Monthly Archives: April 2013

A One Nation programme

Share Ed Miliband’s belief that Britain is stronger, fairer and more successful when it comes together as One Nation.

Ed sets out today six of the key economic Bills that would appear in a Labour Queen’s Speech next week: a One Nation programme with new ideas to begin turning Britain’s economy around.
  

Labour’s economic plans include:  A Jobs Bill to put in place a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee.

  • A Finance Bill that would kick-start our economy and help make work pay with a 10p rate of tax.
  • A Consumers Bill to tackle rip-off energy bills and train fares.
  • A Banking Bill that backs British business with a real British Investment Bank and new regional banks.
  • A Housing Bill that would take action against rogue landlords and extortionate fees in the private rented sector.
  • An Immigration Bill with economic measures that put an end to workers having their wages undercut illegally by employers exploiting migrant labour.

 

 

Making work pay – kick them while their down

Universal Credit (UC), the government’s ‘flagship policy’ in their welfare reform programme is being piloted today in Tameside and although it will affect a very small number in this first instance, it will provide a snapshot of how those on benefits will be affected by the system that is due to be implemented on a national scale in October when it will affect nearly six million people.

The underlying ethos for the government is that it wants the system to ensure that work always pays and is seen to pay and to encourage people to see work as the best route out of poverty.

Multi millionaire cabinet member, Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, has promised: “Universal credit will mean that people will be consistently and transparently better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn.”

The welfare reforms are clearly built on the government’s “skivers and strivers” rhetoric. In the universal credit white paper (pdf), the government argues: “Welfare dependency has become a significant problem in Britain with a huge social and economic cost.” The new benefit will be “leaner” and “firmer”.

“The UK has one of the highest rates of children growing up in homes where no one works and this pattern repeats itself through the generations. Less than 60% of lone parents in the UK are in employment, compared to 70% or more in France, Germany and the Netherlands … Universal credit will start to change this. It will reintroduce the culture of work in households where it may have been absent for generations,” the white paper argues.

Link to video: Skivers v strivers: the benefits debate explained | Animation

But the truth about Welfare is:

  • A tiny 3% of the welfare spending goes on benefits to unemployed people, but 42% is spent on the elderly and 21% spent on working families.
  • If you were in a couple with two kids and lost your job  you would receive £111.45 a week in Job Seekers Allowance, out of this you’d have to pay for food, heating, water, clothes, travel etc…
  • A single person just laid off, will only have £71 a week to live on.
  • People talk a lot about welfare fraud, but 0.7% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently……but at the same time, up to 24% (£11.77bn) of benefits go unclaimed.
  • Experts also reckon that the gap between what the government thinks it should receive in tax, versus what it actually gets (the Tax Gap) could be as high as £120 billion.

In December, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study dismissing this notion of a “culture of worklessness”.

A new JRF report published today suggests that the introduction of UC will see people worse off in work and struggling to manage their finances, with many left to deal with a more complex benefits system than before.

The research, by Inclusion and the University of Portsmouth, took a comprehensive look at what implementing UC reforms would mean for recipients facing one of the biggest reforms to the welfare system.

The report assessed how implementation would affect the three key objectives to be delivered by reform, and found:

Work incentives – Making work pay is the key aim for UC, however the report finds many households are set to be worse off, or only marginally better off. While the new system does incentivise more people to take ‘mini-jobs’ (those less than 16 hours per week), it does not encourage the crucial next step into full-time work and help people move out of poverty. While UC makes things better for people who are currently facing a very high rate of effective tax, not everyone will benefit. Marginal increases in earnings alone are unlikely to be sufficient incentive to move into full-time work, with small financial gains likely to be wiped out by costs such as childcare and travel.

Simplification – Simplifying the benefits system is severely undermined by the localisation of Council Tax Benefit (CTB) and of Social Fund loans designed to help families in crisis. Separate means tests and eligibility rules for CTB and emergency assistance will create complexity and likely to be so aggressive as to leave some people worse off as their earnings rise. The knock on effect of UC on passported benefits (free school meals, free prescriptions) being withdrawn as earnings rise could create cliff-edges for those in work and reduce the financial gains of employment.

Improved delivery for claimants – The report raises serious concerns about a ‘one size fits all’ digital delivery system and around potential IT failures that could quickly lead to backlogs, poor service and complaints. There is little information on the ‘stand by’ arrangements to ensure claimants are paid: system failure could lead to financial hardship for significant numbers of people, with those affected having to rely on emergency help from councils and charities. The shift from fortnightly to monthly payment in arrears has raised concerns amongst families on low-incomes that they will run out of money before the end of each month. Recipients may have to borrow money to bridge the gap, leaving them to start their UC claim in debt. UC may create an unfair bias against women, with child-related support not necessarily reaching the children it is intended for.

JRF suggest that the reality of UC is that it could unintentionally trap people in poverty and hardship.  It is self-defeating to encourage more people into part-time work, only for them to see their earnings wiped out when they progress into full-time jobs. If Universal Credit is to be successful in helping people out of poverty, it needs to ensure work is truly worthwhile and does not punish people who try boost their hours and income.

