Tagged: south of England

Teesside councils suffer worse than average spending cuts in latest government settlement

Teesside councils have again suffered worse than average cuts in the latest government funding announcement.

Figures released today show Middlesbrough Council‘s ‘spending power‘ – the total amount it has at its disposal through central grants and council tax – will fall by £8.9m from £158.4mm in 2014-15 to £149.5m in 2015-16.

That is a cut of 5.6% – compared to an average cut for all English councils of 1.8%.

Redcar and Cleveland will lose £5.2m, or 3.7%, while Stockton emerged relatively unscathed – down £3.6m, or 2.1%.

The list of worst-hit areas is dominated by Labour-dominated parts of the Midlands and North.

> Well, what a suprise !

Tamworth in Staffordshire faces the biggest cut, of 6.4%, followed by Barrow in Furness and Chesterfield.

At the other end of the scale, a number of councils in the South of England will actually see their spending power go up.

Tewkesbury will see the biggest increase, of 3.2%, while Surrey will get an extra £27m, or 3.1%.

Other towns and counties getting an increase include East Devon (up 2.7%), Buckinghamshire (up 2.3%), Cambridge (up 2.3%), Dorset (up 1.9%) and Cheshire East (up 1.4%).

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 18 Dec 2014

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Rise in Tyneside working families having to claim housing benefit

More working people in Tyneside than ever before are claiming housing benefit to get by despite being in full-time jobs.

Around 15.5% of households that claim housing welfare are in work and bring home a regular salary, a figure which has doubled since 2008.

The statistics have been described today by the National Housing Federation (NHF) as evidence of an ‘affordability crisis’ in the region’s housing sector.

Monica Burns, the organisation’s regional affairs manager in the North East, said:

“The property market isn’t working and will only get worse for working people, local families and the next generation if we don’t take action.

“Building the right houses in the right places, and improving the ones that are already there is integral to creating stronger communities where people want to stay.”

The NHF’s research shows that the average person in the region spends £482 a month on rent, a quarter of their monthly income.

In Newcastle a monthly private rent averages out at £478, in North Tyneside £528 and in Gateshead £510.

Nationally middle income households of between around £20,000 and £30,000 are making two out of three new claims.

Ms Burns added:

“This is the new phenomenon that working people are claiming housing benefit. This is hard-working and people in respected jobs who still can’t make ends meet.”

The NHF’s report North East Broken Market, Broken Dreams also reveals that despite having the lowest average house price in England at £141,210, the North East also has the lowest salaries, meaning workers in the region are expected to pay six times the average income to eventually own a home.

In the rest of the country people are expected to pay 3.5 times their income to own a home.

The difficulty in getting on the property ladder is felt most acutely in Northumberland where there is the largest gap between the average house prices at £172,640 and the average salary of £23.863.

In Newcastle the average house price is £169,887, in Gateshead it’s £137,823 and in North Tyneside it is £153,768.

The average house price in England is £251,879, and the average salary is £26,520.

While the housing crisis in the South of England is characterised by a shortage of properties, in the North East Ms Burns said housing is far more than ‘a numbers game’.

The NHF would like to see the next Government take action on the North East’s housing situation, which they argue is part of a larger community crisis, where many people are living in poverty and are unable to access secure jobs.

They are backing the Homes for Britain campaign which seeks to pressure politicians into taking housing in the UK seriously by getting them to commit to reversing the housing shortage within a generation.

They also seek to lobby the Government to allow a housing associations to set their own rents and create a national Housing and Infrastructure bank.

Ms Burns said:

It’s taken us a generation to get into this housing crisis and will take us a generation to get out of it. Successive governments have failed to tackle the country’s major housing challenges and we are calling on the next Government to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation and to publish a long term plan within a year of taking office, detailing how they will do this.”

She said the number of empty homes in the region is often used as a reason not to consider more new builds, but it was essential for the North East to build homes where they were needed – and former pit villages in Northumberland and County Durham were not always the right places.

She said: “Quite often there is not a housing need.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  14 Oct 2014

Concentration camps for the workless

> Part of the Great British history they don’t teach you at school – how the jobless were treated in the 1920s and 30s… and who’d bet against camps returning again ?

During the prolonged unemployment of the 1920s the British government proposed a scheme for transferring labour from the worse effected areas to training schemes in the South of England. For this purpose an Industrial Transference Board was set up in 1928 to monitor and control the transfer of labour form unemployment black-spots. The ITB soon brought to the attention of the Ministry of Labour a ‘class‘ of men not easily fitted into the broader scheme, men deemed ‘soft and temporarily demoralised through prolonged unemployment‘. These men were considered a danger to the morale of the other men and were considered unfit for transfer until they had been ‘hardened’.

The scheme for ‘hardening’ in Labour Camps (on penalty of loss of the dole) was devised by Baldwin’s Tory government, but was carried through with Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Government and expanded by the 1931 National Government. They were supported by the TUC as well as the Labour Party, and were opposed and exposed only by the National Unemployed Workers Movement, in which the Communist Party was the leading influence.

Between 1929 and 1939 25 secret concentration camps were built in the most remote areas of Britain and more than 200,000 unemployed men were sent to these camps. The Labour Camps were conducted under military discipline and men were interned in the centres for three-month periods, working for up to nine hours a day breaking rocks, building roads and cutting down trees. In August 1939, in preparation for the war against Germany, the Ministry of Labour issued instructions that the managerial records of its own concentration camps should be weeded out, and much of the documentation was destroyed.

Source –  http://sites.scran.ac.uk/redclyde/redclyde/rc138.htm

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