Tagged: Yorkshire and Humber

Crisis in prison looming large, according to leading charity

Prison overcrowding combined with a cut in officer numbers of up to 30 per cent is stretching the service to breaking point, according to a new report.

The Howard League for Penal Reform shows that in the last three years officer numbers in the North East dropped by 30 per cent from 2,062 in September 2010 to 1,450 by September 2013.

The figures in Yorkshire and Humber show a reduction of 28 per cent in the same period. Northallerton prison has been closed since the figures were compiled.

The charity says the decline in officer numbers across the country has coincided with the loss of 6,500 prison places due to closures and readjustments, which has resulted in a growing number of inmates being forced into a diminishing number of prisons.

However, the charity’s figures have been branded ‘misleading’ by the government minister in charge of prisons.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said: “These are flawed and inaccurate figures from a left wing pressure group which can’t see past its dislike of this Government.

These figures present a misleading picture of the prison estate. Our approach to staffing levels has been agreed with the unions to ensure we run safe, efficient and decent prisons with prison officers back in frontline roles where they are most needed.”

 However, Frances Crook, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The prison system is at breaking point. Everyone should be concerned at the crisis in prisons as when people come out of jail they are more likely to inflict more crime on us.

“Ministers and various MPs have used different figures to try to minimise the impact of prison closures, but the statistics in this report show the true picture.

“Governors, inspectors and prison officers are joining the Howard League in warning the government that prisons are not just failing, they are dangerous.

“Violence and drug use is out of control and we will all suffer the consequences. This is the most irresponsible government penal policy in a generation.”

The findings, published in charity’s latest research briefing paper, Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons, warns that suicides, assaults and riots will become increasingly common unless urgent action is taken to increase officer numbers and reduce prisoner numbers.

A spokeswoman for the Prisoner Officers’ Association said: “The POA has raised concerns over the link between staff reductions and the increased level of violence, self-inflicted ?injuries, deaths, poor regimes and acts of indiscipline, in our prisons but saving money is the priority of the Ministry of Justice and Treasury.

“The POA welcome the report and findings and call on the Minister to act quickly to ensure prisons are safe secure and fit for purpose and not warehouses ?which is the reality under the current regime.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  12 July 2014

Concern over rising unemployment figures in the North East

Fears that the region was “out of sight and out of mind” for the Government have been voiced after the latest jobless figures revealed the only place in the UK where unemployment was going up was the North East.

The overall national rate has dropped to 6.6% in the three months to April, the lowest since January 2009, causing Chancellor George Osborne to hail the news as an important step towards the goal of full employment, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “Britain is bouncing back.”

Yet the figures they were celebrating, published by the Office for National Statistics, revealed unemployment in the North East had risen 6,000 to 131,000 from February to April, putting the jobless rate here at 9.8%, again the highest in the UK and by some distance.

Chi Onwurah, Labour’s Newcastle Central MP, said: “They are talking like it’s mission complete but the fact is the North East is still seeing unemployment on the rise.

“It shows that the North East is out of sight and out of mind of this Coalition Government.”

The next lowest figures in the UK are Yorkshire and Humber with 8.2% and the West Midlands with 7.5%. Even Wales, which has suffered economically like the North East because of the collapse of traditional industries like mining, boasts an unemployment rate of 6.6%, the same as the national average.

And while the Government highlighted the news that the number of people in employment in the region had gone up 15,000 from February to April to 1,206,000, there was bad news on the wages front too.

The ONS figures showed the average salary of those in work in the North East has fallen 7.3% year-on-year with women particularly hardest hit with a 10.7% drop. Meanwhile the current CPI rate of inflation is 1.8%.

Mark Stephenson of the North East Chamber of Commerce concentrated on the rise in employment rates in the region and the fall in the claimant count.

He said: “It’s great to see North East employment estimates rising at the fastest rate in the UK for the second consecutive month. Hopefully we are starting to see a trend develop that will see our region make ground on other parts of the UK that experienced these rises earlier in the economic recovery.”

However he added: “The long term measures for employment and the claimant count are positive signs, albeit the total number of unemployed in the North East remains high – especially at the younger end of the labour market. The challenge isn’t abating and casts a shadow over the positive figures we see elsewhere.”

> Bloody hell – where does he buy his rose-tinted glasses ?

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  12 June 2014

Nearly a quarter of North East workers paid below ‘living wage’

Almost a quarter of workers in the North East aren’t paid enough to live on, a  new study reveals.

The report by the Living Wage Commission says that the employment market is “polarising” with high paid and low paid jobs both increasing – while the number of middle income jobs shrinks.

But workers on lower salaries have suffered, seeing their wages fall in real terms since 2005, the report says, while the cost of necessities such as food and fuel have shot up much faster than the official rate of inflation, leaving many working people struggling to make ends meet.

The grim warning was presented by the Living Wage Commission, an independent body chaired by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and backed by the TUC, chambers of commerce and voluntary groups.

It is campaigning for every worker to be paid the “living wage”, a sum calculated to be the minimum needed to ensure a basic but acceptable standard of living. The 2014 rate is £7.65, or £8.80 in London.

In a new report called Working for Poverty, the Commission said there were 221,000 workers in the North East earning less than the living wage, or 23% of those in work.

This is the same proportion as in the North West and West Midlands, while the figure for Yorkshire and Humber is slightly higher at 24%.

But by contrast, just 18% of South East workers earn below the living wage, and the figure in London is 17% even though the living wage is higher.

Newcastle City Council was the first local authority in the country to introduce a living wage, ensuring no staff were paid below the sum, and others, such as Northumberland, have followed suit. Labour leader Ed Miliband backs the living wage while leading Conservative supporters of the policy include Hexham MP Guy Opperman.

But Dr Sentamu said more employers should adopt the policy, and he argued that paying higher wages would save the Treasury money because it would cut the benefits bill.

He said: “For the first time, the majority of people in poverty are actually in paid employment. The nature of poverty in Britain is changing. The idea of ‘making work pay’ increasingly sounds like an empty slogan to the millions of people who are hard-pressed and working hard, often in two or three jobs, and struggling to make a living.

“Meanwhile, the whole of the UK picks up the bill in tax credits, in-work benefits and decreased demand in the economy.”

Dr Sentamu added: “We know that not every employer could afford to implement a living wage right now. Yet we also know there are definitely employers that are able to pay a living wage but choose not to.”

The jobs where you are most likely to be paid below the living wage are barman or waiter. According to the report, 85% of people in these roles are underpaid.

Other jobs with a high proportion of workers below the living wage include catering assistant, vehicle cleaner, dry cleaning assistant, shop assistant, cleaner, hairdresser and florist.

Nationwide, 27% of female employees nationwide are paid below the living wage, compared to 16 per cent of men.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Low pay is blighting the prospects of millions of workers, and we need urgent action to tackle the low-pay problem.”

Source – Newcastle Journal  11 Feb 2014