Archives For August 2013

On Saturday, thousands of people across the UK left their home as night fell, clutching sleeping bags and roll mats and headed to the nearest city centre.

They slept outdoors, in parks, on benches and on pavements. It was a warning. A warning of how the streets could be at night in the not-to-distant future if they were to lose their homes.

And the reality of these people losing their homes is a very real one.

Six hundred and sixty thousand households are affected by the bedroom tax, of those, an estimated two thirds have somebody with a disability living there.

Many would downsize if they could – but freedom of information requests have proven that the demand for smaller properties far outstrips supply.

So people are often stuck living in a house they can’t afford and fall behind on payments for the chunk of rent that’s no longer paid for them.

Image: tmso facebook

Image: tmso facebook

Until – a smaller place becomes available! Problem solved, eh? If only.
Rules put in place by several local authorities and housing associations before the bedroom tax ever existed mean that many tenants are forbidden from moving while they have rent arrears.

So even though a person who is deemed to be under occupying is happy to move and a smaller property is available, they are stuck. Trapped in the house they can no longer afford, getting deeper and deeper into arrears.

They will then miss out on the smaller home and have to wait all over again. All the while, the amount they owe is increasing and the chance of them ever being able to make ends meet slips further and further away.

Unless they’re struck by great luck (or a small medical miracle in the cases of some long-term disabled people) most people struggling to pay the bedroom tax will never be able to downsize.

Which means the bigger family-sized properties that the Government claim are so desperately needed will remain under-occupied and the people in them painfully poor.

Unless the person in rent arrears gets evicted. Which could solve the problem of emptying bigger homes for families in need. But it also creates a much bigger problem in the long run – mass homelessness.

So the scene of thousands of people gathered in parks and town centres to sleep at night will be one we may be seeing again very soon.

The difference will be that they won’t be able to pack their things and go home in the morning.

To see a slideshow of pictures from The Mass Sleep Out on Saturday go to:

KG

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Today marks the start of the DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) week of action aptly named “Reclaiming Our Futures” (find out details of events here). Transport For All, an organisation devoted to ensuring that transport is accessible for all needs, begin the week of action with a protest against Crossrail, to demand that the new London infrastructure can be used by everyone. 

We caught up with Lianna Etkind from the organisation to find out about the campaign and why it is so important.

Lianna Etkind

Lianna Etkind

Could you tell us a bit about what is happening on Thursday? “So we have a day of action against inaccessible Crossrail. It’s London’s biggest infrastructure project at the moment, but seven of the stations are not going to have step-free access, so there are some extremely annoyed people, and we are going to have a paralympic legacy torch relay.

“We have people coming from Hanwell, in the west in Ealing, which is a station that will be on Crossrail and is proposed to have no access, and from Seven Kings in the east in Redbridge, again, will be part of Crossrail but will be out of bounds to many disabled people. And these people will be bearing paralymic legacy torches, travelling along the Crossrail route by public transport, by bus and tube, and gathering at 11:30am at Crossrail’s offices at Canary Wharf. And we’ll have a rally and lots of people speaking and music and a hand-in of our demands to say that Crossrail has to be accessible to everybody otherwise it’s not public transport.”

What are the challenges that disabled people face with transport already in place?

“Getting out and about in London can be a big hassle. One of the things is staff availability. You can turn up to a station that can be completely accessible in terms of infrastructure, but unless you can find a member of staff that is well trained and helpful and can help you down to the right platform, or guide you if you can’t see or help you buy a ticket, which is by no means easy on one of those ticket machines, it’s very difficult.

“Buses – every bus in London has a wheelchair ramp and a wheelchair bay which is fantastic, but still there is this regular conflict over who gets to use that wheelchair bay because a lot of buggies will use it, and not all of them will move if requested, for a wheelchair user, and often the bus driver won’t even ask them to move. So there’s a real problem with people being confident enough to go through that conflict when getting on a bus. And does the bus pull into the kerb or give people time to sit down. Some people might get on and just as you’re getting to your seat, the bus jerks off. People have been thrown over and there have been some really horrible accidents.

