Family incomes are on the rise in most of the region, official figures show – but at a slower pace than in most of the country.
Household disposable income per head crept up by just 0.8 per cent in the North-East between 2012 and 2013, below the one per cent rise across the United Kingdom.
And the North-East was left in the slow lane by both Scotland (up two per cent) and the West Midlands (up 2.3 per cent) as the economy bounced back, as well as by Yorkshire (up 1.4 per cent).
But households in London and the South-East (both up 0.6 per cent) saw incomes grow more slowly – even though overall growth was far higher than in the North-East in both areas.
The statistics also reveal striking local variations in the changes in gross disposable household income (GDHI), the amount available for spending or saving after taxes and benefits.
Incomes grew sharply in Darlington (3.5 per cent) and South Teesside (2.6 per cent) and were also up in North Yorkshire (two per cent) and Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees (1.9 per cent).
But growth was more sluggish in County Durham (1.3 per cent) – and fell markedly in both Sunderland (3.1 per cent) and York (3.3 per cent).
In Westminster, the average GDHI was £42,221 in 2013 – almost three times the figure of £14,659 in County Durham and the highest of 173 local areas analysed.
And incomes in Kensington and Chelsea/Hammersmith and Fulham (£42,116), Camden and City of London (£37,324) and Wandsworth (£35,237) were not far behind.
Matt Whittaker, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation think-tank, said:
“Regional inequalities have fallen since the crash, but the gap between the South East and the UK is stark.”
Experts believe disposal income – the amount people have to spend after the bills have been paid – is the best measure of the economic confidence of families and individuals.
A council is facing renewed calls to combat “student ghettos”, after the last local resident of a city centre street described her life as “hell on earth”.
Jackie Levitas, the only remaining non-student on Waddington Street, Durham, said Durham County Council had concentrated on the county’s villages to the neglect of the city – and must decide whether it really “cares” about Durham.
“It’s your duty. People have fled the city. You’ve got to encourage them to come back.
“You must think about how to improve Durham – every decision taken should be an improvement,” the 78-year-old poet said.
Her calls were echoed by Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, who called the situation “dreadful” and said it left her “almost beyond despair”.
Roger Cornwell, chairman of the City of Durham Trust conservation society, said: “Jackie’s is an extreme form of what’s been going on.
“Her street is treated as part of a student hall of residence. She’s treated as an interloper. The street is totally dead when you get to the (university) vacation.”
“Ensuring a balance in respect of these issues is very difficult,” he added.
“We recognise that in Waddington Street and the adjoining streets almost all of the properties are in student use, largely down to how the market has operated over a period of time.
“We have policies in place which mean future applications for student housing developments take all of the above aspects into account and do not have an adverse impact on local communities.”
While first year students at Durham University live in college, many second and third years – plus postgraduates – live in formerly private homes that have been converted into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) for students.
The council is under pressure to introduce an Article 4 direction, which would force developers to apply for planning permission to convert a house into an HMO, and produce a comprehensive student accommodation strategy, a previous attempt having been rejected by a planning inspector.
Professor Graham Towl, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor, said:
“We are keen to work with the community to ensure there is a positive environment for all who live and work in Durham and Stockton-on-Tees and we welcome open dialogue.”
Source – Durham Times, 15 May 2015
The average homeowner in parts of Teesside has lost £25,000 off the value of their house since the coalition came to power in 2010 – while prices in London have soared.
Exclusive analysis of Land Registry data show the average house price in Redcar and Cleveland has dropped by 21.3% since May 2010, the date of the last election.
The average price is now £92,785 – or £25,134 LESS than it was then.
Only two places in the country – Merthyr Tydfil (down 27.1%) and Blackpool (down 24.9%) – have seen a bigger percentage fall.
In Middlesbrough, prices are down 6.6% since May 2010.
That means the average property is worth £5,904 less now than then.
And Stockton-on-Tees has seen a 2.6% fall, equivalent to £2,944.
Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have actually gone up by 10.8% since May 2010, with the average property worth £17,595 more than it was then.
Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have risen by 10.8% since May 2010.
The biggest increases have all been in London – with the 29 top-rising areas all in the capital.
Top of the list is Hackney, where house prices are up 76.3%.
The average house is now worth £634,045 – or £274,491 more than it was five years ago.