JRF are not the only organisation worried and their concerns are repeated by others:

The government thinks that benefit payments made monthly will help promote good budgeting and more closely replicate monthly salary payments – arguing that 75% of all employees receive wages monthly. This shift from weekly and fortnightly payments to this new regime may push claimants recipients into debt. The Social Market Foundation says: “Most households in our sample opposed the idea of a monthly payment. This was the case for the majority of households, who tended to budget on a daily, weekly or fortnightly cycle.”

The prospect of stopping housing benefit payments to landlords and directly paying the claimant could trigger unprecedented levels of arrears and increased rent collection costs. The National Housing Federation argues “Of all the reforms, the introduction of direct payments to tenants is expected to have the biggest impact – more than 80% of housing associations say it will affect their organisations a great deal or a fair amount, 84% of associations believe that rent arrears will increase as a direct result of welfare changes. The average increase expected is 51%, which, if replicated across the sector, would mean an additional £245m of arrears.”

There are concerns that more people could be evicted as a result. The BBC obtained figures that showed when the direct payments were piloted in six areas of the country there was a big rise in rent arrears as some tenants failed to pass that money on, with arrears rising from about 2% to 11%.

The government has said that “vulnerable” tenants may be excluded (pdf) and has devised an “automatic switchback mechanism” – paying rent to the landlord when a tenant’s arrears hit a threshold level – but the devil is in the detail and there are few details of what constitutes a vulnerable tenant.

The government says “Entitlement to UC is subject to a strict regime of ‘personalised’ conditionality (ie mandatory activity to prepare for and obtain work), backed by tough benefit sanctions (ie loss of benefit) for non-compliance,” but the Child Poverty Action Group warns: “The need for more conditionality comes across as a ‘moral crusade’, rather than being evidence based … There are concerns that some vulnerable claimants could face repeated sanctions for failing to comply with the demands of the system and that personal advisers and the Work Programme (within a culture of ‘payment by results’) will have too much power and discretion to impose unreasonable requirements on claimants.”

The charity argues that “Sanctions, in the form of loss of benefit, are designed to incentivise claimants to meet their work-related requirements and punish them for unreasonable failures. The regime is harsh, and there is concern that some claimants who repeatedly fail to comply with the system could be sanctioned and forced to survive on below subsistence income for long periods. This could include vulnerable claimants with mental health or social functioning problems, who find it difficult to comply with directions.”

A high level sanction can be imposed if, for example, a claimant fails for no good reason to take up an offer of paid work. The higher level sanction is the loss of the standard allowance of 91 days for a first failure, 182 days for a second higher level sanction within a year, and 1,095 days (three years) for another failure within a further year (disregarding “pre-claim” failures).

Hardship payments will be available of 60% of the sanctioned amount for those who cannot meet their “immediate and most basic and essential needs for accommodation, heating, food and hygiene”.

The Institute for Fiscal Students (IFS) calculates that “because of the way the parameters of universal credit have been chosen, couples, and particularly those with children, look set to gain by more, on average, than single-adult families, particularly lone parents, who will lose on average according to our analysis”.

It is really important for anyone worried about the welfare changes to know how they will be affected and get advice from the experts as soon as possible.

Sadly, at the same time as cutting benefits the government have also reduced the amount of funding available for many advice services.  However, if you are worried about the impact cuts will have on you then the experts at Shelter, The Law Centres Network and Citizens Advice Bureau are the best point of information.

Birmingham needs a Plan B from Osborne

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To great sighs of relief, at least around the Cabinet table, yesterday we learned that we have just about managed to avoid a triple-dip recession, with growth in the last quarter of a whopping 0.3%. Doesn’t sound that impressive, does it? The truth is that yesterday shouldn’t have been a relief at all. A triple-dip recession shouldn’t even have been a possibility. Yet such has been the failure of George Osborne’s economic plan, it almost seems like a great victory.

The danger is, of course, that George Osborne will see it as exactly that: a victory. We have lost our AAA credit rating with two agencies in the last few months, something which the Chancellor took as a vindication rather than a warning. This bit of relatively good news will no doubt put an extra spring in his step. The reality of the situation is, though, that the economy is still in a bad place – we’re only just back to the same place we were six months ago. The economy is flatlining, and things show no real sign of significantly improving any time soon. Most sectors of the economy are still performing incredibly badly; it’s only the service sector that has shown any real sign of life. Osborne needs new ideas, and he needs them fast.

The consequences of Osborne’s failure are visible right across the country, but they are abundantly clear in our communities in Birmingham. Unemployment remains high, particularly among young people, and welfare cuts and the shameful bedroom tax are being implemented as the cost of living continues to rise. The Guardian has highlighted this week the damage that is being done to Birmingham by the government’s cuts – all of the pain, for no economic gain. What Birmingham and other cities around the country need is a Plan B, with jobs and growth at its heart, to ease the pressure on the people who are suffering under this government. Labour has been saying all along that the government needs to change course, but with each quarter of no growth, no jobs and no hope, the need for a positive economic alternative becomes clearer.

