Families in Newcastle are going hungry just so they can hang onto their homes following the introduction of the bedroom tax, a report has said.
Research released by Newcastle University reveals communities are being ripped apart by the tax, which has left people in the region feeling “hopeless”.
Many are finding it almost impossible to manage ever-decreasing incomes, with many spiralling into debt and rent arrears in order to afford bare essentials such as food.
Tyneside, where the research was carried out, is disproportionately affected by the bedroom tax with some 50,000 households estimated to be ‘under-occupying’.
Social housing provider Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) reported last year that 66% of people affected by the bedroom tax were in rent arrears.
Residents were finding it increasingly difficult to buy simple, basic foodstuffs and in some extreme cases, cutting down to just one meal a day, or going to bed early to evade hunger and keep warm – a pattern more prevalent among parents to ensure their children were properly fed.
The University research – A qualitative study of the impact of the UK ‘bedroom tax’ – looks at the effects of the tax on the area.
It followed people living in Walker in Newcastle, which is in the top 10% most deprived areas of the UK, where around 650 homes are affected by the bedroom tax.
Dr Suzanne Moffatt, who was involved in the research, said:
“The bedroom tax reduces a home to simply bricks and mortar.
“However, these are homes that people invest in over time, places of safety within communities that offer friendship and support.
“As a consequence, many of those we interviewed elected to pay the tax in order to stay in their homes, resulting in cutting back on essentials such as food and heat to do so.
“Rather than improve housing stock efficiency and save tax payers money, the effect of the bedroom tax in the North East is likely to make the distribution of social housing less efficient.”
Dr Moffatt says the new study undermines Government claims that implementing the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ in April 2013 would not have a detrimental impact on people’s health and well-being.
“Monumental effort was put in by people to simply ‘survive’. Their accounts powerfully demonstrate how loss of income as a result of the bedroom tax has a detrimental effect on mental health, with many saying it had left them feeling ‘hopeless’.”
Researchers within Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society also looked at the YHN pilot scheme set up in help people in response to the introduction of the tax.
Neil Scott, director of Tenancy Services, said:
“We encouraged residents to enrol onto training courses. For those that took part, it was highly beneficial, with a small number of mainly short-term jobs created within our organisation.”
The pilot ran for seven months from September 2013 to April 2014 and included budgeting and housing advice, with a focus on testing the Government’s claims that work pays by supporting residents who were farthest from the labour market to gain employment.
Dr Moffatt added:
“Although this pilot was fantastic for those involved, one person working over seven months can only achieve so much.
“At a time when local authority budgets are being increasingly tightened, it is always going to be difficult to fund interventions of this kind.
“These people are not languishing around on benefits by any means – they face many complex barriers to employment such the poor state of the local labour market, as well as mental or physical health issues and lack of qualifications.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Mar 2015
Foodbank organisers have opened what is believed to be Newcastle’s first free clothes shop.
Set up in a church in Heaton, Newcastle, the Clothes Store has a stockroom full of warm winter coats, baby and children’s clothes and mens and womens outfits.
After the success of the East End Foodbank, which helps around 70 people a week, religious leaders have said people in the community are still in need and have now turned their attention to making sure people have enough warm clothes to get them through the winter.
> the success of the East End Foodbank – you might think that the very need for a foodbank is very much a lack of success.
Vikki Gosling from Walker, said:
“I have come to the church before to get two winter coats for my kids after a teacher at school mentioned it. A lot of people say they would dare, and ask how can you ‘embarass yourself’ but if it’s for your kids you’ll do it.”
The region’s first clothes bank, mirroring the way a foodbank runs, was set up in Durham City in October.
Senior pastor Julia Lawton, of the Elim Pentecostal Church on Heaton Road, said she was really keen to set up the store to help people in a time of crisis after running a successful ‘coats for kids’ scheme locally.
“For the clothes store we are trusting people. They will get a voucher and they will be allowed three items per person. If someone says they have a family of six people, then we would need to meet all six people.
“Some people don’t always qualify for things like the foodbank or official help, but they might be out of work. I’ve got one man whose has got two jobs and is struggling to make ends meet. We gave him a coat for his one year old son, and a whole sack of toys because he couldn’t afford them himself.
“There’s no need for anyone to be embarrassed. Most people at some point in their lives need help. It might not always need to be financial.”