In the City of Westminster, meanwhile, the average price is up £464,941 from £610,767 to £1.07m.
When London is taken out of the equation, Tory-run areas seem to have done markedly better than those controlled by other parties.
Ten of the 20 ‘non-London’ areas that have seen the biggest rises are held by the Conservatives, with nine in no overall political control and just one – Slough – held by Labour.
Tory Wokingham (up 25.7%), Hertfordshire (up 24.6%) and Surrey (up 24.6%) have seen the biggest rises outside London.
By contrast 19 of the 20 areas to have seen the biggest falls in house prices are run by Labour.
The only one that isn’t is Lancashire (down 13.6%) – which is in no overall control.
Source – Middlesbrough Gazette, 13 Apr 2015
In an unprecedented move all 16 further education college principals in the North-East have united to oppose a 24 per cent cut in funding for adult learning announced by the Government.
They fear that thousands of people could lose the chance of retraining for new jobs because of deep cuts by the Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The principals believe the £460m reduction, which follows five years of funding cuts for the further education sector, will result in many adult education courses being removed.
They will include employability programmes that the principals say are crucial in enabling unemployed adults to access the labour market and in tackling social and economic exclusion.
Vocational courses that develop the practical skills demanded by employers will also be affected, in sectors such as engineering, manufacturing, health and social care, and construction.
To illustrate the scale of the cuts East Durham College will lose £805,000 from its adult learning budget for next year while Darlington College will lose £755,000 and Bishop Auckland College will lose £650,000.
This comes at a time when the proportion of over-50s in the workforce is set to rise to a third of the workforce by 2020 (from 27 per cent at the moment) and 50 per cent of workers aged over 55 are proposing to work beyond the state pension age.
The principals have also written to MPs asking for questions to be tabled in Parliament and signed a nationwide petition led by the University and College Union (UCU) which has thousands of signatories.
The principals are also asking students and the business community to support the campaign.
The North-East FE colleges involved in the campaign are: Bishop Auckland College; City of Sunderland College; Cleveland College of Art and Design; Darlington College; Derwentside College; East Durham College; Gateshead College; Hartlepool College of Further Education; Middlesbrough College; New College Durham; Newcastle College; Northumberland College; Redcar and Cleveland College; South Tyneside College; Stockton Riverside College and Tyne Metropolitan College.
Natalie Davison, Principal of Bishop Auckland College, said:
“This will have a devastating impact on the communities we serve. It will stop unemployed people being able to access training to help them secure work, and hamper businesses wanting to improve the skills of their workforce in order to enable growth.”
Kate Roe, principal of Darlington College, said:
“At a time when we need to get more people of all ages into employment and help more people to access new training or improve their skills, we should not be cutting funding for adult skills.As a college we anticipated this 24 per cent cut and planned accordingly and we still offer a wealth of courses for adults. Even so, a reduction in funding of this size in courses across the Tees Valley will impact on both individuals and employers.”
They are being supported by the Association of Colleges, whose chief executive Martin Doel said:
“We’re living in an ever-changing society in which people do not keep to the same career path for their whole lives. These people need the options of returning to education or undertaking training.”
A BIS spokesperson said:
“We fully recognise the important role further education plays in getting people the skills they need to get on. That’s why we’ve committed more than £3.9 billion in 2015-16 to adult learning and further education.
“While total funding has been reduced, priority has been given the areas where the most impact can be made – apprenticeships, traineeships and support with English and maths.
“Many colleges and training organisations have responded well to the need to find other income streams for skills provision and it is this approach that will help them succeed.”
Last month Stockton-on-Tees based car parts manufacturer Nifco announced a £50m contract with Ford which has secured 350 jobs.
But engineering general manager Andy Dunn said:
“As a major automotive employer we are extremely disappointed to learn that there will be a 24 per cent cut in the funding of adult skills training in 2015-16.”
Source – Northern Echo, 24 Mar 2015
The word on the street was “This is Stockton-on-Tees” as thousands of residents attempted the world’s biggest game of Chinese Whispers to bolster the town’s image before a controversial Channel 4 documentary is broadcast.
Over two days ‘The Loudest Whisper’ will spread the message at some of the borough’s beauty spots including Infinity Bridge, Preston Park Museum and Grounds, and Wynyard Hall.