“The biggest thing in terms of getting out and about on equal terms with non-disabled people is the tube network. Only 66 stations are step-free to the platform and fewer are step-free to the train. It’s an old Victorian infrastructure, it is expensive to upgrade, but making sure more than just one quarter of stations are step-free is so important, especially in the context of an ageing population. Disabled people want to get out, get to work, be part of public life and that’s not going to happen unless they can use lines like Crossrail with the same freedom and independence that so many people take for granted.”

transport_for_all

Do you think this will help the integration of disabled people into society? Are we still pretty bad at integrating?

“Totally. It will help. One of the things that was said when the decision was made to make Crossrail only partially accessible was that disabled people can use their taxi card or get a lift or take other forms of transport to the nearest accessible station. But actually, as useful as community and door-to-door transport is, we want to be able to use public transport on equal terms with non-disabled people – not to be segregated. And besides, this will be something that will benefit everybody. Crossrail is on a route that serves Heathrow airport, so there’ll be lots of people struggling with suitcases and luggage. There are so many people who struggle with prams and with buggies and are fed up with having to wait at the bottom of the stairs looking a bit helpless, until someone comes along to help.

“So we’re hoping that if Crossrail agree to make the whole line step-free, that that will set a precedent for possibly, Crossrail 2 is being looked at, and every new rail line.”

How much will it cost to make all of the stations accessible? 

“Our calculations suggest that it would cost about £30m to make all stations accessible which is only 0.2% of the whole Crossrail budget. The whole thing is costing £14.8bn worth of public money, and it’s estimated that it will generate another £42bn for the economy. So it is a tiny fraction of the whole budget, and actually the economic benefits that are provided when disabled people can get out and about – we can spend in the high street, we can go to work and pay taxes, and not just be dependent on job seekers allowance and benefits. Those economic benefits are huge.”

A Transport For All protest last year.

A Transport For All protest last year.

Find out more about Transport for All here.

Research by the Resolution Foundation has found that government plans to offer up extra childcare support will benefit higher earners, but leave lower income families worse off.

In the budget earlier this year, the government announced new plans and a £1bn investment to help parents get back into work with extra childcare support. 600,000 families under the Universal Credit scheme will benefit from extra help, as well as 2.5 million higher earners benefitting through childcare support vouchers worth £1200 a year.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

However, in a report called ‘All Work And No Pay’, the Resolution Foundation has found that the plans still may not benefit those on the lowest incomes, who also face the biggest barriers in getting into work. If one parent is already in full time low income work, and the other parent chooses to work, the childcare benefits do not provide as much help as for second parent in a higher earning family.

Using a comparison of a low income family and a higher earning family, the research said:

“A part-time cleaner with two children in childcare and working 25 hours a week would be £7 a week worse off than if she didn’t work at all while a part-time teacher with the same hours and childcare arrangements would be £57 a week better off under the Government’s new proposals to help working families with the costs of childcare.

“Higher earning families in universal credit will have 85 per cent of their childcare costs paid, while lower earning families will be able to recover only 70 per cent.”

Changes in benefits and income when a second lower income earner goes into full time work means that work does not pay. As families on low income wages may not meet the £10,000 threshold for paying tax, they must incur more of their childcare costs. Also, increasing hours means that low income families may become eligible for less, with some potentially losing out on thousands a year if the second earner is full time at 40 hours.

The research does highlight that lower income families are better off under Universal Credit if the second earner works 16 hours or less. But a shift from part time to full time will leave families working to pay, in contrast with the aims of government to encourage work, and making work pay.

Below are the comparisons of income with increasing hours for the two families described above, demonstrating the problems facing lower income earners should they choose to work more:

Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 17.25.29

Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 17.26.30As the government open up the policies to consultation, the Resolution Foundation suggest that some amendments need to be made to the policies. While the added help for parents is welcomed, to achieve the government’s aims, they must ensure that work does pay for those facing the biggest barriers and challenges in entering the jobs market.

The Resolution Foundation has suggested that the 85% support should be offered to all families under universal credit, not just higher earners. This would require extra funding of £200m, which could be recovered by lowering the cap for claiming the £1200 childcare vouchers. These vouchers will be available to anyone not under universal credit, earning up to £300,000 a household (£150,000 each parent). By lowering this cap, the Resolution Foundation suggests it will be easier to help those worst off, and ensure the £1bn investment does make work pay, adding that the 900,000 families under Universal Credit that would not otherwise be eligible, will also benefit.