The clothes are all of good quality and have been donated by church members and the local community and have been washed before going on display.
A toybank is also being set up after a local man put out an appeal on Facebook and collected dozens of second hand toys in good condition from people living in Heaton and Byker.
Vikki, who has had her benefits sanctioned with just weeks until Christmas, was able to pick up some gifts for her two young children.
“They will be absolutely buzzing to see what they’ve got,” said Vikki, who said she has struggled to find a job.
“When they told me what they wanted this year, I had to just say ‘you know you won’t get all that’. In the past they have asked a lot for presents at Christmas, but they know now that I just can’t afford it.
“I’ll be back with my own donation though, I’ll bring my size 8 clothes down from before I had my children to see if anyone else can use them.”
The Clothes Store will run on the third Thursday of every month between 2.30pm and 4.30pm at Elim Pentecostal Church in the former Heaton bingo hall on Heaton Road. The first one however opens today to give people a chance to have a look before Christmas.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Dec 2014
Low pay and rising prices are pushing thousands of North East families into poverty, a charity chief has told MPs.
Sara Bryson, policy and development officer at Children North East, said that the majority of children in poverty in the region came from working families and that rising employment had not translated into living standards for many.
Giving evidence to Parliament, she called for central and local Government bodies in the region to introduce the Living Wage so that families could cover the basic costs of living.
Ms Bryson said that more than 60% of all children living in poverty in the North East have working parents and that it was years of stagnant pay and high prices that has pushed many low-income families to breaking point.
“It’s about making sure when people do work they can afford to feed their children and send them to school,” said Ms Bryson. “In order to do that they need to earn a living wage.
“National Government is very much focussed on getting people jobs in the private sector but the recession has hit hard and industry still hasn’t fully recovered up here. The region’s public sector, which has always been our most dominant employer, has also been hit hard.
“One in four children and young people in the North East live below the official poverty line. It is not fair or right that they don’t get the same chances and breaks as their peers.”
During the Parliamentary discussion, Ms Bryson shared her views, opinions and knowledge around poverty in schools and child poverty issues.
The Children’s Commission on Poverty and The Children’s Society will meet in August and September to review the findings from the sessions and produce an independent report which will be published in October.
“Education is so important to lift children out of poverty but they need to have a positive experience at school,” added Ms Bryson. “Some children will never have been on a school trip, they will have gone without meals, warm clothes and perhaps felt embarrassed or scared to bring their friends home.
“I was brought up in Blakelaw, in Newcastle’s west end, and it was my first school trip that inspired me to go on to university and study.
“As well as adopting the Living Wage we need to work closely with schools to maintain a bursary for pupils after the National Education Maintenance Allowance was abolished and ensure schools are effectively using the Pupil Premium funding from the Government to support disadvantaged children.
“We also doing terrific work as a charity at helping teachers and school staff better understand the individual needs of children in poverty. This goes a long way to abolishing the stigma and prejudices felt between children at school.”
The latest figures show that 24.5% of children in the North East are in poverty, compared to a UK average of 20.6%.
That figure rises to 29% in Newcastle and the proportion of children living in poverty in some parts of the city is far higher. In both Walker and Byker, in the city’s east end, the figure rises above 50%.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 31 July 2014
Frontline nurses and health care assistants gathered in the region this morning to protest against pay conditions.
Scores of NHS staff joined prominent MP Nick Brown outside Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital to show their anger at the Government’s failure to honour a 1% pay rise this year.
After three years of pay freezes and pay restraint, Chancellor George Osborne had said a 1% pay rise across the board was “affordable” from April this year. However, the Government then controversially reneged on this promise.
While some nurses and health care assistants will still get their incremental pay increase, which rewards experience and skills learnt after a length of service, many will not be entitled to the rise.
The Government has insisted it cannot afford a general pay increase without putting frontline jobs at risk.
Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern Region regional director, said: “Nurses are working very hard and the number of people at our protest shows how angry our members are.
“It is baffling that the Chancellor said the Government could afford a 1% pay rise across the board and then that was reneged on. It makes no sense.
“What the NHS cannot afford to do is continue a policy of treating hard working and loyal staff with contempt, at a time when morale is at an all time low and trusts around the country struggle to retain and recruit enough nurses to maintain safe staffing levels.
“We see this as being a year long campaign leading up to the general election.”
Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, paramedics, hospital cleaners and other NHS staff took part in demonstrations throughout the country.
