Tagged: Unemployed In Tyne & Wear unemployed

Wonga to pay more than £2.6m in compensation to customers

Newcastle United sponsor Wonga is to pay more than £2.6 million in compensation to around 45,000 customers for “unfair and misleading debt collection practices”, the City regulator has announced.

The UK’s biggest payday lender was found to have sent letters to customers in arrears from non-existent law firms threatening legal action, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

In some cases Wonga added charges to customers’ accounts to cover administration fees for sending the letters.

Wonga, which struck a controversial four-year sponsorship deal with Newcastle United in October 2012, apologised “unreservedly” for the failings, which took place between October 2008 and November 2010.

The FCA said consumers were put under “great pressure” from communications sent by fictitious law firms to make loan repayments that many could not afford.

Wonga contacted customers in arrears under the names Chainey, D’Amato & Shannon and Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries, leading customers to believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a law firm, or other third party. Further legal action was threatened if the debt was not repaid.

Neither of these firms existed and Wonga was using this tactic to maximise collections by piling the pressure on customers, the regulator said.

Tim Weller, interim Wonga CEO, said: “We would like to apologise unreservedly to anyone affected by the historical debt collection activity and for any distress caused as a result.

“The practice was unacceptable and we voluntarily ceased it nearly four years ago.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  25 June 2014

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Lord Freud: Universal Credit £40 Million IT Write-Off ‘Deeply Regrettable’

Speaking in the House of Lords, Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud described the write-off of a failed £40 million IT system as “deeply regrettable”.

He also insisted that the decision to “reorganiseUniversal Credit, which led to the government’s flagship welfare reform being ‘reset’, was taken by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP.

 Lord Freud told peers:

“We all know that, when you have a £2.5 billion programme with a high IT content, there are elements that you write that you do not need.

“In the private sector that can be a third of a programme. Clearly, any write-off is always deeply regrettable, but one has to put those things into a context.

“We remain within our budget of £2.5 billion — not £12 billion — and we are looking at an overall net benefit of £35 billion from this programme. The NAO (National Audit Office) has said that it is taking a regular interest in the programme; we will continue and will see more reports on it from the NAO.

“However, as regards the way in which we are doing it, it is somewhat misleading to think of this as a twin-track system, because we have a single plan for universal credit.

“We are finding what works through the rollout we have; it may be small, but you do not need huge numbers to find out what works. It is important that we do this testing.

“At the heart of the programme is what we call the “test and learn” process, in which we take what is happening and assess and measure it against other things, aiming to find out how it works. That informs what we call the end-state build, which is thoroughly under way and is in agile.

“The first Warrington programme was trying to be agile, which I think is the best way; this end-state solution — the fully digital one, the interactive digital one — is being done on an agile basis.

Lord Freud also commented on Universal Credit being classed as ‘reset’ by the Major Projects Authority:

“What does reset mean? What happened, as noble Lords will remember, is that Ministers, the Secretary of State in particular, took a decision that the programme was not going properly and took a view to stop it and reorganise it — reset it.

“It is not a new category; it is a description of a process. If one is in charge of a programme, rather than blundering on with it regardless, I would hope noble Lords would agree that it is the job of the Ministers in charge to take that kind of decision, work out how to rebase it — reset it — and make sure it is done safely and securely, which is what we are aiming to do. That is everything that we are doing.”

> Yeah, all deeply regretable… but hey, its only public money, and you’ve got to spend big in order to be able to cut benefits, which we cant afford.

What’s that ?  Stop wasting money on mad unworkable schemes and we wouldn’t need to cut benefits ?

Ho ho ho, you obviously just don’t understand how politics works… next you’ll be suggesting that IDS and myself should take personal responsibility for  failures.

Source –  Welfare News Service, 25 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/lord-freud-universal-credit-40-million-write-deeply-regrettable/

New Universal Credit ‘Fiasco’ Could Cost £750 Million

Labour Party Press Release:

The Government has admitted Universal Credit could cost taxpayers an additional £750 million after failing to decide how free school meals will work alongside the crisis-hit programme.

