Tagged: South Shields Town Hall

Food poverty under spotlight in South Tyneside

Measures needed to tackle food poverty across Britain are being scrutinised in South Tyneside today.

Members of an all-party Parliamentary inquiry team, including South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, visited the town’s Churches Together Key Project, at St Mary’s Centre, last summer as part of a fact-finding exercise.

The team also held a discussion session at St Jude’s Church Hall at Rekendyke, South Shields, and visited the New Hope Food Bank, in the town’s Robinson Street.

They heard poignant personal accounts from young borough people forced to rely on food banks to survive, and they were told that more than 1,680 people in South Tyneside had visited food banks in 2013.

Everything the team learned in the borough has helped inform the recommendations they made to the Government on the extent of hunger across the country and the actions needed to address it.

Today Mrs Lewell-Buck and the Rt Rev Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow, are among those meeting at South Shields Town Hall to discuss the findings of the hard-hitting report.

The report identifies a clear link between the use of food banks and tougher restrictions on access to benefits.

> Like it wasn’t always obvious ?

It insists that, contrary to Government claims, food banks have spread because of greater need.

Among a raft of recommendations, the report calls for bigger food banks to distribute more free food and advise people on how to claim benefits and make ends meet.

And it recommends a rise in the minimum wage and the provision of free school meals during school holidays for poorer children.

The report says:

“We do not believe food banks should take the place of statutory welfare provision in this country, but our evidence suggests there is a strong desire for longer-term interaction between food banks and vulnerable households, and an eagerness for these relationships to become embedded within local communities so they can help people overcome the deep-seated causes of hunger.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck said:

“We’ve had a great response to our report, and we’ve managed to get the Government to accept that some aspects of the benefits system aren’t working and are causing a lot of hardship.

“I think the Government’s priority needs to be dealing with low-paid and insecure work, as well as the harsh way benefit sanctions are being imposed.

> Yes, we all think so too. So are you actually going to do something about it ? Will your party, if they win the general election ?

“The group’s work doesn’t stop with the report, however. This is an ongoing mission to put an end to food poverty, and that is why I am holding today’s meeting to discuss the next steps for the group and for Shields.”

The Government is now considering the findings of the inquiry team.

A Government spokesman said:

“This report is a serious contribution to an important debate, with many good ideas, and recognising that the reasons behind demands for emergency food assistance are complex and frequently overlapping.

“As a country, we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste.

“There is a moral argument, as well as a sustainability one, to ensure we make the best use of resources.”

SOME OF THE REPORT’S 77 RECOMMENDATIONS:

–  The Government should provide support for 12 pilot projects across the UK to draw together voluntary and public expertise to eliminate hunger.

– All supermarkets should follow the example of Tesco and add 30 per cent to any food given by its shoppers to food banks.

> Bought by shoppers in Tesco.  It might look a bit more magnaminous if they just gave something without those kind of strings ?

– Local authorities should work with food organisations to free up land for food production, retail and storage.

> But don’t we have all those things already ? Surely the problem facing people using foodbanks is that we have plenty of food, but not the money to buy it ?

– Credit unions accounts’ should be made eligible for receipt of Universal Credit to encourage use among low-income households.

– Local authorities should begin collecting information on whether landlords in receipt of housing benefit are providing basic cooking facilities for their tenants.

– The Government should reform the benefits system so it can deliver payments within five working days.

> I’m sure it could right now… if it wanted to.

– The Department of Work and Pensions ought to simplify access to hardship payments.

 > And it could do that right now too… if, of course, it wanted to…
Source –  Shields Gazette,  06 Feb 2015

32 council house tenancies a week are terminated in South Tyneside

AN average of 32 council house tenancies a week are currently being terminated in South Tyneside, councillors will be told next week.

It is estimated that terminations have increased by 16 per cent due to the impact of tough welfare reforms.

Additionally, rent arrears are up by £100,000 over the last year.

Members of the council’s housing performance panel will consider the findings when they meet at South Shields Town Hall from 10am next Wednesday.