Resolution Foundation

resolutionfoundation.org

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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1) 4 million workers in Britain put under stress because they are unable to make ends meet

Research by the post office has revealed that over 4 million workers are unable to make their income stretch to the end of the month, causing health problems such as stress and sleepless nights.

Workers are forced to dip into overdrafts, credit cards or use pay day loans to get through each month. Due to a combination of pay freezes, rising rents, food, household bills and inflation, workers are unable to make their money stretch to the next pay day.

And these problems are set to deepen as welfare and benefit reforms see tax credits and child benefit reduced.

Image: timeshighereducation.co.uk

Image: timeshighereducation.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

2) ‘Botched’ attacks on welfare will cost £1.4bn

The failing welfare reforms brought in since the coalition have taken power will cost the taxpayer £1.4bn.

Policies and programmes have failed to meet targets, including the youth contract which missed it’s target by 92% and cost £457m in job seeker’s allowance. Failures of the work programme have cost £140m, and Universal Credit has cost £300m. The “fit to work” test, which is seeing huge numbers of decisions being overturned at appeal, will cost £287m.

Labour have condemned Iain Duncan Smith’s plans and implementation, commenting that his “cruelty” is only matched by his “incompetence.”

Read more about this story here.

3) Companies paying less than minimum wage will be names and shamed

The government has revealed plans to enforce the minimum wage requirement by making it easier to ‘name and shame’ companies who fail to comply.

When introduced in October, it will allow any company to be named should it break the law, whereas currently, the employer must owe £2000 to employees before being allowed to name them.

There were 730 companies found to be paying below the minimum wage in 2012/2013, and despite many complaints from employees in the years since the minimum wage was introduced in 1999, the numbers of employers prosecuted have been low.

The Telegraph

The Telegraph

Read more about this story here.

4) The Mass Sleep Out sees thousands join in protest across country, despite showers

The Mass Sleep Out, a protest against the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms, saw huge success as over 60 locations across the country took part despite the soggy Saturday showers.

In a bid to portray the consequences of devastating reforms, protestors camped out on the streets. See some of the photos here.

Image: tmso facebook

Image: tmso facebook

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

“Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

“Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Martin Niemoller

The Mass Sleep Out has been gathering pace in the last few weeks, and there are now over 60 locations taking part. People will be camping out on the streets on 24th August in a protest against the bedroom tax, demonstrating the very real consequences of the reforms – homelessness.

Make sure you get involved. Find out what’s happening near you –  Visit the facebook page here.

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The Mail and the Express caught out by Tom Pride for lying on behalf of government by producing a not-so official ‘top ten benefit fraudsters’ list, complete with highly inflated figures. Read on…

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the Daily Mail!)

The Mail and the Express yesterday had articles about an official list of the top ten benefits fraudsters in the country which they say was published by the government.

Just one little problem with it.

The list doesn’t seem to exist.

There doesn’t seem to be any official list of top ten benefits fraudsters published by the government.

There are no links in either the Mail or the Express articles to any government website where the official list is published. No list on the DWP website and no mention of it on the official DWP press office Twitter feed either.

The Mail specifically wrote that Iain Duncan Smith had decided to publish the list – but there is no mention of it on his website or anywhere else.

In fact the only sources for any official list are – the Mail and…

View original post 393 more words

Media: The ‘Failing’ NHS

kamsandhu —  August 21, 2013 — 5 Comments

Media and the coalition have embarked on a campaign to insist the NHS is a failing system, while the reforms the government have brought in pose the biggest threat to the wellbeing of the service.

NHS logo

NHS logo

On 5th July, as the NHS was celebrating it’s 65th birthday – 65 years of caring and providing for the entire nation where there is need or emergency, David Cameron announced in an article in The Sun that he loved the NHS, but also, that he needed to tackle the ‘deep’ problems the service faces.