 In response to a Parliamentary Question, Schools Minister David Laws said the additional cost of extending free school meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit could reach £750 million a year.
> Could… if it ever really gets off the starting blocks.

Under the current system, eligibility for free school meals is decided by certain benefits received by families such as income support.

However because Universal Credit is set to replace existing benefits, including in-work benefits, and will be claimed by families not currently in receipt of free school meals, the Government must decide on new eligibility criteria.

Since 2011, Labour has consistently asked questions on the issue but the Tory-led Government has still not decided what the Free School Meals criteria will be despite repeated assurances.

Until it reaches a decision it has said that all children in households receiving Universal Credit will automatically be eligible for free school meals – which could result in an extra £750 million of government spending.

Chris Bryant MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, said:

Ministers have ignored warnings about Universal Credit and free school meals for years.

“Now they have admitted the cost of their incompetence could reach £750 million.

“David Cameron must urgently get a grip of this latest Universal Credit fiasco with threatens to cost taxpayers millions of pounds.”

 

Source: press.labour.org.uk

Source –  Welfare News Service,  25 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/new-universal-credit-fiasco-cost-750-million-say-labour/

Northumberland could suffer in East Coast franchise shake up

The next East Coast trains operator must be stopped from cutting Northumberland rail services, county council bosses have said.

Northumberland County Council has joined a growing number of groups to express concern that the new East Coast franchise could see operators allowed to axe stopping services in the county.

In the council’s formal response to the rail consultation, Northumberland councillor Ian Swithenbank warns of service cuts to and from London which would hit the county if a new big-money operator is not forced to match current standards.

He points out that the new franchise would let operators choose to drop the early morning service from Berwick, Alnmouth and Morpeth, which then calls at Newcastle and straight on to London, bringing a business market to the capital.

The return journey faces similar peril. Mr Swithenbank said the consultation document had: “no mention of any requirement to maintain the existing Friday-only 7.30pm from Kings Cross calling, among other stations, at Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick, thus removing an important link from London for weekend visitors and county residents returning late on Friday from the capital.”

There is also no mention of any requirement to provide an evening Monday-Friday departure to Morpeth significantly later than 4pm.

Further service cuts could come on Sunday services to capital. The Government has no requirement for a direct train from Morpeth to London and the number of trains from London to Morpeth is reduced from five to four, a 20% reduction in provision in train service to the county town, which the council says will reduce journey opportunities both for visitors to the county and residents returning from the South.

Backing the council is Berwick Labour candidate Scott Dickinson. He said: “I welcome the intervention of councillor Swithenbank on this vitally important issue for North Northumberland in particular.

“The reprivatisation of East Coast and the decisions taken on the tender specification by the coalition government effectively relegate this important transport link for Northumberland. This will seriously damage our economic prospects.

“The minister needs to answer the questions. My real worry is that the decision to re-privatise East Coast after two private sector failures will end up costing the tax payer more and will lead to a second class service in Northumberland.”

The Department for Transport is set to decide on who should take over the state owned railway this autumn. Bidders include west coast operator Virgin Trains with Stagecoach and a joint bid from Eurostar and French state-backed firm Keolis.

Labour has called for the profitable route to remain in public hands.

Source – Newcastle Journal, 24 June 2014

HMRC workers in Peterlee stage walkout over Government plans to axe jobs

Hundreds of civil servants staged a walkout in a dispute over Government plans to cut 10,000 jobs nationally and close offices.

 Around 95 per cent of the 400 workers at the HMRC offices in Peterlee who are members of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services) union, went on strike yesterday.

It was part of a national day of action across revenue and customs staff and was the first day in a week of rolling industrial action across the country.

The union could also join 1.5m public sector workers in a walkout on July 10 over a Government offer of a pay rise of just 1 per cent.

PCS northern regional secretary Simon Elliott said: “The key is the strong support we have had across the region and that’s been borne out in Peterlee where over 90 per cent of staff have stayed away from work.