The ‘Psst…’ (Positively Stockton-on-Tees) Campaign was launched after filming for the Benefits Street series started last year which, it is feared, will negatively portray residents living in Kingston Road in the deprived Tilery area.
The first series, based in Birmingham, was branded ‘poverty porn’, however the hit show’s producers insisted it was about ‘giving a voice’ to a little known section of society.
World champion Stockton sprinter Richard Kilty demonstrated his pride for his home town by starting the “This is Stockton-on-Tees” whisper with more than 200 pupils at North Shore Academy, near Kingston Street, before 800 people passed it on over Infinity Bridge.
The message was then spread around 300 teenagers on their lunch break at Stockton Sixth Form College before it was put on ice at the Billingham Forum skating rink.
The makers of Benefit Street, Love Productions, said on its website about the documentary:
“It’s a place where residents face challenges such as bringing up children in poverty, low levels of education and training, drug and alcohol dependency, and crime. But it also has a strong sense of community, where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way.”
Mike McGrother, frontman of the Wildcats of Kilkenny who masterminded the ambitious Psst…event with Stockton Borough Council, said:
“The nature of a Chinese Whisper reminds us that a message can be manipulated, but we are choosing to remind people of how a positive message can bring a community together.
Phil Mulhaire who produced the spectacle, added:
“This is a light-hearted response to the Benefit Street programme because people feel it will not a true reflection, that its people are not feckless, this is to show the other side.”
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Mar 2015
Benefits Street now looks unlikely to air before the General Election in May.
The second series of the controversial series has been filmed on Kingston Road in Stockton’s Tilery Estate.
It was previously understood that the series was set to air in March, after sources close to the show suggested it would be around that time.
However, due to tight broadcasting rules of what airs in the run-up to a General Election, it could now be after voting has taken place in May.
Anything deemed as politically contentious needs to stick to strict broadcasting guidelines.
It’s not clear if Benefits Street would fall into this category or whether this would prevent Channel 4 from screening it as adaptations can be made to ensure it adheres by any rules.
But it was reported in The Guardian’s Media Monkey column that it will be a six-episode series, going out after the election.
“Channel 4’s Immigration Street may have been derailed by protesters (it’s down to a single film) but the second run of Benefits Street is still very much on track – six episodes will be aired about an estate in Stockton-on-Tees after the General Election,” it stated.
“It seems the new series will also cover the media kerfuffle the show has created: Love Productions’ Benefits Street crew has filmed the crews sent by other broadcasters including the BBC, who in turn were sent to film them filming the residents.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 16 Feb 2015
Shhh…A giant game of whispers is planned across the whole of Stockton!
The ‘Loudest Whisper‘ will be one of the main events planned for the Positively Stockton on Tees (Psst…) campaign to fight against negative publicity that Benefits Street may bring.
The second series of Benefits Street – filmed on Stockton’s Kingston Road on the Tilery estate – is due to hit our screens in just weeks.
Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman Mike McGrother is one of those leading the campaign.
“There’s an abundance of community pride in Stockton-on-Tees – it’s just not our style to go shouting it from the rooftops!
“But if we’re faced with a series that seeks to paint us in an unfair light on national television, we shouldn’t take that lying down.
“Through the Loudest Whisper event and all the other parts of the Positively Stockton campaign, we can dispel the myths that will inevitably be trotted out using the sense of humour, community spirit and understated manner people in our borough are renowned for.
“And it’s all for Comic Relief – our voices – though quiet, will be heard!”
It will take place over the two days of Friday, March 13 and Saturday, March 14 and will also raise money for Comic Relief.
A message will be passed from person to person, making use of human chains as well as all kinds of transport, from jet-skis and rowing boats to buses and bikes.
Details of the full routes that the whisper will take will be unveiled later this month but there will be opportunities for the public to get involved, as follows:
• Friday, March 13, 12.15pm at the Infinity Bridge, Stockton
• Friday, March 13, 5.30pm at the area near ARC and The Storytellers pub, Stockton
• Saturday, March 14, 12.20pm in Ropner Park, Stockton
• Saturday, March 14, 1.15pm at Preston Hall, Eaglescliffe
People across the region and beyond are being encouraged to show their love for the borough by sharing photographs, videos and stories.
