitter.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 12 May 2015
Outdated and uncomfortable “Pacer” trains are to be axed from rail services in the North and replaced by 120 brand new vehicles, the Government has announced.
The decision to scrap the trains, which have been compared to cattle trucks, was made by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin as he launched the contest inviting rail operators to bid to run the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.
It brings to an end speculation that the vehicles could stay, or could be replaced by second hand trains from another part of the country.
But it also emerged that Mr McLoughlin faced a battle with civil servants – who argued that the £250 million cost of the new vehicles was poor value for money.
The Transport Secretary was forced to issue a “written directive”, a formal note confirming that he had been advised against requiring new trains but wanted his officials to go ahead anyway.
Mr McLoughlin told his staff that scrapping the Pacers was essential, warning: “I do not think that the continued use of these uncomfortable and low quality vehicles is compatible with our vision for economic growth and prosperity in the North.”
He also said that many Northern lines were unlikely to be electrified, so it was important to ensure new diesel trains were built because there is an industry-wide shortage of diesel vehicles.
It means the decision will now be scrutinised by a Commons spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, but while this could potentially criticise Mr McLoughlin it does not have the power to over-rule him.
Pacers were introduced in the 1980s as a short-term solution to a lack of rolling stock. Their future had been unclear until now, with senior Ministers including the Prime Minister promising they would go, while a series of official Government documents stated they could instead be refurbished and remain in use.
The Northern franchise operates local, commuter and rural services throughout the region, and a number of long distance services linking major cities.
As well as replacing the pacers with new trains, the winner of the franchise will be expected to modernise other vehicles on the route, double the number of services on may routes, provide more off-peak and Sunday services, invest at least £30 million to improve stations and introduce free Wi-Fi on all Northern trains by 2020 at the latest.
Bidders for the franchise are Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited. They have until 26 June to submit their plans.
The TransPeninne Express franchise provides longer distance intercity-type services, connecting the major cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Manchester Airport.
Improvements the government wants the bidders to introduce include introducing extra capacity for passengers through more carriages and more services; providing earlier and later services and more services on Sundays; considering options for new services such as extending Newcastle services to Edinburgh, and introducing free Wi-Fi on all TransPennine Express trains by 2020 at the latest.
The bidders are First Trans Pennine Express Limited, Keolis Go-Ahead Limited and Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Limited, and they must submit their proposals by 28 May 2015.
Both new franchises are due to start operating in April 2016.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Feb 2015
Just a short post this time, I mainly wanted to share two stories.
First, from Nottingham, is the news that the second attempt at evicting the Crawfords has once again been blocked by a huge crowd of hundreds of people turning out to resist the bailiffs. It’s also interesting to note that the resistance seems to have been entirely organised outside of the existing left – as far as I can tell, as an outside observer, there seems to be a lot of Anonymous-type stuff and some “common law/Freeman of the land”-style rhetoric, but no union or political party branding.
The other news I’ve been most impressed by this week is an ongoing dispute in Sheffield over the sacking of a trans worker for using the “wrong” toilets. After Sheffield Industrial Workers of the World picketed Aviva, the story was picked up in the local press, and has…
View original post 213 more words
What an amazing day!! It was well organised, informative, fun and inspirational!
Unite/Community is 3 years old. Last September Yorkshire and Humberside and North East Region had 480 members. Now there are 1000!
No other union is organising people who are out of work. There are 5 branches in this region , with South Yorkshire the biggest and two other branches are on the way.
This was a day for three or four activists from each branch in the region.
Members came from Newcastle, Durham, Barnsley, Leeds, Sheffield, Doncaster, Grimsby and Teesside. It was inspiring to hear what campaigns they had been involved in and were achieving with the support of Unite/Community.
Unite/Community is helping to release an absolute powerhouse of energy. It is involving people from all sections of the community regardless of age, ability or eperience. Campaigns include support for the Freedom Riders which…
View original post 275 more words
This article was written by Jane Dudman, for theguardian.com on Friday 26th September 2014
Sir Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has said that the timetable for the government’s controversial universal credit benefits scheme was “too tight” and that a “culture of good news” in the Department for Work and Pensions prevented this being recognised.
In 2013, the plan to introduce universal credit, which has been described as involving “fiendishly complicated calculations” had to be “reset to zero”, after more than £600m had been spent.