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said: “The Government’s continuing public sector pay restraint is not fair and not sustainable. It is particularly unfair on nurses and other low paid workers in the NHS.
“I completely support the Royal College of Nursing, hospital staff look after us in our time of need and we must stand up for them. It is important that the public understands just how shabby the Government is in treating key health service workers.”
Staff nurse Grace Onuoha, 53, of Walker, Newcastle, had just finished a night shift for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust when she attended the protest.
The mum-of-three said: “It is very disappointing that there is not an across the board pay rise as we are working hard and doing a lot yet receiving nothing in return. It feels like we have been given a slap in the face by the Government.
“Morale is extremely low among staff as we are doing more and getting less. My pay is exactly the same as it was in 2009 despite the rise in the cost of living.”
The TUC, representing 14 health unions, said its research showed that health staff in England were “donating” £1.5bn worth of unpaid overtime every year.
Unions said that by 2015/16 NHS staff would have had their pay capped for six years. Pay was frozen in 2011 and 2012, and limited to 1% last year.
Susan Johnson, 47, of Killingworth, a senior sister in critical care at North Tyneside General Hospital, said: “It is frustrating because we work so hard and my concern is that we will put off future generations from joining the profession as nursing staff struggle with unsociable hours and are not very financially rewarded.”
The Department of Health said it was saddened by the health unions’ reaction to reject the pay offer. A spokesperson said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset.
“That’s why at a time of severe funding restraint we have been clear that they should receive at least 1% additional pay this year and next.
“We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases of up to 6% without risking frontline jobs and safe staffing levels.
“We are disappointed that the unions rejected our offer to discuss any alternative proposals on pay, within an available budget of nearly £1bn.
“However, our door remains open if they wish to reconsider their position.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 June 2014
he Chancellor has been told his Budget today must address the North East’s unemployment record.
Businesses, house builders and unions have said the Government needs to start growing all parts of the UK economy, not just the South, and urged George Osborne to use his Budget to tackle the number of people out of work in the region.
At 10%, the region’s unemployment rate stands as the highest in the UK, remaining around that level even as unemployment falls in large parts of the rest of the country.
The North East Chamber of Commerce has already written to the Treasury calling for a renewed focus on tackling job creation in all parts of the UK.
Policy director Ross Smith said: “We have seen the recovery really accelerate over the past year. We now need to see measures that will sustain this for the longer term and make it better balanced – not a series of pre-election gimmicks.
“North East businesses are making a huge contribution to that recovery, but doing so within an economic system that is still skewed towards the South East. We need to see measures that will capitalise on the region’s export success, energy expertise and capacity for growth.
“That includes taking better account of the regional implications of taxes such as fuel duty and air passenger duty, better balanced delivery of infrastructure, and greater scope to ensure skills training matches the labour market needs in this region.”
The need for a regional focus was repeated by Beth Farhat, regional secretary of the Northern TUC.
She said: “Most people in the North East aren’t experiencing a real recovery and in fact for many here it’s getting worse, with unemployment for women rising 20% in the last year alone.
“We need a Budget focused on creating more North East jobs, with better quality work alongside with fairer pay. Ministers should end their ideologically obsession with cuts and privatisations to public services and focus much more on a thought-out approach to developing the economy, particularly in regions like ours.
“When eight out of 10 private sector jobs are being created in London it’s clear the current plan isn’t working and the economy is still geared towards London and the South East at the expense of everywhere else.
“There is a consensus across the region about what we need to do, so I’d urge the Chancellor to hand us the economic tools, powers and investment needed to enable us to contribute to regional success and balanced national growth.”
Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes said house building was a key way of kickstarting the North East. He said: “What we need is a tax break to incentivise house building on brownfield development sites – this would help deal with the chronic shortage of housing and make it financially viable for construction companies to take on more apprenticeships.
> Would it ? Or are we just talking about more housing that the majority of us couldn’t afford even if we are working ?
“The Government has announced their intention on building a New Town at Ebbsfleet, but a tax break like this would help us rebuild areas like Scotswood and Walker Old Towns.”
And the North East-based Home Group has also had its say, calling on the Government to force through better use of public land, making it easier for firms to build.
The affordable housing group called for the creation of special Housing Zones in which, like the business-led enterprise zones, incentives would be offered to kick start the building process.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 19 March 2014