Archives For Liam Byrne

1) Red Cross launches emergency food aid plan in Britain

For the first time since the end of the second world war, the Red Cross will collect food for hungry Britons this winter as the economic downturn and cuts to welfare push more people into poverty, forcing them to turn to food banks.

The Red Cross will send out volunteers into supermarkets at the end of November and ask shoppers to donate dry food. The food will then be distributed by FareShare, a charity already working with Britain’s largest food bank – the Trussell Trust.

Around 500,000 people now rely on food banks across the UK, a number increased from 40,000 last year. As austerity cuts deeper and winter approaches, families are expected to find it even more difficult to make their money stretch with increased heating bills. The Trussell Trust and other food banks worry that they may not be able to cope with demand, and asked for help and a plan for the coming months.

Image: backbencher.co.uk

Image: backbencher.co.uk

Some Tories seem to shrug off the link between the welfare cuts and increased use of food banks, with Michael Gove commenting that those struggling simply need to manage their finances better, and Lord Freud said that families were simply after a free meal.

Bekele Geleta, the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross, warned governments, saying “While we fully understand that governments need to save money, we strongly advise against indiscriminate cuts in public health and social welfare, as it may cost more in the long run.”

Read more about this story here.

2) New campaign speaks out for benefit claimants to ‘change the debate’

Over 70 charity organisations have joined to launch a campaign that aims to ‘change the debate’ on benefits and welfare because damaging media and government rhetoric is causing people to deny and feel shame about asking for help and what they are entitled to.

The campaign website says:

“We all need support sometimes. Yet too often those who have been helped by benefits get ignored, misrepresented or at worst blamed for their situation.

“But if the millions of us who have needed benefits share our stories – and those who haven’t express their support – then together we can change the debate.”

Image: Who Benefits?

Image: Who Benefits?

You can visit the website here.

3) Cabinet shake up receives mixed response from disability campaigners

Disability Minister Esther McVey has been replaced by  Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead, a former spin doctor who worked for Iain Duncan Smith. McVey has been promoted to Employment Minister replacing Mark Hoban who was recently sacked, which means she will still have a large role to play in disability welfare and is also handling the department that runs the controversial Work Capability Assessments.

Labour’s Liam Byrne has also been replaced as shadow work and pensions secretary by Leeds MP, Rachel Reeves. The move was welcomed by many disability campaigners who believe that Byrne had followed the Tory Party hard line on social security spending and welfare reform.

“A DPAC spokeswoman said: “Byrne may latterly have started raising the devastating impact of so-called welfare reforms on disabled people, but it was too little too late.

“Byrne represented a New Labour approach barely distinguishable from the Tories in being tough on welfare when what we need is an opposition that defends social security and challenges rather than reinforces myths about shirkers and workers.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne Image: The Guardian

Ex-Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne Image: The Guardian

Read more about this story here. 

4) Government adviser says expensive Work Programme is failing disabled people

Liz Sayce, head of Disability Rights UK, has called on the government to re-think it’s expensive Work Programmes and plans to help disabled people find paid work, as the current systems are failing the most vulnerable in society.

According to data released last month, 93% of disabled people within the work programme failed to find work. Sayce, a government adviser said the Work Programme was “a non-work programme – at best it is heading for an 88% failure rate with people on out-of-work disability benefits. Some providers do very good work, but perverse incentives stop them spreading it. Disabled people want to play a more central role, working with employers, to secure job and career opportunities and use their talents, to the benefit of everyone.”

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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On Monday, Sue Marsh from the RNIB, who is also a disability campaigner and author of the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blog, took her chances and barged on stage to make her speech at the Labour Party Conference, and we are so glad she did. Here is what she said:

“Friends, I’m Sue Marsh. I’m a disability campaigner and a Labour member. Those two things have not always sat easily together. For years now, charities and campaigners alike have argued in stronger and stronger terms that we as a country are getting it wrong on sickness and disability . Too many sanctioned, a tick box computer system of assessments that sees millions fall through the cracks. Work support that failed to support people into work but paid huge corporations thousands to fail. A total lack of understanding to know what it’s really like to live in pain, or to be exhausted all the time. What it’s like to deal with chemotherapy or a terminal diagnosis. How hard it can be to just get through the day and stay cheerful, let alone hold down a full time job.