Kerslake, the former chief executive of Sheffield city council, said leaders needed to be prepared to hear bad news and that those in local government, closer to people directly using services, were more likely to do so.
Reflecting on an often-turbulent two years as head of the civil service, Kerslake reiterated that his greatest regret was the delay in producing a plan on improving civil service diversity. “The story on diversity is still too variable across departments,” he said. “We need in particular to tackle the macho culture that too many women experience and increase the number of BME staff at senior level, which has flat lined in recent years.”
Kerslake said he was proud of the civil service reform plan, published in June 2012, but he regretted trying to push through changes to civil servants’ terms and conditions at the same time as the plan. He also said that there would be at least five more years of austerity in public spending, whoever wins the next general election, and that the next five years of spending cuts would be tougher because the “easier savings” have already been made.
He also said there should be greater devolution of power from Whitehall to local government, even if that meant accepting that, as in the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal, sometimes “things go wrong”. Kerslake said devolution could not be evenly spread around the country. Some places such as Birmingham, he said, are less far forward in working as combined authorities, but they would be spurred towards action if they saw other regions getting greater powers.
Kerslake refused to comment on the new arrangements following his resignation, including the appointment of a new chief executive. Whoever takes that job will report in to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has taken on Kerslake’s former role as head of the civil service. He said he and Heywood had a “positive working relationship”, but added that “noises off” – briefings against civil servants – had been the most damaging thing to civil service morale.
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 Sept 2014
North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.
The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.
The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.
Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.
The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.
The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.
And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.
Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:
“This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.
“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.
“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”
Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:
“The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”
Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.
Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:
“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”
Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:
“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”
However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.
“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Sept 2014
This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th August 2014
Local authorities were unable to collect up to 40% of council tax due from low-income households that had the charge imposed on them for the first time last year.
The result has been widespread non-payment. Nationally, more than a fifth of council tax charged to working-age claimants was unpaid at the end of 2013-14.
The figures, obtained from responses from 140 councils to Freedom of Information requests by the anti-cuts group False Economy, reveal that some of the biggest towns and cities were left chasing millions of pounds from the poor.
Liverpool collected 61% of council tax due from the poor, leaving the city short by £3.5m.
In Birmingham, the non-payment rate among the vulnerable was 30%, leaving the council seeking to recover £3m in lost revenue.
Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield were all chasing more than £2m each in tax from those on the lowest incomes.
A report published last month by Child Poverty Action Group and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust said almost 40% of Londoners affected by the cuts had been sent a court summons for council tax debts in 2013-14, with more than 15,000 claimants’ debts referred to bailiffs.
In Haringey, north London, which collected 80% of the council tax due from benefit claimants, hundreds of households have been taken to court to recover unpaid tax – with non-payers threatened with bankruptcy, repossession and ultimately prison.
Last week, sitting in the magistrates court in Tottenham, Dick, 49, said there was “no way” he could afford the £7-a-week council tax his housing association two-bedroom flat was being charged. He has walked with a stick since his Achilles tendon snapped in 2012.
“I don’t work. I get employment support allowance which is £70 a week and my son lives with me and he gets a few hours on a market stall. After rent and everything else we have about £140 a month to live on. Food, clothes, the lot. I go down the food bank to eat. Can’t afford to heat up food because we cannot put money into the gas meter. How can I afford the council tax too? We never paid this before. It’s just getting the poor to pay up. That’s all it is.”
Dick said he had offered to pay £3 a week towards council tax after working out his finances with the local Citizens Advice bureau, but the local authority did not respond to his offer. Instead the council has asked for the full year’s council tax to be paid immediately – £350 – plus the cost of recovering his unpaid tax through a liability order of £125. “It’s ridiculous. I worked all my life. Never needed anything. Now I got nothing they want to get that.”
A spokesperson for False Economy called for the cuts to be reversed. “These figures show that people on low incomes are struggling to cope with council tax benefit cuts, just as the government was warned they would. Households are left either falling into debt and at risk of legal action, or taking money for food and essentials to plug the shortfall, in what is a government-created personal debt crisis.”
Councils said they were caught in an “impossible situation” as ministers had forced local authorities to pass on £500m in cuts when the scheme was introduced – and there would be further reductions in the discounts the poor received as town hall budgets were squeezed in the coming years.
Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s finance panel, said: “Councils would need to find £1bn by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes.
“At a time when local government is already tackling £20bn worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far. Many councils have been put in an impossible position. No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But pressure on funding for local services means many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.”
Hilary Benn, the shadow cabinet member responsible for local government, said two million of the poorest people were affected by the council tax hikes.
“These figures show that many of the people affected, including single parents and disabled people, are finding it very difficult to pay the Tories’ tax increase. The government was warned that this was going to be Poll Tax mark two, and so it is proving.”
The government defended its changes, saying it had “worked with councils to freeze council tax for the last four years” for most residents.
Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, said: “Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending Labour’s something-for-nothing culture and making work pay.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 29 Aug 2014
The shortlist of train firms bidding to run the region’s rail services have been announced by the Government – with unions immediately descriving the operators as the “same old greedy companies”.
Three companies have been shortlisted to run the Northern franchise, while three companies are being considered for the TransPennine Express franchise.
All the operators companies have successfully passed the pre-qualification stage, and will now be asked to develop their plans for the franchises before they receive the Government’s Invitation to Tender in December.
Officials say that bidders will be expected to show how they will make the most of the government’s £1billion investment programme for the rail network in the north of England, which aims to provide faster and more reliable journeys, more capacity, better trains and improved connections for passengers across the region.
The shortlisted bidders to run the two franchises are:
• Abellio Northern Ltd
• Arriva Rail North Limited
• Govia Northern Limited
• First Trans Pennine Express Limited
• Keolis Go-Ahead Limited
Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “The north is undergoing a real rail renaissance, and we will be asking these companies to come up with innovative and ambitious proposals that will ensure a truly world-class rail network for the region.
“Building a railway that is fit for the 21st century is a vital part of our long term economic plan, connecting businesses and communities, generating jobs and boosting growth, and we need strong private sector partners to help us achieve this ambition.”
The new operator will also be expected to work closely with Rail North, which represents the region’s local authorities, to ensure local rail users will have more influence in how their train services are run.
Sir Richard Leese, for Rail North, said: “The companies on the shortlists demonstrate the interest there is in meeting Rail North’s desire to see the railway acting as an economic driver in the north of England.
“We look forward to working with the bidders to deliver strong franchises for passengers, which reflect the aims and objectives of our Long Term Rail Strategy and the predicted growth in patronage.”
The franchise is expected to run for a period of around 7 to 9 years, with the provision for an extension of one year at the discretion of the DfT.
An announcement about the successful bidder is expected in autumn 2015, with the contract expected to start in February 2016.
One of the shortlisted companies, Stagecoach, said the TPE rail franchise was a key part of the North of England’s infrastructure, supporting economic growth and connecting communities – and the company was delighted to have been shortlisted by the Department for Transport.
A spokesmand added: “Stagecoach has played a leading role in transforming rail travel in Britain over the past two decades, bringing new ideas and putting customers at the heart of the railway.
“We look forward to engaging with local people and other stakeholders to develop a package of ambitious and robust proposals that will improve services and deliver better value for money to passengers and taxpayers.”
Mick Cash, RMT Acting General Secretary, criticised the Government for releasing ths hortliost just horus after a consultation process into the future of the services closed.
Mr Cash added that the shortlist contained “the same old greedy companies looking to hitch yet another ride on the rail privatisation gravy train purely in the interests of private profit”.
He said: “It makes a mockery of the consultation that this list of the greedy and the incompetent has been drawn up by the Government before the consultation responses have even been opened and before these companies even know what it is that they are bidding for.
“RMT said from the off that the consultation was wholly bogus, this morning’s outrageous manoeuvring has proved that conclusively and RMT will use every tool at our disposal to expose this racket for what it is.”
Both franchises are due to be awarded by October 2015 and as they develop their bids each of the bidders will need to set out how they will capitalise on the biggest programme of rail modernisation ever.
The Government says that than £1billion will be spent on the rail network in the north over the next five years.
The potential operators will need to demonstrate how they will use these projects to increase capacity in order to tackle crowding and meet future passenger demand; provide faster and more frequent services; and upgrade rolling stock, including proposals to replace Pacer trains on the Northern franchise. Bidders will also need to improve customer service and passenger satisfaction.