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign and how to get involved visit: www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk
Source – Sunday Sun, 15 Feb 2015
Tough measures designed to force benefit claimants to find work are instead making them ill, a study by North East academics has warned.
Claimants who have their benefits cut are sometimes left to go without food or the ability to heat their homes, a study found.
And this has an impact on their health – particularly because some of these affected are already ill or disabled.
The study was carried out by researcher Kayleigh Garthwaite and Professor Clare Bambra of Durham University.
Their findings were presented to MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an investigation into “sanctions” which can imposed on people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and some people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit paid to people who are ill or disabled.
Claimants can have their benefits cuts off, known as a sanction, if officials believe they have failed to prove that they are looking for work.
But critics including a number of North East MPs argue that some claimants have lost benefits for no good reason. In a Commons debate in January, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman and other Labour MPs said they believed job centre staff were given unofficial targets for the number of sanctions issued.
The study by Dr Garthwaite and Professor Bambra was part of a five year project looking at why some groups of people are healthier than others, which has focused on foodbank users in Stockton on Tees.
In a paper presented to MPs, they said:
“Sanctions led to loss of their only source of income, resulting in sanctioned ESA recipients often going without sufficient food and/or energy required to maintain good health or recover from illness.”
In some cases, benefits were taken from people who did not understand the complex rules, including people mental health conditions, the academics said.
“Sanctions have led to cases of a total loss of income resulting in an inability to eat or heat at the levels required for maintaining good health or recovering from ill health.
“Indeed sanctions have exacerbated ill health. The sanctioning of people with mental health problems is a particular problem – with the stress and anxiety of income loss adding to their underlying condition.”
The academics said sanctions for ESA claimants “should be relaxed or removed – particularly for those with mental health problems”.
Dr Garthwaite also spoke to MPs at Westminster, where she warned that claimants often had no idea that there was an official hardship fund available to help people who had entirely run out of money.
She told them that some food bank users had resorted to eating food they knew would be bad for them because of medical conditions – such as an intolerance for wheat – because they had nothing else.
Defending the policy, Employment Minister Esther McVey told the committee that studies had shown sanctions encouraged people to find work.
“All the international evidence suggests that sanctions do have a positive impact on people getting into work, and there are two parts of that: as a deterrent, it has a positive impact on moving people into work, and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards.”
The Government publishes figures showing how many sanctions have been imposed.
In Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Tees Valley, sanctions were imposed 92,326 times since 2012.
The job centre which has cut benefits most often is James Cook House in Middlesbrough, which imposed 7,068 sanctions.
John Street job centre in Sunderland imposed 4,922 sanctions.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Feb 2015
Plans to put a more positive spin on a North-East town ahead of the airing of the next series of Channel 4’s Benefits Street are underway.
TV company Love Productions chose Kingston Street in Stockton to film its second series of the popular Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall show, dubbed by some as “poverty porn“.
The next series is expected to air in March and Stockton Borough Council says it is expecting a less-than-flattering portrayal of the town.
Now businesses are throwing their weight behind a campaign to shine a positive light on Stockton.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign has a website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up for people to share photographs, videos and stories about the area.
Now, thanks to donations from local businesses, the best submissions will be rewarded in a monthly prize giveaway, the first of which is afternoon tea for four at Wynyard Hall.
Council leader Bob Cook said:
“We came up with this campaign to create a space where people can share their views on what they love about Stockton-on-Tees and we’ve been delighted with the response so far.
Mike McGrother, Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman, said:
“What has been lovely about the response so far is the overwhelming reaction from across the borough – and beyond.
“We may not have the revenues and reach of Love Productions – but what we will do in response is a much ‘lovelier’ production all round.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit:
or follow the campaign on Twitter @positivelySOT
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Jan 2015
Saving councils cash is driving a rise in fast-track child adoptions in the North, an MP has claimed.
The British Association of Social Workers has launched an inquiry into why adoption in the North East has shot up by 26% in the last year after Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell highlighted concerns about the issue.
He believes dwindling numbers of under-pressure social workers are spending less time trying to keep families together and that councils, navigating central Government cuts, are pushing adoptions.
It comes as the Department for Education revealed the number of adoptions increased to 390 in 2013/14 from 290 the previous year.
Local authorities say they are doing all they can to keep parents and their children in a unit, and any claim adoption was used as a money-saving measure is “completely wrong”.
Mr Campbell said:
“I think it is about money at the end of the day. It is cheaper to adopt than it is to foster a child.
“We should be helping parents to get back on the straight and narrow.
“I have seen parents who have turned themselves around.
“Because of all the cuts, social services don’t seem to be there to help anymore. I don’t see why adoption has to be the be all and end all.”
He added social workers may also be afraid to manage intervention in the wake of some high profile cases, such as the failure of Haringey Children’s Services in the lead up to the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, who suffered appalling abuse at home.
Mr Campbell said:
“With Baby P and everything that came out, I think our social workers are frightened of their own job.
“Adoption is the easy option and it doesn’t cost the council anything. If you foster a child it is costing rate payers £500 a week. Why can we not try and keep the family together and help the mothers to bring themselves round.”
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said quick decisions were being made to get children out of the public care system.
“Due to the impact of austerity, many services which have been around in local communities to support children and their birth families are no longer around as they have closed due to lack of money. This makes it harder to provide the help those families need to stay together.
“Our current UK adoption legislation enables children to be adopted without the consent of their parents. This aspect of the legislation is being increasingly used to speed up the adoption process. While there are extreme circumstances where this may be necessary, its widespread use is causing us real concern as a profession.”
In Gateshead the number of looked after children adopted leapt from 15 in 2013 to 35, while there was an increase of 25 looked after children adopted in Newcastle to hit 60 in 2014.
In County Durham, adoptions shot up to 75 from 40, while in Middlesbrough, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland the figures remained the same.
In Darlington, the number of adoptions doubled from 10 to 20, while the number rose by five to 15 in both Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland. In Stockton-on-Tees, the number rose by ten to 30.
Councils stressed adoption was a last resort and had to be agreed by a court.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman admitted all services were coming under pressure, but said:
“It is totally wrong and misinformed to suggest that adoption is in some way a replacement for adequate social care support to families. Adoption is a way to provide a loving family home for children who cannot be cared for by their natural parents for a whole host of reasons. For many of these children the alternative would be a childhood spent in local authority care. Newcastle City Council is proud of the fact that it is giving more children the best possible start in life by increasing the numbers of adoptions, and this is something we will continue to try to do.
“At the same time, through the Newcastle Families Programme, the council is working with a range of partners in the city to provide intensive support to families who find themselves in trouble, providing the help and challenge they need to turn their lives around. The programme is one of the most successful in the country – helping around 300 families a year to overcome difficulties and get back on the right track.
“Government cuts and rising costs are forcing councils to make difficult decisions about services. Newcastle City Council has ensured that service to vulnerable people have been prioritised to avoid the deepest cuts, but it is true that these services are coming under increasing pressure.”
Karen Robb, strategic manager, looked after children and permanence at Durham County Council, said:
“We will always work with families to see if the children can remain with their parents or another family member. Where this is not possible children are only adopted after we have received a mandate from the courts where they are satisfied that there is no possibility of the birth parents or extended families being able to provide satisfactory care.
“We actively ensure that children who cannot live within their own families are placed permanently with their new families as quickly as possible.”
Councillor Angela Douglas, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Gateshead added:
“We are committed to achieving the best outcomes for our children and young people and we know that for some children the best way to achieve this is through providing new forever families.
“Placing a child with adoptive parents only ever happens if it is felt by everyone that this would be in the best interests of that child. No other factors are involved in that decision.
“To suggest that adoption is taking place as a money-saving measure – and that the specific needs of that child are therefore being ignored – is completely wrong.”
Newcastle MP Catherine McKinnell said:
“There’s no doubt that the number of children in care in the region has risen over recent years, with over 500 children in the care of Newcastle Council alone.
“This comes at a huge cost not just to the local authority and society at large, but also to the children themselves as those who’ve grown up in care have historically had significantly worse outcomes.
“Clearly, it’s vital for local authorities and other organisations to provide early intervention services to support troubled families, in order to prevent family breakdowns and children being taken into care in the first place.
“But for those children already in care, I support moves to help them find permanent, secure, loving and stable families, and an increase in adoption rates – where it is appropriate for each individual child – is a positive step.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 16 Nov 2014