Sue Marsh Image: bbc.co.uk

Sue Marsh Image: bbc.co.uk

“We made too many assumptions and presented too little evidence. We allowed the media to fall into lazy stereotypes of ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’. We designed policy in a bubble, far, far away from the lives of those who would ultimately be affected. No one was more critical than I was. Few fought harder to try to change things. I didn’t hold back. I spread my criticisms evenly between Conservative or Labour politicians. Failure is failure and we should never be afraid to say so.

“For a long time it made no difference, the consensus was just too strong, the assumptions just too widespread, but recently there has been a change. Don’t get me wrong, not from this coalition of privilege. They’ve compromised on nothing and listened to no one. But slowly and surely, Labour have started to listen. Not to Rupert Murdoch, not to the Daily Mail but to sick and disabled people up and down the country. First a tentative speech or two, then replacing the word welfare with social security. Language does matter. And today, the result of a listening exercise up and down the country, hearing the painful, shameful stories I hear every day, we pleaded with politicians to make assessments simpler, to cut down on paperwork, and endlessly repeating the same information to different departments.

“We asked why on earth huge corporations were paid thousands to fail us when we could use that money for re-training or further education or rehab, that would really help us to find work. We explained how work may never be self—supporting but that every hour worked was valuable. Every carer hour saved the economy billions. Every voluntary contribution kept society safe and united. We told of the unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance and misunderstanding. We explained how very much we wanted to work but how that work needed to be flexible and tailored.

“Today the Labour Party, my Labour Party, release their ‘Making Rights a Reality’ document. It outlines every failure, describes every fear. Nothing is left out. And the solutions it offers are the solutions we called for. Many will be cynical and we have a very long way to go to translate noble aims into real workable policies. But I believe we should never judge people on where they started, but on how far they have travelled. Liam Byrne, Anne McGuire and all those involved have truly listened, not afraid to admit they were wrong. How very rare that is in politics. With continuity and mutual respect, I begin to believe that we can move forward and hopefully leave these dark, dark days behind us.”

In a fresh blow to the government’s welfare ‘shake up’, the planned “national roll-out” of Universal Credit has been hit by delays, with the changes only being pushed out to six new areas in October this year.

Image: gov.uk

Image: gov.uk

The new system was initially meant to have been launched nationwide in October. However, the government have decided to delay a national launch and carry out further localised implementation in another 6 areas.

After the announcement was made last Wednesday, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Byrne delivered a scathing account of the coalitions attempts to create a better welfare system:

“Today, we have final confirmation the welfare revolution we were promised has collapsed.”

“Two weeks ago, we learned the Work Programme was a total failure, now we learn Universal Credit has become the biggest white elephant in Whitehall…Iain Duncan Smith must now ask himself if he is fit for purpose.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne Image: The Guardian

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne Image: The Guardian

However, Work and pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has defended the government’s decision to delay the roll out. According to the BBC, when asked about the cautious launch, Iain Duncan Smith said he was “determined” to get the Universal Credit scheme right, and didn’t want to follow the old ways of governing – “launching with a bang and then having to clear up the mess afterwards”.

Although the Labour party have quickly jumped on the offence, using the delays to criticise the current government’s ability to change the welfare system, it seems the coalition’s caution is well based. Last week the latest changes to the welfare system, including the introduction of the bedroom tax, were highly criticised by the National Housing Federation.

The National Housing Federation, accused the new implementation of the bedroom tax of causing “real chaos” and “damaging people’s lives.”

The comments come as recent research carried out by the federation has found that more than 10 per cent of housing association tenants in one area of England fell into rent areas within just one month of the bedroom tax being introduced.

National Housing Federation have criticised the welfare reforms and the bedroom tax

National Housing Federation have criticised the welfare reforms and the bedroom tax

In Teeside, one of the areas worst affected by the bedroom tax, there have also been reports of three bedroom houses laying empty. The Local Authority have said they can’t rent the properties out as they are too big and people simply “can’t afford to move into them“.

The extra cost of bedroom tax (£14 per week for each room), coupled with the rising costs of living and the benefit cap means that for many, the only option is to move into smaller properties or risk missing rent payments.