The Northern and TransPennine Express franchises carried more than 110 million passengers last year, covering inter-urban, commuter and rural routes. The franchises connect passengers travelling into and between the key strategic cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
A public consultation into the future of rail services in the north closed on Monday and responses will be taken into account as the franchise proposals are developed further ahead of the Invitations to Tender in December.
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Aug 2014
By Jenny Howarth
Her Majesty the Queen has delivered the final speech at the opening of parliament before next year’s general election. A speech that Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described as ‘bold’.
In a joint statement issued alongside the Queen’s speech, the prime minister and his deputy said: [The coalition was] “still taking bold steps” [to] “take Britain forward to a brighter future”, adding:
Among the measures announced in the speech were:
- A bill implementing reforms to annuities announced in March’s Budget. In future, people will not be required to buy an annuity with their pension savings and will be able to draw their retirement income in one go if they choose
- A separate bill to allow employees to pay into collective pension funds shared with other workers, a move it is hoped will cut costs and encourage saving
- A new state-funded childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year, replacing the existing employer-funded scheme
- A Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism bill offering extra legal protection for people being sued for negligence or breach of duty if they acted heroically or in the public interest
- Curbs on “excessive redundancy payments” for highly-paid public servants
- Tougher penalties for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage and a crackdown on the abuse of zero hours contracts
- Plans for a 5p charge for plastic bags in England as announced at last year’s Lib Dem conference
- Reforms to speed up infrastructure projects, including new freedoms for the Highways Agency and allowing fracking firms to run shale gas pipelines on private land without getting prior permission
- New criminal sentences for those assisting organised crime syndicates, tougher sentence for cyber criminals and tougher powers to seize the assets of crime bosses – and making the possession of written paedophilia a criminal offence
- A modern-day slavery bill with tougher penalties for human trafficking
- Help for pub landlords including a statutory code and a body to adjudicate disputes
- Giving voters the power to trigger by-elections where MPs have committed serious wrong-doing
With polls showing a Labour Party average lead of 6.6%, the speech, written for the Queen by her government highlights how out of touch and removed from reality the coalition government is. With Labour sources for the BBC saying it was “staggering” that the NHS and immigration were not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.
You would assume that David Cameron would have ensured that this final speech would have contained elements to woo voters. But sadly, it has failed, just as Cameron and his coalition government has failed the people of Britain and here is why:
National Health Service (NHS)
This week in a letter to The Guardian, top health officials including Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, and the chairs or chief executives of acute hospital trusts in London, Nottingham, Teeside, Kent, Sheffield, Oxford and elsewhere, warned that the NHS “is at the most challenged time of its existence.”
In a separate article, Rob Webster, speaking to The Telegraph, warned, that if “significant changes” were not made and the “decline” was to continue that:
- Hospital patients would be forced to pay for their meals, bed and even for patient transport.
- Swathes of the country would be left without a GP, because family doctors refuse to work in areas where they cannot keep up with demand.
- Accident & Emergency departments would be increasingly shutting their doors without warning, because they are unable to cope.
- Hospitals would go bust overnight because bills cannot be paid.
- There would be Longer waits for surgery, and increasing numbers of cancelled operations.
With the NHS so critical, it is something that should have been addressed in today’s speech but it would appear that Cameron and his Health Secretary are more determined than ever to place the NHS in private hands.
Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s (IDS) welfare reforms have been an unmitigated disaster.
His flagship Universal Credit Scheme has been beset with problems, with The Guardian reporting in May this year that The Major Projects Authority (MPA) – responsible for grading its implementation – has said that it has undergone so many fundamental changes that it is “reset” (gone back to drawing board).
In addition, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, also released in May showed that over half a million ESA claimants are still waiting for the results of their assessment.
Then there is the hated Spare-room subsidy (bedroom tax). In a survey of 183 housing associations (HA), conducted by IPSOS Mori on behalf of the National Housing Federation in February this year, it was found that:
- One in seven of those hit by the bedroom tax has now had a notice of seeking possession issued to them.
- 66% of HA residents hit by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears
- More than a third (38%) reported to be in debt because they were unable to pay the bedroom tax
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation said:
“If these notices of seeking possession turn into evictions it will be the direct responsibility of those who introduced a measure which is economically incoherent, socially divisive, disruptive of family life and causing real damage to real people. It really can’t be allowed to go on.”
The failure to address welfare reform in today’s speech would indicate that if the Conservatives were to win next year’s election then it is likely it will go on, inflicting more misery to more families.
It is clear, that Cameron is not listening. The recent local and European elections proved that the people of Britain are not happy. Ed Miliband, picked up on this by saying ahead of today’s speech:
“The local and European elections show the depths of discontent with the direction of our country which people increasingly feel does not work for them.
“We need action, we need answers, we need a programme for government equal to the scale of the challenge our country faces.
“We would have a Queen’s Speech with legislation which would make work pay, reform our banks, freeze energy bills and build homes again in Britain. “A Queen’s Speech which signals a new direction for Britain, not one which offers more of the same.”
So what would be in Labour’s first Queen’s speech if they were to win next year?
Mark Ferguson, writing for Labour List, has put together what he thinks would be in it, based on Labours plans so far:
A first year priority, that would mean breaking up banks to create competition in the banking sector – and reforms intended to boost lending and support small businesses.
Make Work Pay bill
Mark Ferguson acknowledges that this one still needs some detail adding to it, which he believes we should get in the months ahead. In short, this bill would see Labour legislating for a higher minimum wage (maybe even a statutory living wage?) and legislating on zero-hours contracts.
Currently Labour is talking about building 200,000 homes a year by 2020. For Mark Ferguson, that’s a little slow, believing that Labour should be aiming to build a million homes over the next parliament with the expectation for Miliband to upgrade Labour’s offer on housing before the election.
However, it is already pretty substantial, and this bill would act on land banks, legislate for new garden cities, crack down on fees for private sector tenants and provide more stable and secure long-term rents for those in the private rented sector.
Nicknamed, the “taking back the high street” bill. This would give communities a say on payday lenders and betting shops on their high streets – thus reducing their volume and growth.
Angela Eagle has stated that Labour would legislate on immigration. Such a bill would seek to stop workers being undercut and ban recruitment agencies from only recruiting from overseas.
A new Scotland bill
This would enshrine the recommendations of Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission, introducing a form of “Devo-Max” – obviously this is in the event of a No vote in this year’s referendum.
Or perhaps more accurately, the energy prices bill. Labour’s big energy price freeze pledge would be enacted in the first Queen’s Speech
Outlawing discrimination against armed forces bill
This would put discrimination against members of the armed forces on the same footing as other forms of discrimination.
Mark Ferguson, goes onto state the other priorities for Labour in the first year of the next parliament that don’t necessarily need primary legislation, but which would be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. These include:
- The jobs guarantee,
- The return of the 50p Tax rate
- The abolition of the Bedroom Tax.
Unlike Cameron and his Conservative Party, it is evident, although some may disagree, that Ed Miliband has thought through what the people of Britain need.
> More likely the thinks its the sort of thing people might vote for at this moment in time. Unfortunately, an increasing number of people believe that should Labour win the next election, it’d actually just be a case of neo-liberal policies as usual.
And In case you’re wondering where the NHS fits in, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has said today that it would be a “joyous moment, when next year, Her Majesty the Queen says: “My Government will repeal the Health & Social Care Act 2012″. Assuming of course that there will be a Labour victory.
With 336 days to go to the general election, the stakes have never been higher. David Cameron has to start listening to the people of Britain, has to axe the bedroom tax, has to curb welfare reform and stop privatizing the NHS. Failure to do so will mean he will be out of a job – not only as prime minister but also as leader of the Conservatives.
Source – Welfare News Service, 04 June 2014
This article was written by Leah Green, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 21st May 2014
Changes to the habitual residence test, designed to make it harder for European Union migrants to claim benefits, mean UK citizens who have been abroad for an extended period cannot claim jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for the first three months after their return.
It means that people who travel for more than three months – including gap-year students, graduates and people taking career breaks – are being denied JSA to help them while they find a new job.
The new rule came in on 1 January, the same day it became legal for migrants from Romania and Bulgaria to enter the UK on work visas. In a government-issued statement on the new rules, the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system.”
However, in attempting to combat predicted “benefit tourism” from eastern Europe, the government has made it impossible for UK citizens returning from abroad to claim as well.
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, said:, “British-born citizens who have been travelling, doing internships or living abroad temporarily shouldn’t be treated in the same way as those coming into our country for the first time.