“The Government is threatening to cut another 10,000 HMRC jobs and they have already closed a whole number of offices and have already cut about 10,000 jobs.

“The Department has a vision for reducing HMRC staff down to a handful of regional offices.

“There has been a threat to HMRC offices for a long time, but this HMRC vision is a relatively new thing that’s come out in 2014.”

As well as the Peterlee staff, civil servants in the rest of the North-East, Cumbria and Scotland also staged walkouts yesterday.

Source –  Hartlepool Mail,  23 June 2014

Labour To Hand Lucrative ‘Workfare’ Contracts To Smaller Companies

A future Labour Government would consider handing lucrative Work Programme contracts, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, to smaller businesses and charities in a bid to cut back on the number of large providers involved in controversial back-to-work schemes.

>  Small providers will then proceed to grow into big providers (re-employing all the crap staff from the ousted providers along the way) and we’re back to square one.

And whoever provides it, workfare is still forced labour.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves MP said that she plans to “challenge the status quo” of Government commissioned Work Programme contracts by opening up the scheme to smaller providers.

 Back-to-work services could be devolved and decentralised away from Whitehall, by allowing local governments and social enterprises to develop and outsource schemes better tailored to the meet the needs and requirements of locally unemployed people.

Ms Reeves told the Financial Times that new providers may be required to pay their employee’s a living wage if they wish to bid for contracts. She said that existing providers should be worried by her plans but acknowledged that they come with potential “cost implications” for a future Labour Government.

Some of Britain’s largest charities recently announced that they were to boycott a similar scheme to the Work Programme. Hundreds of charities and 13 councils signed a pledge to boycott Community Work Placements, which form part of a new Help To Work Programme, where the long-term unemployed are required to meet with a Jobcentre adviser every day, attend training or commit to six-months “voluntary work” in their local area. Failure to comply could result in benefit claimants having their payments docked or stopped completely for a pre-determined length of time, otherwise known as a ‘benefit sanction’.

Opponents of back-to-work schemes, like the Work Programme and Community Work Placements, say they amount to a form of forced labour because of an ever-existing threat of sanction for non-compliance, as well as gifting employers with free labour enabling them to escape hiring paid workers and keep wage costs down.

Unemployed people taking part in these schemes claim their benefits have sometimes been cut for ridiculous and over-zealous reason, such as failing to turn up to a placement because of being in hospital or delays to local bus services, as well as other reasons.

Labour will have to go much further if they are to satisfy opponents of these schemes, who say they would accept no less than complete abolition of all “slave labour” programmes, and the end of private company involvement in social security benefits and the welfare state.

> They’ll have to go a damn sight further than they ever seem likely to, now that the extent of their ambitions seem limited to being the Tory-lite party.

 Source –  Welfare News Service, 24 June 2014
http://welfarenewsservice.com/labour-hand-workfare-contracts-smaller-companies/

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

Rail campaigners call for an end to outdated Northern Rail trains

Rail campaigners have called on the Government to give Northern train services a once in a decade chance of investment.

Transport groups have said it is time services such as Northern Rail benefited from the same approach which has handed cash to rail in London and the south east in recent decades.

The Campaign for Better Transport has warned that a Government consultation on the future of Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express looks set to do little to improve east-west links to and from the North East.

They say the plans as they stand give “only a vague indications of when the outdated 30-year old train diesel Pacer train will finally be replaced,” raising the possibility rail operators will not be forced to make much needed improvements.

In its consultation document on the new franchise the Government makes clear that it will accept limited rolling stick improvements if the cost would mean money diverted from other services.

The Department for Transport document says: “We firmly believe the rolling stock on Northern services needs to be improved so that passengers recognise a step change. But the more expensive the trains (and brand-new trains are likely to be the most expensive option of all), the harder it will be to justify current service levels where demand is low, and to afford to improve services where demand is increasing.”

The Department for Transport also makes clear that new operators would be allowed to cut back on off peak services, including reducing the number of trains calling at less popular stations.