Similar trends are being seen in the initial test areas up and down the country, as people start to feel the full effect of the bedroom tax. Rent arrears have risen an astonishing 340 per cent in East Ayrshire and 146 per cent across the whole of South Wales.

Speaking to the BBC, Chief Executive of the NHF, David Orr, warned that the changes to the benefits system were stopping the federation using the housing in the way in which they needed to use it and was “saving no money for anyone, anywhere.”

Although the government have said that the changes should save around £500m a year in benefit payments, councils across the country are already reporting millions of pounds of rent not being paid.

A report by LSL, an estate agency group, shows that in the last quarter alone severe rent arrears have increased by 3.3 per cent in the private rented housing sector. This equates to around 98,000 households being more than two months behind on rent.

Chief Executive of the NHF, David Orr has said that the government was warned by housing associations of the problems that the bedroom tax would create: “Housing associations warned the Government from the start that the bedroom tax would not work and that families would face financial hardship and struggle to make ends meet.

Continuing, he stated that he believes the government should not only delay the policy, but scrap it all together:

“The reality is that many people will stay in their homes and will be forced to live on less money in a country where living costs and utility bills are rising.

“It is time to face the facts and repeal this unfair policy now.”

CGA

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1) Sickness and Disability Benefit appeal costs reach £66 million

The cost of appeals against the ESA (Employment Support Allowance) has reached £66 million – 30% more than in 2009/10.

The figures came to light when shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liam Byrne asked the question in parliament.

The number of appeals have increased by 66% since 2009. Liam Byrne blames the increase in appeals and overturned decisions on the private firm used to carry out the Work Capability Assessment, ATOS. He said:

“Atos is now spinning out of control and it is costing the taxpayers millions to clean up the mess.

“The hard truth is that more decisions are wrong than ever before, and the result is more and more appeals and a price tag that has soared by 30 per cent in just the last year.”

ATOS are paid £150 million a year to carry out the fit-to-work tests

ATOS are paid £150 million a year to carry out the fit-to-work tests

Despite these statistics and the strong campaigning taking place across the country against ATOS, the DWP defends the firm and the decision process. They said:

“It is completely unsurprising that the number and cost of appeals has risen, because the number of work capability assessments carried out has increased substantially since we started reassessing 1.5 million incapacity benefit claimants in 2010.”

Adding that they had already made improvements to the assessment and that most decisions are upheld.

Read more about this story here.

2) GPs in South Wales told not to help patients appeal against fit-to-work decisions

GPs have been told to stop writing letters to help patients appeal against sanctions and benefit payment cuts, calling it an ‘abuse of resources’ and adding that ‘GPs were not contracted or resourced to provide this kind of service.’

Bro Taf, the local medical committee representing GPs says it stops doctors from seeing ill patients.

Some patients require evidence from their doctors to prove they are not fit to work. Without this evidence these patients may be unfairly sanctioned or be declared fit to work when they are not. Disability Wales called the decision “almost callous.”

Read more about this story here.

3) Iain Duncan Smith caught lying once again over homeless firgures

In an attempt to defend against criticisms of the benefit cap, IDS resorted to his old trick of fabrication by claiming that homeless figures had ‘hardly moved’ under the Con-Dem coalition.

The benefit cap which is limited at £500 a week for families and £350 for single persons, has been criticised for it’s ‘one size fits all’ approach.

A leaked letter from Eric Pickles’ office warned that over 40,000 people would be made homeless due to the benefit cap and the bedroom tax.

However, IDS told BBC News:

“The great talk about thousands being made homeless has not come true – the homeless figures hardly moved at all.”

Read more about this story here.

4) UK Uncut Protest takes over 13 HSBCs across the country

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

13 branches of HSBC were turned into food banks as part of a protest against the bank’s tax avoidance and use of tax havens, as thousands more Britons go hungry and rely on food banks in light of ‘unneccessary’ cuts.

“In Nottingham, activists set up a food bank blocking the entrance to HSBC with supplies of cereals, tins of food, and toilet paper. In London’s Regent Street, 100 activists brought bags of food to the store distributed the supplies, forcing the branch to close down. Meanwhile in Brixton a large crowd gathered and created a food bank inside the HSBC branch.”

Robert McGarr, from Northampton, said: “While families go hungry, this government of millionaires lets its friends in the banks and big business avoid billions of pounds of tax. HSBC uses more tax havens than any  other UK bank, but the government is only interested in punishing the poorest rather than going after the real cause of the problem.

“The government need to know that people want real change to stop tax dodging, not cosmetic tinkering, that’s why we’re taking action against the government’s failure to stop HSBC’s abuse of tax havens.”

After UK Uncut’s plans were announced the bank offered to meet to discuss activists’ concerns. However the bank rejected repeated offers from UK Uncut to hold a public discussion on 20 July.”

UK Uncut Press Release

See pictures of the protest and find out more here.

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In another blow to the coalition’s efforts to streamline welfare spending and increase employment, figures released on Thursday suggest that the Work Programme, brought in during 2011, isn’t working.

Image: Parliament Uk

Image: Parliament Uk

The Work Programme, now two years into practice, was a coalition initiative which aimed to get 1.2 million long-term unemployed people living in the UK, back into a job.

The programme runs by using private contractors such as A4E and G4S, to help lift the long-term unemployed, those who have been out of a job for more than a year, into employment. These contractors operate on payment-by-result basis, meaning that the more people they move into employment lasting 6 months or more, the more money they are awarded by the government.

However, the latest figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that just 1 in 10 people have been helped back to work by the £5 billion scheme in the last two years, meaning that so far, each job has cost the taxpayer around £40,000 to secure.

Despite the seemingly obvious shortfalls of the scheme, on Thursday after the release of the government’s latest figures, Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: “The improvement in performance over the past year has been profound and the scheme is getting better and better. And because providers are rewarded for success, the Work Programme is designed to give taxpayers a far better deal than previous schemes.”

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Although the figures do suggest that the scheme is improving, many have still accused the government of “spin”, with homelessness charity Crisis pointing out that statistics also showed just 1 in 20 sick and disabled people on the scheme have managed to find lasting employment.Despite improvements in its overall employment numbers since last year, which saw just 9,000 people finding a job lasting 6 months or more, the programme has missed government targets across the board. The most alarming of these missed targets is the Work Programmes effectiveness to get those who receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) back in to work.

ESA is the benefit for those who are ill or disabled and therefore find it hard to find a job – the very people that the programme was supposed to be helping the most, as invariably, those who receive ESA have been unemployed for the longest terms. From March 2012 to March 2013, just 5.3 per cent of those who received ESA found a job that lasted 6 months or more – well below the governments own minimum target of 16.5%.

When asked about the effectiveness of the Work Programme, Crisis Chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The Work Programme was set up to help those furthest from work back into employment. On that measure, it has been a miserable failure. The Government’s own statistics, our research, charities and thinktanks are unanimous: homeless people and others who need more support have been left parked without meaningful help.”

The DWP has issued ‘improvement notices’ for 12 contractors who are “lagging behind” their contracted levels for helping claimants in to jobs, in an effort to try and boost numbers by the end of this year, with the threat of termination of the contracts if the companies do not show “significant” changes with their job success figures.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne has also waded in to the debate over government spin, saying: “The Work Programme is still failing and failing badly.

“The government missed every single one of its minimum targets and in nearly half the country, the Work Programme is literally worse than doing nothing.”

Careers Development Group in East London, Pertemps in Solihull, Newcastle College Group in Solihull, Rehab Job Fit in Wales and Newcastle College Group in Yorkshire have the worst conversion rates for getting those who receive ESA into work, managing to help just 2% of those who are on the Work Programme as – opposed to the minimum set target of 16.5%.

According to the Independent, the Government was warned by the private contractors that the cost of helping those on ESA could not be met by the scheme.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said: “It will inevitably take longer to help those on ESA into sustained jobs as many are a long way from the labour market. Over 25 per cent of people on ESA have been out of work for at least 11 years and therefore we’re going to need to pool skills and local health budgets with Work Programme cash to help more of this group into work.”

If this is indeed the case then why have the government not already started looking into other ways in which they can help those on ESA? Well, the answer, as always, seems to be money.