“Habitual residency rules should be about making sure people who are new arrivals to the UK, and have not yet made any contribution or commitment to this country, do not claim benefits they are not entitled to. British citizens are in a completely different situation, and the government should recognise that.”
Rosie Smith, 24, and her boyfriend Alexi Dimond, 29, are both from Sheffield and returned to the country in March after almost six months living and doing voluntary work in Thailand. Smith had been in the same city since she was born. She wanted “a bit of a change”, she said: “I had been in Sheffield my whole life. I just wanted six months not in Sheffield.”
Smith saved money from her job as a nursery nurse, while Dimond worked in administration at an NHS dental hospital. When they got back, they wanted to look for work immediately and registered with the Jobcentre the next day. Dimond claims the person asking him questions for the habitual residence test was “very apologetic” for even making him undergo it.
He was told he was not, under the new benefits rules, considered habitually resident in the UK and would have to wait three months before claiming JSA. “I thought it was outrageous really,” he says, “I’ve contributed tax for the last six years working for the NHS. I think it’s ridiculous I’m not entitled to anything.” He now had no money at all, he said, and was relying on friends for food. Smith has moved back in with her parents.
Alongside his job, Dimond had done voluntary work with asylum seekers for five years before leaving the UK. When enquiring at the Jobcentre how he was supposed to survive, he was handed a leaflet entitled Emergency Help in Sheffield. It is the same leaflet he was issuing to asylum seekers before he went away. “It’s basically the help you get when there is literally nothing else,” he explained.
British citizens have always had to take a habitual residence test before being granted benefits, but only since the rules changed on 1 January have people been told they automatically fail for spending time out of the country.
Sam, 25, is back living with his parents in Manchester for the first time in seven years after being refused JSA on his return from a year in the Netherlands where he was doing a master’s in psychological research.
Sam had hoped he would get a job as soon as he got back “but that’s not the case,” he said, “so I applied for jobseeker’s soon after I got back.”
He was taken aback to have his application for benefits turned down. “I think if you’re looking for work you should get jobseeker’s allowance. That’s what makes sense,” he said.
Sam’s parents are providing his food and shelter, and he is dipping into savings to travel to job interviews in London. He realises he is lucky to be cared for, claiming it is unfair on others “who don’t have that support. You would think then that support should come from the government.”
However, he is sympathetic to a tougherstance on immigration, agreeing that migrants “shouldn’t be able to claim [straight away] if they come from abroad.”
Emma Birks, 36, was a volunteer co-ordinator at a worker’s co-operative in Birmingham before deciding to go travelling in south-east Asia. “I’d been putting it off and putting it off,” she explained, “and then sometimes you think ‘life’s too short’.”
Since she got back in March, Birks has had no home and has been living between the houses of “three or four” charitable friends. She has been surviving by taking handouts and using credit cards. Because of her work, she knew about the habitual residence test and never dreamed she would fail it. She describes her situation now as “a bit demoralising and humiliating.
“The whole point of jobseeker’s allowance is to help you in that interim period where you’re looking for work, trying to find a new start or whatever. To me, that’s the whole point of jobseeker’s and it’s just failed me basically,” she said.
Dimond agrees. When we speak, he and Smith are at the beginning of five days of agency work, stopping people in a Doncaster shopping centre and collecting surveys about the facilities. He has had to borrow the money to get to work, and estimates he already needs “about six months” to catch up on his debt, assuming he gets a job soon. “It’s seriously affected my job search,” he said. “I don’t have money to get to interviews.”
Smith thinks they are victims of statistics. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “are just trying to get as many people off their system so they can make their numbers look better … so they can say hardly anyone’s signing on anymore. But they’re just disqualifying everyone,” she said.
A DWP spokesman said: “It has always been the case that any UK national who chooses to live or work in another country for an extended period must, if they return to the UK and want to claim benefits, satisfy the habitual residence test by proving they have strong ties to the country and want to remain here.
“People who have paid enough national insurance in the UK do not have to wait for three months before claiming jobseeker’s allowance.”
The spokesman did not respond when asked how much national insurance was enough, but none of the people interviewed were exempt from waiting three months.
The announcement of the changes in December confirmed the the introduction of the new three-month period in which people cannot claim benefits.
Source – Welfare News Service, 21 May 2014