Cue the tabloid torrent of supporting and wholly negative copy, suggesting that NHS staff take too many days off sick, they are careless with funding, the shock of team bonding days that cost hundreds of thousands, the overstretched A&E, the waiting lists reaching record highs because these heartless, callous and selfish NHS staff on frozen wages, who have spent years training in the science of how to look after people are obviously hopeless.

Little mention however of the impact the reforms have had on services. The five year high of waiting lists and crisis of A&E cannot have been helped by the reduction in nursing posts since the coalition came to power.

Of course there are problems with the NHS, and there is always the ability to improve it, but these problems can only be added to when the government implement expensive and unproven schemes which are both over-stretching services and doomed to fail, such as the 111 helpline – which is in turn used as another pawn in the portrayal of a failing NHS.

This also halts the ability of government and practitioners to tend to the real problems in the service, instead scrambling to minimise the destruction of the latest reform or government idea.

But it seems the government do have a real plan for the NHS, and they are working rapidly towards it – privatisation. If you’ve listened to the voices of David Cameron and Nick Clegg on this, you may think it’s not happening, as they both repeatedly assure “We will not privatise the NHS“, but the huge contracts that have changed hands in the last year speak for themselves. Unfortunately, privatisation is already here.

Again, this has somehow escaped the attention of the apparently NHS-obsessed tabloids, but at the end of July, shortly after Cameron’s pledge to challenge the problems of the NHS, bids were opened to the biggest health contract yet, worth between £700m – £1.1bn to “provide health services including end-of-life care for older people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”

This follows the £450m contract given to Virgin Care at the end of last year to provide health services across Surrey. Whilst Virgin is a worldwide giant known for its planes, trains and broadband, the Virgin Care company did not exist before March 2012, but it is now considering bidding for further contracts, as are the cuddly Serco.

The argument from supporters of privatisation is that it will drive competition and will also see investment from other companies. But, unfortunately, evidence shows that companies looking for profit will only do what they do best – make money;

Since Virgin took it over from the NHS, patients have had to wait up to three weeks for an appointment instead of three days, three GPs have been reduced to one, and three nurses cut to one part-time nurse. And while the company boasts about the surgery’s opening hours, often there are no clinicians present, just an open empty building. Locals complain that Virgin has “brought Third World medical standards to Kings Heath.

Alex Nunns, Liberal Conspiracy

Yet, these experiences are rarely found in the pages of tabloids or even BBC news.

But amidst the sometimes outrageous attacks on the NHS in the media, including this article by Neil Hamilton – who’s opening gambit is “The NHS is a more effective killing machine than the Taliban”, someone finally broke the trend to remind politicians that the NHS is not a business.

An editorial in the influential journal, The Lancet, said of the recent government announcements to provide a bailout for A&E and an introduction of a price comparison website:

“One might be forgiven for thinking that the current Coalition Government views the NHS as a failing bank or business.

“This stance is one of the most cynical, and at the same time cunning, ways by which the government abdicates all responsibilities for running a health-care system that has patient care and safety at its heart.

“Rather it expects the system, and in it each trust for itself, to be efficient, cost saving, and financially successful or else it is deemed a failing enterprise.

“Doctors, nurses, and health workers are readily blamed for the quality of care they provide within these constraints.”

The NHS should not be treated like a business. It is a service that provides a huge benefit to all who live here, in the form of care and medical assistance. It’s inclusivity holds the value of life high for every person. Not to mention the great pride it is held with for many Britons. Who else would put their health service in their Olympic opening ceremony?

This portrayal of the NHS in the media and by politicians is being used to ease along a privatisation plan. A two-tier system with private health care next to free – where one life is valued more than the other – just as Ella Harman, a baby who died five days after her birth, suffered when the consultant obstetrician was called away to perform a caesarean. Ella’s parents assumed the caesarean must have been an emergency, as it caused the consultant to leave for forty minutes during Ella’s birth. However, six years later, after a Freedom of Information request, it was found that the only caesarean performed that day was not an emergency, but a requested caesarean section on a private patient.

This is the shape of a privatised NHS.

The media will continue to churn out it’s negative spin on the NHS as the government aims to push further with it’s own agenda. But what the media really don’t want you to know is that we still have one of the best health care services in the world. Fact.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Figures released last week show that there are still not enough affordable houses being built to cope with demand. The number of houses failed to reach even half the required estimate of 250,000 a year, and the figures were down on the same quarter last year.