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

In his budget speech this week Chancellor George Osborne announced that as part of a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, the DWP will have to find a further 9.5% of savings in the department’s running costs.

He warned that this will require a “difficult drive for efficiency” and a “hard-headed assessment of under-performing programmes”.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, agrees: “These figures will confirm what many disabled already know about the Work Programme – it’s not working for them. A one-size-fits-all approach means disabled people aren’t getting the individual, tailored support they need.”

Head of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg has also warned that change is needed if the government want to get the Work Programme working: “We remain deeply concerned that the Work Programme, as currently designed, is insufficient to tackle the problems faced by more disadvantaged jobseekers. Doing nothing and hoping things improve is no longer an option.”

Let’s hope that this means there will now be a re-assessment of how contractors can help those who are furthest away from securing jobs, such as recipients of ESA, as opposed to just focusing on those that will yield the contractors the easiest and fastest payment securements.

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The latest figures show that in the first year the coalition government came to power in 2010, an extra one million people were pushed in to absolute poverty in the UK.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

In the Department for Work and Pension’s annual report on households living below average income, it was revealed that for two successive years real incomes have dropped by 3 per cent annually, meaning economic progress that had been made in previous year’s by those on low incomes had effectively been wiped out.

The report showed that the median income of a family was at £427 a week between 2011-12. When adjusted for inflation, this was slightly below the £429 in 2001-02 and well down on the £454 peak in median income in 2009-10 – the year before the coalition came to power.

The definition of absolute poverty is characterised by “severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information”. Classification depends not only on income but also on access to services – which in many areas are seeing planned closures such as libraries and hospital wards due to government spending cuts.

The data from the Department for Work and Pensions showing that working household incomes are at their lowest levels since 2000, coupled with a recent report from the Trussell Trust revealing that there’s been a 465 per cent increase in the amount of people having to use food banks, will no doubt cause a sense of unease within the coalition who are already facing scrutiny over the impact of their welfare reforms.

Foob Bank usage has risen 465% says Trussell Trust Image: dailyrecord.co.uk

Foob Bank usage has risen 465% says Trussell Trust Image: dailyrecord.co.uk

Within that one million estimate, around 300,000 children have found themselves living in homes now being defined as living in poverty, bringing overall child poverty numbers in the UK to about 3.8 million.

Speaking to the BBC, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the government’s aim was to get children out of poverty by getting more people in to work: “While this government is committed to eradicating child poverty, we want to take a new approach by finding the source of the problem and tackling that.”

However, bringing further embarrassment to the coalition, a detailed analysis of the government’s figures by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that in fact, two-thirds of those 300,000 children who are living in absolute poverty are in households where their parents aren’t the ‘scroungers’ or jobless of our society, but the ‘strivers’, the workers, the ones with jobs – the ones David Cameron promised to support.

However, the support doesn’t seem to be there and Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, says we need to look to other causes of child poverty. Speaking to The Telegraph she said: “Today’s poverty figures expose comprehensively the myth that the main cause of poverty is people choosing not to work.

“The truth is that for a growing number of families, work isn’t working. The promise that work would be a route out of poverty has not been kept as wages stagnate and spending cuts have hurt low-income working families.”

When you consider that over the last 5 years household bills have risen by an average of 25 per cent, whilst average earnings have only increased by around 6 per cent, it can hardly be surprising that the result is an increase in absolute poverty figures. What is surprising however, are the absolute poverty projections that the IFS report are warning of, if changes aren’t made.

Researchers at the IFS predict that by 2015 we could see another 700,000 children living in absolute poverty and 800,000 working-age adults – bringing total numbers of households living in absolute poverty to 12.3 million.

In 2010 the coalition government made a pledge to end child poverty by 2020, however, these latest figures suggest that the government are a way off managing to fulfil this commitment.

Speaking to the BBC, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, MP Liam Byrne said: “The devastating verdict is in – in just one year this government has pushed a million people into absolute poverty and progress in tackling relative child poverty has completely stalled.” When numbers like this emerge, it is often easy for the government to point fingers and avoid the issue. However, this year the UK Government is hosting the G8, which has “addressing global hunger” on it’s agenda. Let’s hope that when the Prime Minister’s looking at ways to reduce global hunger, he bears in mind those that are going hungry in the UK too.

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