In a report to the committee, David Cramond, the council’s corporate director of economic regeneration, says:

The Empty Homes Service continues to face challenges with the number of properties coming into the service averaging 32 a week.

“Terminations of properties continues to be high.

“Despite this, the service has seen an improvement in performance this quarter with the percentage of rent lost through dwellings being empty reaching its target.

“The Decent Homes programme continues to perform well and is on target with, on average, 60 homes per week being completed.”

The report reveals that 24 council properties which were deemed to be “difficult to let” were recently rented out.

Those homes had been empty for a total of 3,707 days – an average of 154 days per property.

Mr Crammond adds: “There is no doubt that these properties have contributed negatively to the re-let times.”

Source –  Shields Gazette,  07 Nov 2014

South Tyneside : Welfare reforms ‘increasing crime,’ claims council chief

Government welfare reforms may have contributed to a rise in shoplifting in South Tyneside over the last year, councillors were to be told tonight.

Members of the council’s Riverside Community Area Forum are to receive a report on the ongoing impact reforms to our welfare system are having on borough residents.

The report, from Helen Watson, the authority’s corporate director for Children, Adults and Families, says reforms have “possibly contributed” to a 17 per cent increase in shoplifting over the last 12 months that accounts for an additional 60 offences compared to the previous year.

There has also been a significant increase in the use of borough food banks over the same period – with an extra 50 per cent in referrals over the last 12 months.

The report adds: “The evidence is that the number of residents in South Tyneside subject to benefit sanctions has increased by about 35 per cent since the introduction of a new, stricter regime in October 2012, and that many continue to be affected by delays in payments.

The meeting takes place at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm.

Source –  Shields Gazette,  30 Oct 2014

North East public sector strike news – 2

SUNDERLAND –

Puplic services ground to a halt across Wearside yesterday as workers walked out in support of the strike. Schools, libraries, leisure centres, museums and other public buildings were shut.

Pickets were in place outside Sunderland Civic Centre.

John Kelly, secretary of Unite’s Sunderland City Council Branch, said: “Unite is proud to be taking part in strike action alongside our fellow trade unions.

“This is a fight for better public services, and for fair pay for those who work hard to deliver those services.

“Council workers have been targeted to bear the brunt of the austerity measures that have been imposed by millionaire cabinet ministers since 2010. Unite fully understand that Labour-run councils like Sunderland City Council are the scapegoats when implementing this Coalition Government’s austerity measures.

“Local government workers and the communities they deliver services to believe that local government workers should have fair pay, not poverty pay.”

Source – Sunderland Echo, 11 July 2014

SOUTH TYNESIDE –

There were pickets outside South Shields Town Hall, the town’s Middlefields refuse depot and at the JobCentre in Chapter Row, and more than half of schools in the borough closed for the day.

All the borough’s libraries were also shut, and all council refuse collections were cancelled, and the crematorium on John Reid Road, South Shields, closed for the day.

Despite the widespread disruption, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, believes the public remain generally supportive of the action – and the reasons behind it.

Horn-beeping motorists expressed support for the dozen or so trade unionists gathered outside the town’s hall’s Beach Road entrance yesterday and, also on hand to show his support was Labour councillor Ernest Gibson, Mayor of South Tyneside last year.

There were pickets from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Harton Technology College in South Shields.

The school was closed to pupils, although members of other teaching unions and non-union staff did go into work.

COUNTY DURHAM –

Striking workers picketed outside council offices, job centres, tax offices and courts across County Durham and North Yorkshire.

Workers from government agencies including the Student Loans Company in Darlington, the Passport Office in Durham City and the HM Revenue & Customs offices in Thornaby took part in the industrial action.

In County Durham, more than 130 schools closed for the day, although only a handful of Darlington’s schools shut.

Twenty North Yorkshire schools closed and a further 50 suffered disruption.

On Teesside about 35 schools in Stockton were closed or partially-closed.

A survey commission by Unite on the eve of the strike found that 50 per cent of people in the North of England agreed that the local government workers’ call for an £1 per-hour pay rise was justified.

The poll confirms that people across the North support workers who are fighting to end poverty pay in our local councils,” said Mike Routledge, Unite local government officer for the North-East.

Source – Northern Echo, 10 July 2014

HARTLEPOOL –

Picket lines could be seen around the town with the most prominent outside of the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool.

Other’s took place outside Hartlepool Borough Council-run buildings in Church Street, and also in Wesley Square, outside the Jobcentre.

Councillor Stephen Thomas, Labour representative for the De Bruce ward, was also on the picket line to offer his support.

Coun Thomas, who works for Health Watch Hartlepool but took the day off to take part in the action, said: “I’m here to basically show my support to the strikers because I think that the way the Government is treating government sector workers is absolutely appalling.

“The one per cent pay rise they’ve had in the last four years equates to a 14 per cent cut in real terms.”

Teachers were also included in the strike with a number of Hartlepool schools closed for the day.

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) also joined forces in the strike action, with crews from Cleveland Fire Brigade’s Stranton Fire Station forming a protest.

Brian Gibson, the FBU chairman for Cleveland, said: “The action we took part in is particularly important because all the unions have got together to show our strength of feeling at getting one per cent pay rises. The FBU’s argument is also with the Government over pensions.”

He added: “We’ve had great public support, all we’ve had is support.

“We’re so pleased.”

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 11 July 2014

MIDDLESBROUGH –

Outside Middlesbrough Town Hall this morning, many office workers arriving for work crossed the picket lines.

Dawn Nicholson, Unison Area Organiser said: “It’s going well.

“Some people are crossing the picket lines but a lot of them are employed by Mouchel.

“Mouchel workers haven’t been balloted and can’t strike but many have signed our petition.”

However as one woman made her way into work she answered calls for her to strike saying: “People are still need to make a living.

GMB union, shop steward, Brian Foulger, said: “We’re quite surprised by how many people, even management, have gone out on strike.

“Since 2010, local government have been putting money away for a rainy day. Well, it’s pouring down.”

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 10 July 2014

South Tyneside – Council workers ‘relying on food banks’ as pay freeze bites

A trade union boss in South Tyneside has spoken of his fears that some of his members are having to rely on food banks to make ends meet.

 As public sector workers prepare for a day of unprecedented industrial action in the borough tomorrow, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, offered a staunch defence of the action, saying his members had continued to provide services on the ground despite “draconian Government cuts”.

Strikes by council workers, school staff and firefighters are set to cause disruption to people across the borough tomorrow.

Mr Butler says it is “likely” that some of his membership have resorted to food banks to make ends meet, although he knows of no specific cases locally.

Carers, social workers, refuse collectors, street cleaners and teaching assistants are among thousands of local council and school support workers in South Tyneside striking as part of a nationwide action over pay.

Mr Butler says a pay freeze imposed by the Coalition Government in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – and below-inflation rises in eight of the last 17 years – has sent the pay packets of local government and school workers “plummeting back to the level of the 1990s”.

He said: “Many council workers in South Tyneside have been left struggling to get by, with some, no doubt, relying on food banks, second jobs and in-work benefits to make ends meet.

“This year’s offer would result in a cumulative real-term cut of almost 20 per cent for more than a million local government and school workers.”

Unison is urging the employers to get back to the negotiating table with an offer that recognises the “invaluable contribution members make to their local communities”.

Mr Butler added: “Council workers have kept on going in the face of four years of draconian Government cuts to keep local services in South Tyneside running.

“They care for our elderly and our vulnerable, keep our streets clean, and educate and look after our children.

“They deserve better treatment than they have had at the hands of this Government.

“Taking strike action is never easy but our members are sending a clear message to the Government that they have had enough.

“Low-paid women make up the backbone of most local councils and they deserve to be paid a decent wage.

“The employers must get back into talks immediately to avoid a damaging dispute.”

Most civic buildings in South Tyneside will be closed to the public tomorrow. But buildings operated solely by South Tyneside Homes and BT South Tyneside will be open as usual.

The council’s contact centre at South Shields Town Hall will be closed to the public, but inquiries can still be made on 427 7000.

As a result of the action, all bin collections tomorrow will be cancelled.

These bins will be emptied on the next due collection date, Thursday, July 24.

Meanwhile, firefighters in the borough will also be on strike tomorrow from 10am to 7pm in support of their ongoing pensions claim.

Source – Shields Gazette,  09 July 2014

Hundreds of people from the North East join budget cuts protest in London

Hundreds of people from the North East joined 50,000 protesters in London’s Parliament Square to campaign against austerity measures.

Two coaches full of determined protesters assembled at Newcastle’s Central station and South Shields’ Town Hall on Saturday, before they made the six hour journey down to the capital.

> There was also a coach from Sunderland, according to the Sunderland Echo.

The protesters were armed with colourful banners and placards designed by local artist group, Artists for Change, their message was conveyed in just a few words; “No Cuts, No More Austerity; Demand the Alternative.”

Upon arrival, they marched passed the BBC headquarters in Portland Place where they accused the broadcasters of ignoring the plight of thousands of impoverished Britons affected by the cuts.

> The BC evidently didn’t notice, as they ignored the protest until the next day…

They then marched to Parliament Square where the crowds were addressed by union workers, politicians and celebrities such as Russell Brand and journalist Owen Jones.

Mum-of-four Ruth Stevenson, 35, from Wallsend, attended the demonstration after the cuts put her family under extreme financial strain. She said: “It was really well organised and there were loads of families and children, people in wheelchairs, and even choirs at the sides of the marches.

“There was a fantastic feeling of all people united. There were NHS staff, firefighters, monks and all sorts of people there. The amount of bus loads of people who arrived was amazing.”

The National secretary of the People’s Assembly, Sam Fairbairn, talked to the masses about the negative impact of the coalition’s cuts on communities and workers.

He said: “Make no mistake, these cuts are killing people and destroying cherished public services which have served generations.”

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched one year ago through an open letter co-signed by the late Tony Benn, along with a variety of union leaders, MPs and writers.

 Ruth  was moved to attend the demonstration when she realised she would have to forgo paying two-months worth of bills to ensure she has enough money to buy her children school uniforms.

She said: “I went because the cut-backs have really affected my family. This is the first year ever I am going to have to default on two months worth of bills to pay for school uniforms.

“School uniforms are really expensive and this year it is going to be too much. Although the cost of living has increased, wages have stayed the same. So it is really hard on families.”

She also has concerns for the future education of her four children.

At the moment I am worried about my daughter Victoria who is really intelligent. I want her to go to university but I just don’t know how I am going to support her financially.

“And if I can’t support Victoria then I don’t know how I will manage with the rest of them,” she added.

Ruth believes the British people have fought hard for institutions such as the NHS, trade unions and the welfare system only to have them taken back.

We have spent the last 50 years making sure that these institutions are there to protect ordinary people but now it is like the government is slowly removing the support network.”

Tony Dowling, Chair of the North East’s People’s Assembly, who helped to organise the North East protesters agrees that it is the hard-working and vulnerable who have been affected by the cutbacks the most.

He said: “The people who are being affected are the students who no longer have education maintenance allowance, the parents of children who have had their disability allowance cut or the NHS patients who face having to pay for their treatment in future.”

Tony helped to put together the North East’s cohort of the People’s Assembly in September 2013 at Northern Stage Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne, and since then, the fast growing group have been busy organising workshops, public meetings, and petitions.

The 57-year-old, who is a specialist behaviour support teacher from Gateshead, hopes the demonstration has encouraged more people to join the People’s Assembly. He also wants it to be a reminder that the crisis was not caused by the people, but by the banks and the sub-prime mortgage lenders in the US.

The banks have been bailed out but ordinary people have been made to pay for it. There is a small number, around 85 people – a double decker bus load – to be exact, who own as much wealth as 50% of people put together.”

Tony added that the ultimate goal of the People’s Assembly is to make the government come up with an alternative economic strategy to end poverty in the North East and in the rest of the UK.

We want more jobs, less cut-backs, no privatisation of the NHS,” added Tony.

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 23 June 2014

South Tyneside Council opposed to Workfare

South Tyneside Council has announced its formal opposition to a Government scheme which forces jobless people to work in return for benefits.

Workfare is a scheme under which Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants who haven’t found a job once they have been through a work programme go on a 26-week placement in the community for 30 hours a week.

It’s a scheme which has divided opinion, and its legality has been challenged through the courts.

Now, the borough council is formalising its opposition – and has pledged never to use workfare placements amid claims the scheme “stigmatises” benefits claimants.

A motion opposing Workfare is to go before a meeting of the borough council next week.

One of the signatories is Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation.

The motion says: “This council pledges not to use any workfare placements, and will also encourage contractors not to use the schemes.”

Members of the borough council are to meet at South Shields Town Hall from 6pm on Thursday, June 26.

> Full marks for South Tyneside !  Now, how about Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and North Tyneside  councils ?

Source –  Shields Gazette,  19 June 2014

South Tyneside – Food banks and advice services feel brunt of welfare reforms

Rising rent arrears, increased use of food banks and soaring demands for advice services are revealed in a shock new report focusing on the impact welfare reforms are having in South Tyneside.

 The Coalition Government’s welfare reform programme represents the biggest change to the welfare state since the Second World War with a raft of changes to benefits and tax credits to help cut spending and streamline services.

A new report by Helen Watson, South Tyneside Council’s corporate director for children, adults and families, outlines the human impact reforms are having in the borough.

It says that, within six months of the bedroom tax being introduced, rent arrears in the borough rose by 19 per cent – £81,000.

In total, South Tyneside Homes rent collection rates have fallen by 21 per cent over the last year, resulting in a loss of £331,000.

There has also been a 20 per cent increase in the demand for advice services since April last year.

Over the same period there has been a big rise in people using the borough’s three food banks, with a 50 per cent hike in referrals over the last 12 months.

There are 2,770 residents affected by the bedroom tax, with Tyne Dock, Victoria Road and Laygate, all South Shields, and The Lakes and Lukes Lane estates, in Hebburn, most affected.

Meanwhile, the number of out-of-work benefits being paid in the borough has been reduced in recent months, with a 22 per cent fall in claims for Jobseekers Allowance since April – 1,556 claimants.

The report makes grim reading for Coun Jim Foreman, the lead member for housing and transport at South Tyneside Council.

Coun Foreman believes the welfare reforms are having a “tsunami effect” and says the Government is “burying its head in the sand” by denying any direct connection between rising rent arrears and food bank usage and the welfare reforms.

He said: “The Government says there is no correlation between benefit cuts and the rise in food banks but they are just burying their heads in the sand.

“People don’t go to food banks out of choice. They go there because they are living in poverty. Having to use them is an attack on their pride and their resilience.”

Coun Foreman also expressed admiration for the “phenomenal work” being done by borough Citizens Advice Bureau staff and the South Tyneside Homes’ Welfare Reform team in a bid to minimise the impact of reforms.

He added: “It is not just a matter of the benefit cuts themselves but also the sanctions that are imposed if claimants turn up five minutes late for an appointment or don’t fill in a form or don’t make 15 applications for work in a week.

“All this is having a massive impact on the ability of people to provide for themselves and their families.”

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, the driving force behind the welfare reforms, has claimed increased publicity over food banks was the reason for their rising popularity.

He said: “Food banks do a good service, but they have been much in the news. People know they are free. They know about them and they will ask social workers to refer them. It would be wrong to pretend that the mass of publicity has not also been a driver in their increased use.”

The welfare report is due to be presented to the council’s Riverside Community Area Forum at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday.

Source – Shields Gazette  22 April 2014