There is some good news for Northumberland, with the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line looking set for a return thanks to Northumberland County Council cash.

But while Ashington-Blyth and Tyne is mentioned, schemes like the Leamside reopening though the south of the region are not and potential operators wouldn’t need to consider them in their bids.

Also causing concern is a clear expectation that the northern services will not attract significant investment.

Campaigners say that the consultation is missing an sign that a new operator will be forced to invest in trains, track and stations. “This is a counterpoint to the investment-heavy approach to growing the railways used in the South East,” the campaign group said.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The North East’s railways are at a junction. The Government is talking about trade-offs with the winners potentially getting newer trains and better stations while the losers could end up with higher fares and reduced services. Getting real investment into rail is essential to the region’s economy and we’ll be working with others to campaign for railways in the north to get the kind of support other parts of the country have seen.”

The Government consultation runs until August 18.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  23 June 2014

Party remembered Miners’ Strike 30 years on

A gathering to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike was held in the North-East over the weekend.

Durham Miners’ Association staged the event at its headquarters at Redhills in Durham City on Saturday, three decades on from the bitter industrial dispute.

It was held at the weekend to tie in with the 30th anniversary of the infamous clashes between pitmen and police at Orgreave, near Rotherham, on June 18, 1984.

The union invited friends, supporters and miners who took part in the strike to ‘to renew old friendships and celebrate the spirit that endured a year-long battle for the preservation of jobs and communities’.

The eight-hour celebration started at 2pm and included a bar, buffet, films and music as well as speeches.

General secretary Dave Hopper said: “A lot of people who have not see each other for quite a while were there.

“It was nice to get together, reminisce a bit and look back at the situation and just think how unlucky we were not to achieve what we set out to achieve.

“Society would have been far better, certainly in the Durham area and a lot of coalfield communities. It is always important to keep issues like this in the public eye.”

Source –  Durham Times,  23 June 2014

Statue to honour village’s miners

Work has begun on a memorial statue to honour men and boys killed in the pits.

A turf-cutting ceremony took place on Friday (June 20) ahead of the creation of a life-size statue of a miner, his wife and child for Esh Winning, in County Durham.

The statue will honour people who died in the collieries of Esh Winning, Waterhouses, Hedley Hill and East Hedleyhope.

Work on the memorial is expected to take three months, followed by an unveiling ceremony.

A long-running community campaign raised £65,000 to pay for the statue.

That included donations from the County Durham Community Foundation, Esh Winning Community Association, Hargreaves, Durham Rural Community Council, the Co-operative Society and others.

Councillor John Robinson, chairman of Durham County Council, was part of Friday’s event.

He said: “This will be a wonderful memorial to the local community and the families of those who worked in the mines.”

Hargreaves, a mining firm which is based in Esh Winning, is the main commercial supporter of the project.

Development director Ian Parkin said the company was honoured to be involved.

Bob Heslop, a devoted leader of the memorial group, sadly died last year, before the campaign reached fruition.

Source – Northern Echo, 22 June 2014

Job Creation 20% Below Pre-Recession Levels, New Report Shows

Trade Union Congress (TUC) Press Release:

Inner London is the only area of the country to have a higher rate of job starts than before the recession, while job creation in some parts of the country is down 31 per cent on pre-recession levels, according to a new TUC report published today (Monday).

The TUC Touchstone pamphlet Equitable Full Employment: A Jobs Recovery For All (pdf) shows that the recent rise in employment is being driven by fewer people leaving their jobs, rather than more people finding new work.

Job starts – the number of people starting a new job within a three month period – are currently around 20 per cent below pre-recession levels across the UK, and are still falling in parts of the country. The fact that fewer people are leaving their jobs helps to explain why the employment rate for older workers is increasing so much faster than for young people, says the TUC.

The report, written for the TUC by Tony Wilson and Paul Bivand of the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion), compares job start rates before the recession, at the height of the crash and during the recent recovery. It finds that metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham and Tyne and Wear are recovering faster than their neighbouring rural areas.

Inner London is the only area of the country where jobs are being created at a faster rate than before the crash. Outer London, the South East and Eastern England have recovered since the crash but job starts are still 11 per cent, 16 per cent and 21 per cent below pre-recession levels.

Job creation across the rest of the country is more mixed, says the TUC. Job creation in Tyne and Wear is recovering (though still 11 per cent below pre-recession levels) but getting worse across the rest of the North East.

> In fact, as a whole, North East unemployment continues to rise…

Job creation in the West Midlands metropolitan area is recovering but the rest of the region continues to decline (down 31 per cent), while South and West Yorkshire are both performing far better than the rest of Yorkshire and Humberside. Job starts in Greater Manchester have fallen slightly since the height of the crash but the city is still doing far better than Merseyside and the rest of the North West, where job starts are 30 per cent down on pre-recession levels.

Strathclyde is the only major metropolitan area that is performing worse than its neighbouring area, with job creation across the rest of Scotland recovering faster.

The report shows while the UK’s employment rate is rising, there are huge swathes of the country – particularly rural areas – where job creation remains depressed and is getting worse, say the TUC.

The report also looks at job starts across different age groups, qualification levels and types of work. It finds that while job creation rates for graduates are back above pre-recession levels, the number of people with lower-level qualifications starting new jobs declined during the boom and has continued to deteriorate since the crash.

The proportion of jobs starts to non-permanent work is now higher than it was before the crash, with three in ten job starts in temporary work. Fixed-term contacts are the most popular form of temporary work.

The continuing shift from permanent employee jobs to self-employment and temporary work, such as fixed-term contacts and agency work, suggests the nature of the UK jobs market is changing permanently, rather than being a short-term response to the recession, says the TUC.

> The final victory of Thatcherism – smash the unions and the rest can be exploited…

The rate of people moving from unemployment to work is still lower than pre-recession levels across all age groups, say the report. ‘Hiring rates’ have recovered fastest for older workers, but they remain far less likely to move from unemployment to work than any other age group.

Hiring rates for 16-24 year olds, who traditionally have moved from unemployment into work at a far quicker rate than all other age groups, have declined considerably over the last 17 years. People in their late 20s and early 30s are now finding work as quickly as younger people, says the report.

The report makes a number of recommendations to boost job creation and raise employment levels further, including:

• Offering targeted employment support programmes, such as a job guarantee for any young person out of work for at least six months.
• Identifying low skills as a reason to provide more intensive employment support.
• Establishing bodies in each industrial sector so that government, unions and employers can work together to identify skills gaps, promote decent workplace standards and fair pay.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Many people assume that rising employment levels are simply down to more people getting new work. In fact, the recent recovery in our jobs market is mainly due to people holding onto their jobs, rather than finding new ones. This is great news if you want to keep earning as you approach retirement, but less positive if you’re trying to take your first step on the career ladder.

“Job creation is as important for people looking for work as it is for those already in work and looking to boost their incomes. It’s worrying that across huge swathes of the country – and particularly in rural areas – job creation levels remain depressed and that where jobs are being created far more are temporary positions than before the crash.

“We need to see far more high-quality jobs being created, not just in our cities but across the UK, if we’re going to achieve full employment and a return to healthy pay rises.”

CESI Associate Director Paul Bivand said:

“What we are concerned about is inclusion, which isn’t just our name. Growth in employment should help to close gaps in our society. We don’t want a rising tide to lift just the most buoyant, while leaving others behind. We want all areas and groups to benefit and we need to close gaps.

“We are already hearing that there is a risk of the Bank taking action because of overheating high-end London house prices. For the economy to benefit all, then rises in jobs have to occur in the rural areas as well as the cities, and Glasgow and Merseyside as well as the South East.”

 

Source: Inner London is only area of UK to have returned to pre-recession levels of job creation

 

Source – Welfare News Service, 23 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/job-creation-20-pre-recession-levels-new-report-shows/