There are currently around 1.7million households on waiting lists for social housing in the UK, and this number will only increase as the government fails to bolster the speed and amount of housing on offer. At the same time, house prices continue to rise and are pushed further and further out of reach for many people, and for those that are renting or have a mortgage, increased rates have resulted in many falling into arrears and sometimes becoming homeless.

Photo: www.theguardian.co.ukImage: The Guardian

This is a crisis created by a failure of successive governments to build new affordable housing in keeping with demand. Despite recent schemes designed to ‘help’ stimulate the market, such as the ‘help to buy’ scheme, the plans do not solve the housing crisis in the long term, and could in fact create a further housing bubble leaving future populations even more unable to get on the ladder, or able to pay rent.

The Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, attacked the scheme last week, saying:

“The housing market needs help to supply, not help to buy and the extension of this scheme is very dangerous.

“Government guarantees will not increase the supply of homes, but they will drive up prices at a time when it seems likely that house prices are already over-valued.”

The schemes are but another plaster over a gaping wound and cannot replace the need to build.

Moreover, a huge investment in building will stimulate the economy, provide jobs and future revenue from rents. There is really no reason for the government to not build houses, unless they want to retain the current market allowing only the rich to afford their own homes.

One step towards the solution would be to remove the housing investment cap placed by government on local councils, restricting their ability to help with a recovery.

The Local Government Association said in a press release last week  “councils could quadruple to 60,000 the number of new homes built over five years if the housing borrowing cap was removed. Under the current rules, councils would be able to borrow no more than £2.8 billion to invest in housing – enough to build 15,000 homes. Without the cap, councils could borrow up to £7 billion to invest in housing over five years, under existing Prudential Borrowing rules.”

The LGA represents over 370 councils in England and Wales and is now calling on the government to remove the cap. We hope they do.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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1) Welfare reforms leave councils unable to cope, says research

According to research carried out by the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion for the Local Government Association, local councils will be left to help those too poor to survive due to welfare reforms.

80% of benefit claimants will be worse off and will have to look to local councils for help, with the poorest in Britain losing £31 a week in income.

Local Government Association commissioned the controversial report

Local Government Association commissioned the controversial report

TUC general secretary Frances O’ Grady blasted the government over the research, saying:

“This research exposes what a devastating impact [government’s] policies are having on communities throughout the country.

“Ministers are not cracking down on cheats as they claim, but destroying the safety net that our welfare state is meant to provide for those who fall on hard times through no fault of their own.”

Read more about this story here.

2) Children may be charged for being taken into care under new plans

Worcestershire council have put forward plans in a consultation that could see some children charged up to £10,000 a year for social care.

Plans would see social care costs moved onto carers, families and some children over the age of 16, but these proposals have been condemned by child protection campaigners.

Social workers will have to assess whether a family, carer or child can afford the charges, but failure to comply could lead to legal action.

NSPCC and Barnardo’s have attacked the plans, suggesting they could stop families and children in need coming forward.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Read more about this story here.

3) Food Bank Demand grows in school holidays

Food banks say they have experienced a huge rise in demand for emergency parcels as parents struggle to feed their children during the school holidays.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank have seen a huge increase in demand.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank have seen a huge increase in demand.

Trussell Trust, Britain’s largest food bank, say they have seen a doubling of demand in some food banks since the holidays began.The struggle is hardest for parents whose children received free school meals, and now have to find the money for an extra meal a day.

Trussell trust say that a rise in food prices along with the welfare reforms introduced in April have left families desperate for help.

Read more about this story here.

4) Disabled people begin a 5-day Vigil against Work Capability Assessment

Disabled people have begun a 5 day vigil outside an ATOS benefit assessment centre in Cardiff, against the WCA and ‘unfair’ practices of ATOS and the DWP.

The vigil, organised by Disability Activist Network and Disabled People Resistance will take place from 10am today and continue everyday until 3pm on Friday.

According to campaigners, the judgements made through the controversial WCA assessment are responsible for 73 avoidable deaths of disabled people every week.

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass