Guidance issued by the DWP last week on the new Fit for Work scheme makes it clear that referrals can only be made to the scheme with the consent of the employee. It also makes it clear that most health assessments will be carried out over the telephone.
Fit for Work is the new DWP scheme intended to cut sickness absence and ESA claims by getting sick employees back to work more quickly. In England and Wales the scheme has been outsourced to a branch of Maximus, the company also taking over the work capability assessment contract from Atos later this year. In Scotland fit for work is being delivered by the Scottish government.
GPs and employers can refer employees for an occupational health assessment via the Fit for Work service once they have been off sick for a month, provided that there is a reasonable prospect of the employee retuning to work. The employee must consent before a referral can be made.
Fit for work will carry out a ‘biopsychosocial holistic assessment’ of the employee over the telephone and draw up a return to work plan on the basis of that call. In a small number of cases a face-to-face assessment will be carried out.
For GPs, the attraction of a referral is that once a return to work plan has been drawn up by Fit for Work the GP will no longer be responsible for providing sick notes.
Employers receive a tax exemption of up to £500 per year, per employee on medical treatments recommended by Fit for Work to help their employees return to work.
Source – Benefits & Work, 06 Jan 2015
A stark warning has been issued about the future of Northumberland, which has been described as a political no man’s land that is dying on its feet.
It was delivered by the Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, after official figures revealed it to be one of the worst-performing economic areas in the whole of Britain.
Its perilous state was shown in the ‘gross value-added’ (GVA) statistics for 2013, which detail the value of wages and profits from goods and services produced.
For Northumberland, the figure is just £13,481 per head of population, the fifth worst in Britain, and dwarfed by the highest figure of £135,888 in inner London west.
Mr Lavery said at the root of the worrying figures was the fact that traditional heavy industries like mining have never been properly replaced, while the county struggles to compete with Scotland, which gets much more Government financial help.
“We have some great small businesses here but they are not on the same scale as mining,” he said.
“We’re a political no-man’s land. I really fear for the future. People need to be encouraged to invest here and it should be made a special case. It’s dying on its feet.”
His comments were echoed by fellow Northumberland MP Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell, who said the figures showed how the county had been abandoned by successive governments of all colours.
“To put it right we need to be made a special case,” he said.
“We don’t want to be a basket case. They have to come up with a new Barnett formula which benefits this region.”
There had been talk of scrapping the Barnett formula, a local authority funding mechanism which favoured Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when drawn up 34 years ago to provide a boost to economies there, which were then struggling.
However, in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, in what was seen as an attempt to ensure a ‘No’ vote victory, all three major parties vowed to continue it.
Mr Campbell said as a result of the extra cash, Scotland can offer more inducements to new companies to invest there.
“It’s only 50 miles up the road. When the Barnett formula was drawn up, it was done to help Scotland, which was struggling. Now it isn’t and we are, it should be redrawn to help us.”
North East Chamber of Commerce Policy and Research Manager Mark Stephenson said:
“For many years we have campaigned about the lack of fairness of the Barnett formula, which seems to be having an increasingly negative impact on the GVA figures.
“Northumberland has many excellent businesses and a thriving tourism offer, but it is one of the counties that has been adversely impacted by the public sector cuts.”
Meanwhile Mr Lavery said: “When people talk about the North East they think of what Newcastle and Sunderland are getting, they think of Nissan and the Tyne and Wear Metro.
“But Northumberland is a million miles away from this.
“The best thing about this county is the resilience of its people.
“They will deliver if given the opportunity; they just need equal opportunities.”
Across the region the GVA per head stands at £17,381, compared with £40,215 in London. Only Wales, at £16,893, and Northern Ireland, at £17,948, have lower figures.
Tyneside performs best in the North East, with a GVA per head of £20,514, although this is still some way below the UK average of £23,294.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Dec 2014
Six of the country’s biggest “debt hotspots” are in the North-East, a report has revealed.
South Tyneside, Darlington, North Tyneside, Gateshead, Middlesbrough and Northumberland have some of the biggest clusters of people seeking help from Citizens Advice in England and Wales.
The charity dealt with 405 clients in Denbigshire between July and September – or 0.54 per cent of the adult population – making this area of North Wales the top debt hotspot.
South Tyneside was fourth with 607 clients seen (0.5 per cent); Darlington joint fifth with 410 clients (0.49 per cent); North Tyneside joint seventh with 776 (0.48 per cent); Gateshead 748 (0.46 per cent) and Middlesbrough 499 (0.46 per cent) in joint 11th and Northumberland in joint 15th place with 1,166 clients seen or 0.45 per cent of its adult population.
The charity, which has helped almost half a million people with debt over the last year, made the findings after analysing the cries for debt help it received over the three month period.
Citizens Advice said since the economic crisis, problems with consumer debt such as credit cards and personal loans have fallen significantly. By contrast, problems with “priority debts” such as rent arrears and council tax debts are growing.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“Times have changed, and so have people’s debt problems.
“Consumer debts like credit cards and personal loans have traditionally been the most common debt problems. But now priority debts such as council tax arrears are gradually building up as people struggle to cover everyday costs.
“In the past, people were more likely to get help for debt problems triggered by life events such as illness, redundancy or separation.
“But in recent years more people are being pushed into debt as they struggle to stretch their income to cover everyday living costs.”
Here are the biggest debt hotspots across England and Wales, according to Citizens Advice, with the number of people it helped between July and September, and also expressed as a percentage of the local adult population:
1. Denbighshire, 405, 0.54%;
2. Merthyr Tydfil, 248, 0.53%;
3. Stoke-on-Trent, 1,031, 0.52%;
4. South Tyneside, 607, 0.50%;
=5. Darlington, 410, 0.49%;
=5. Salford, 908, 0.49%;
=7. Copeland, 276, 0.48%;
=7. North Tyneside, 776, 0.48%;
=9. Mendip, 411, 0.47%;
=9. Liverpool, 1,793, 0.47%;
=11. Stevenage, 303, 0.46%;
=11. Gateshead, 748, 0.46%;
=11. Middlesbrough, 499, 0.46%;
=11. Torfaen, 330, 0.46%;
=15. Northumberland, 1,166, 0.45%;
=15. Lincoln, 348, 0.45%;
=17. Cannock Chase, 336, 0.43%;
=17. Barrow-in-Furness, 240, 0.43%;
=17. Hastings, 310, 0.43%;
=17. Sandwell, 1,015, 0.43%
Source – Northern Echo, 06 Dec 2014
SNP politician Christine Grahame insists that she is serious about contesting the Berwick seat at next year’s General Election and says she has had “loads of supportive messages”.
The level of interest can certainly be verified by the Berwick Advertiser – over 4,500 read the story online in one day and a Facebook link to it received over 3,500 likes.
Ms Grahame initially came up with the idea of contesting the Berwick seat as a possible way to get SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on to the national platform in the run up to the general election and taking part in the televised leader debates.
Last month the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky jointly wrote to David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage inviting them to take part is a series of multi-platform party leader debates. The directors of BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sent out separate invitations to the main political parties in each nation to discuss setting up general election debates.
The Berwick seat is currently held by Sir Alan Beith who is standing down in May. First elected in 1973, he is the longest serving Lib Dem MP and, in 2010, he had a majority of 2,690 over his Conservative rival.
Ms Grahame told the Advertiser:
“I await consideration by the SNP of my proposal which is a serious suggestion to reflect the similarities between the requirements of Berwick and its near neighbours in the Scottish Borders.
“I would, as always, be campaigning to win the seat but would continue in my role as MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.
“I know the good that devolution can do and would fight to bring this to Berwick and the north of England. In addition I believe we need to ensure that good cross border relations continue.
“My focus is, as always, on social justice and democracy which, of course, crosses borders.”
The Conservatives have the Berwick seat in their sights with the retirement of Sir Alan, and their candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said this week:
“I believe that all voters should have the opportunity to vote for the person and party of their choice, and I know from my own doorstep canvassing, that there are some Berwick residents whose views resonate most closely with the SNP.”
Liberal Democrat candidate, Julie Porksen, was a little less welcoming of the idea of Ms Grahame as a rival candidate:
“For the SNP to stand a candidate in the Berwick constituency in order to get into the leader’s debates is a publicity stunt and does nothing to improve the lives of those living in north Northumberland.
“The real choice facing people here in the next election is between Lib Dem action on the A1, local health services, jobs and education, or the Tories whose policies, like regional pay, would do great damage to Northumberland.”
Jeremy Purvis, a Berwick native and former MSP who lost his Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale seat to Ms Grahame in 2011 and now sits in the Lord as Lord Purves of Tweed, said:
“It seems a remarkable move from someone who worked so hard to become a Borders MSP,
“If anyone was looking for evidence that the SNP is an anti-English party, then sending Christine Grahame to Berwick should do the trick.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 27 Nov 2014
> Comedy time at the House of Commons…
North East industry is thriving, a Conservative MP has told the House of Commons.
And the Government has created jobs in the region – while Labour was happy to concentrate prosperity in the south of England, according to the Prime Minister.
But the bold claims from the Tories sparked an immediate backlash from Labour, which claimed the Government had failed to tackle the region’s high level of unemployment.
Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, highlighted what he said was the region’s strong economic performance as he questioned David Cameron.
“Is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start ups outside of London, and the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the North East of England?
“And does he agree with me that we should stick to the long term economic plan so that we all have the benefits?”
The Prime Minister told him:
“It is notable that when we look at things like small business creation, exports, investment, the growth is coming from around the country including the North East – and that is a huge contrast.
“Under 13 years of Labour, for every 10 jobs created in the south they only created one in the North. That is the record of the last Labour government.”
“What we need to do is to increase entrepreneurship and start ups in every part of the country . . . there is a new spirit of entrepreneurship in Britain and this government is backing it.”
Mr Opperman was referring to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce which found there were more than 300 high tech and digital businesses in the North East, and that only London has a higher rate of tech start ups in the UK.
He also highlighted the Lloyds Bank Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures business activity in each region and shows that the North East has the highest rate of growth over three months. The latest index, published on October 13, shows activity in the North East growing in line with the national average, although faster than London.
And in September, official figures showed total value of exports in the North East had risen by 2.32% over a year – the highest figure recorded by any English regions.
Second quarter statistics for 2014 showed £3.102bn worth of goods were sold to foreign markets from the region, up by 9.66% compared to the same period last year.
But Labour pointed out that the North East still had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Most recent figures show unemployment in the region is 9.3%, worse than any other region of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The overall UK rate is 6%.
Newcastle North MP and Shadow Treasury Minister Catherine McKinnell, questioning Chancellor George Osborne in the Commons, said:
“Whilst he’s been shifting funds from Northern cities to wealthier parts of the country, unemployment in the North East is the highest in the country; wages for working people in the North have fallen by even more than the national average; and, across the North, the number of young people unemployed for over a year is up 62% since the election.
“Why won’t he match Labour’s plan to devolve real power and £30billion of funding, not just to the North but to all city and county regions?”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Nov 2014
The region must accept a single directly-elected mayor ruling from Durham to Scotland in order to grab dramatic new powers, George Osborne said yesterday.
The Chancellor signed a landmark devolution deal with Greater Manchester – covering transport, health, housing and the police – in return for a ‘metro mayor’, to run its ten authorities.
And he immediately warned that any city-region hoping for similar control over its own destiny must also accept a cross-border ‘Boris Johnson-style’ leader.
That list includes the new the North East Combined Authority, which brings together County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
The area is believed to be third on Mr Osborne’s list for agreeing devolution deals – after Manchester and West Yorkshire – with an announcement as early as next month.
But, last night, Simon Henig, Durham’s leader and the chairman of the combined authority, criticised Mr Osborne’ attempt to tie the region’s hands.
And he pointed out voters in Newcastle and eight other English cities had rejected mayors – for city boundaries only – in referendums just two-and-a-half years ago.
Councillor Henig said:
“I strongly believe it is now the time for powers and control over spending to be devolved out of Whitehall throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just to Manchester.
“However, my own view is that devolution should not be made conditional on accepting an elected mayor, which was rejected by the public in referendums in several major cities in 2012.”
The Chancellor’s move is a dramatic U-turn, because the Conservatives had rejected calls for metro mayors which, many argued, could be handed a powerful portfolio.
“Any other city that wants to receive more powers and move to a new model of governance, with an elected mayor, should bring forward their proposals.”
The Manchester package includes:
* Responsibility for re-regulated bus services and integrated ‘smart ticketing’ across all local modes of transport.
* An enhanced ‘earn back’ deal – keeping £1m a year from economic growth, to fund an extension to the Metrolink tram network.
* Police powers – with the abolition of the elected police and crime commissioner (PCC).
* Control of a £300 million ‘housing investment fund’.
* Power over business support services – including manufacturing advice and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) export advice.
* Power to develop a plan to integrate health and social care.
A Government source said:
“Who do the voters sack if something goes wrong? City-region mayors answer that.
“So we can obviously go further for cities that are able to step up to the accountability challenge.”
Source – Northern Echo, 04 Nov 2014
Labour leader Ed Miliband has announced plans to scrap the House of Lords as it currently exists and replace it with an elected “Senate” – with members representing the regions of England as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Every region will be guaranteed a fair share of representation in the new senate, Mr Miliband said.
A paper by researchers in the House of Lords itself warned that the North East was under-represented.
The study, published earlier this year, found there were 21 peers whose main place of residence was the North East, compared with 152 who lived in London, 114 who lived in the South East and 63 who lived in the South West.
House of Lords reform has been a difficult issue for both Labour and the Conservative Party since the majority of hereditary peers were removed in 1999. There has been widespread agreement that further changes are needed, but little agreement on what those changes should be.
Under Mr Miliband’s plan, senators will represent large regions and nations to ensure they to not step on the toes of MPs, who will continue to represent constituencies.
A Labour government would hold a constitutional convention to debate precisely what powers the new senate should have and how senators should be elected.
However, proposals published today suggest some form of proportional representation would be used.
The convention will also consider whether there should be rules to ensure potential senators can only stand for election in a region they have lived or worked in for a number of years.
Labour says the proposals complement plans announced yesterday to devolve power to regions, including a proposed English Regional Cabinet Committee which would be chaired by the Prime Minister, and attended by the relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from the major English cities and county regions.
A Labour government would also introduce new laws to ensure councils can seize control of bus services without fear of a legal challenge, giving them a role setting fares and timetable similar to the one played by the Greater London Authority in the capital.
And Labour would also pass an English Devolution Act, enshrining in law new powers for local councils and combined authorities to manage funding for transport and housing, further education and support for employers, as well as giving them a formal role in commissioning health and social care.
Speaking at Labour’s North-West Regional Conference in Blackpool on Saturday, Mr Miliband said:
“I am announcing plans to give the regions and nations greater power and a stronger voice in Westminster too.
“When people say that they are turned off from politics and that it doesn’t represent them, we have to do something about it.”
“London is our capital and one of the world’s great cities but it cannot be right London has more members of the House of Lords than the East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East and Yorkshire and Humber added together.
“We will make the second chamber of Parliament truly a Senate of the Regions and Nations of our whole country.”
Tories are pushing their own plans to devolve power, with Chancellor George Osborne urging regions to create powerful mayors.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 02 Nov 2014
The man who devised the unpopular Barnett Formula – which critics claim has robbed the North-East of billions of pounds of public funding – has died.
Former Labour Cabinet minister Lord Barnett has died aged 91, his party has said.
He was the Treasury chief secretary in the 1970s who devised the system for allocating public spending to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that came to be known as the Barnett formula.
In an interview in 2010, Lord Barnett revealed that he had not expected the mechanism to last for three years, let alone 30.
Speaking in a debate on a select committee report on the formula, he said:
“If we don’t do something about it soon, the only people who will benefit from this are the people who want to break up the UK, like the SNP in Scotland.
“I hope whoever is in power after the next election they will implement the recommendations of this report – it is vital for this country.”
The formula has remained in place, despite Lord Barnett’s arguments that it was a temporary fix and ought to be reformed as it now produces unfair results.
Source – Northern Echo, 03 Nov 2014
> What can you do when an employment tribunal finds you were being paid less than the minimum wage and awards you compensation… but the employer doesn’t pay up ? Very little, it seems…
A woman who was awarded thousands of pounds in compensation following a legal battle with town charity has given up ever getting her cash and is set to leave the town.
Lynda Gooding says she has simply “lost the fight” to get her money, and is so fed up with life in Hartlepool that she has put her house on the market.
She was awarded just under £9,000 in April last year after an employment tribunal heard she had worked for Manor Residents’ Association for almost three years on less than minimum wage.
More than 18 months after the ruling was made, mum-of-three Lynda is still to receive a penny from the charity.
“I’ve been waiting 18 months. Well they can keep their dirty money now.
“The house is up for sale, and the sooner I can get out of this town the better as far as I’m concerned. I’d move tomorrow.”
Lynda, who lives in Forfar Road with husband Kenny, a joiner for Housing Hartlepool, has not worked since leaving MRA in 2012.
She added: “Who is going to employ me?
“I’ve found myself at the centre of a row which became political through no fault of my own.
“The court ruled that the trustees owed money, and obviously the mayor was part of that board of trustees so all of a sudden it became a political issue.
“Then there was all the fuss over the charity, which doesn’t exist anymore, and all sorts of rumours were flying about over whether it was coming back under a new name or operating from somewhere else.
“It was just a complete mess, the trustees left one by one and there was nobody left to answer my questions.
“I never asked for that, all I’d done was take my employer to court and I won fair and square.
“It has played on my mind, I’ve been depressed, it’s amazing how much of an effect something like this can have on your sanity.
“But I’ve given up now, my fight is over. They were ordered to pay by a court and they haven’t paid. What else can I do?
“I feel let down, and question whether the tribunal was ever worth going through.
“If I’d known then what I know now, especially after what I witnessed at the council last Monday evening, then I wouldn’t have bothered.”
Lynda’s former colleagues Sharon Henderson, Carl Williams and Sue Harriman also won their own court battles, taking the total payout to more than £20,000.
The Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales, has since opened an inquiry into Manor Residents’ Association after concerns were raised about the way it was run.
At the time of the scandal the charity was run by Labour councillor Angie Wilcox, but she stood down from her role as a councillor before eventually leaving her role with MRA after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to steal and false accounting by fraud squad detectives.
She remains on bail while the inquiry continues.
Manor Residents’ Association has since ceased operating, and the organisation which has taken over the charity’s former building – Kilmarnock Road Children and Young People’s Family Resource Centre – has no links with it.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 20 Oct 2014
Local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales are issuing a call for a radical re-think of welfare-to-work policies.
The Industrial Communities Alliance, the all-party association representing more than 60 local authorities in Britain’s older industrial areas, says that welfare-to-work policies have nearly always been based on the false premise that there are plenty of jobs available.
The Alliance also says that the unemployed are now being blamed for their own failure when the true cause lies with the weakness of so many local economies.
> the unemployed are now being blamed for their own failure – now ? You mean like that hasn’t been government policy right from the beginning ?
Well its nice that they’ve finally caught up with reality, but I do wish they’d spoken out before… like several years ago.
In a new report (pdf), the Alliance highlights disturbing evidence on the failure of current welfare-to-work policies:
- Participants on the government’s flagship Work Programme are almost twice as likely to be sanctioned as to find sustained employment
- The official target is still that only 36 per cent of Work Programme participants will secure sustained employment.
- The Work Programme is failing claimants with health problems or disabilities – only 11 per cent of new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance are finding sustained work after two years, and only 6 per cent of claimants transferred across from Incapacity Benefit
In older industrial Britain the numbers out-of-work on sickness and disability benefits generally outnumber the conventional unemployed (on Jobseeker’s Allowance) by two-to-one.
The Coalition Government in Westminster and the Labour Opposition are both considering devolving more responsibility for welfare-to-work away from Whitehall. The local authorities in the Alliance are calling for more fundamental changes:
- A greater emphasis on growing the economy in weaker local labour markets
- A targeted job creation programme to provide routes into work
- A new focus in welfare-to-work on the obstacles of low skills and poor health
- Less emphasis on compulsion, more on working by consent
Cllr Terry O’Neill, Chair of the Industrial Communities Alliance, said:
“Most men and women have a fair grasp of their chances of finding work, and the value of the help on offer. Welfare-to-work should be about supporting them in ways they find relevant and appropriate.
“Too often it has become the mechanism for imposing punitive and unnecessary sanctions, fuelling business for food banks, pay-day lenders and loan sharks.”
Bernard Pidcock, Manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau in Blyth, Northumberland, adds:
“Every day we see decent men and women not only being pushed onto failing welfare-to-work programmes but also being squeezed financially by welfare cuts. This adds up to little short of a vendetta against many of the most disadvantaged in society.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 18 Oct 2014