Labour councillors are working hard to get the best deal for our city, but are constrained by the unfair cuts that the government has foisted upon them. It is not just the growth and jobs that are lacking,  but a fair deal for cities like Birmingham.

Our Hall Green councillors and campaigners have been calling for a better deal for Birmingham – it’s time the government took note. The council is being forced to make tough decisions, while leafy, Tory-dominated suburbs take none of the pain. We’re not all in this together and we’re not one nation. Birmingham residents are one the receiving end of the damage caused by the government’s economic failure and its refusal to give Birmingham a fair deal.

So Birmingham, and the country, need a Plan B. We all see that Plan A has failed, but the Chancellor sticks stubbornly to it. We need two things: firstly, we need jobs and growth, to get our economy moving again and to ease the burden on Birmingham households; secondly, we need the government to give Birmingham a fair deal instead of prioritising their own heartlands. We desperately need something to change. To borrow a phrase from David Cameron, we can’t go on like this.

Made by the Many

Watch Ed Miliband’s vision for an economic recovery made by the many…

We need an economy that works for working people not just the few at the top. That isn’t the economy we have at the moment. Economic growth is flatlining, nearly one million young people are out of work and prices are rising faster than wages. Yet David Cameron is prioritising a tax cut for millionaires while working people pay more.

Labour will support working families and act to bring down household bills.

If you enjoyed this short film then please share with others.

Why we need to talk about welfare

The true depth of the Tory policies that make the lives of those poorest, more wretched become clearer on a daily basis.

You will have seen my video highlighting the need to campaign for a fair deal for Birmingham, and within it, details touching upon those groups beginning to feel the real bite.

In ‘wake up and smell the roses‘ I reflect on research published by the Financial Times that uncovers the continuing divide between rich and poor, and the way in which the Tory led welfare reforms are impacting harder on the North than on the leafy suburbs in the South. We have seen this unfairness in the cut of £149 per person in Birmingham compared to just £19 in Berkshire.

Cameron’s outright attack on the poorer parts of society is vicious and vindictive, turning neighbour on neighbour and communities on communities. As an answer to the economical crisis it offers no credibility.

The right wing ideology being purported is dangerous and might easily play into the hands of fascist groups preying on the vulnerabilities of both those struggling to survive and those who feel others are getting more than they deserve.

The Telegraph today report that free school meals could soon be scrapped and people paid to look after elderly neighbours as councils take desperate measures to deliver a “tidal wave” of spending cuts. All councils face desperate decisions about the services that people value and rely on with the unfair cuts being imposed by central Government.

Hilary Wainwright writes for CLASS and argues that “we are facing government policies of such inhumanity that if they are allowed to be carried through, we will look back in years to come with deep horror and shame. From the attacks on disability benefits to the bedroom tax, these measures return us to the kind of society where poverty was blamed on the poor and gross inequality was accepted as an economic inevitability.”

The Myths of Welfare has just been released and as Wainwright argues, “it exposes the tall tales used to disguise the ideological dogma of government attempts to replace our welfare state with US-style residual ‘relief’  for the poor”… it is well worth a read and provides hard alternatives to the war on welfare that Cameron dictates.

Birmingham, as a result of Cameron’s welfare reforms are facing a total annual impact of £419m with the total annual impact on each working age adult being £607. Social housing tenants in Birmingham face cuts to housing allowances totalling £10.15m, reductions in tax credits of £92m, in disability benefits of £30m and to incapacity benefit of a whopping £92m.

We are not all in this together and never forget it.

Why campaign for a Fair Deal for Brum?

Birmingham has been short changed by £79m and we believe this is unfair. Why should Birmingham be hit harder than other places? Parts of leafy Berkshire have seen cuts of only £19 per person in comparison to cuts of £149 per person in Birmingham. This is not fair and in this video, campaign organiser for Hall Green BLP explains why. Please share widely.

Missed this yesterday?

Ed Miliband speaking to a live audience in Ipswich, 8th April 2013

“The starting point is we need a welfare system that works. We are very clear about what welfare reform means. Welfare reform means that we should get the 155,000 people who have been unemployed over two years over the age of 25 back to work. Labour is the only party in this country that says we’re actually going to do that. We’re going to offer them jobs and say you’ve got a responsibly to take it.

We think we’ve got to get the 77,000 young people who have been unemployed for more than a year, back to work. Labour is the only party who says we’re actually going to do that by putting them back to work. Do you know what? Those numbers are going up and up under this government because of their economic failure. That’s where you start.

Secondly, you’ve got to make work pay. You don’t make work pay but cutting taxes for millionaires and cutting tax credits at the same time so you’ve got to make sure that tax credits are there for people to make work pay.

Thirdly, contribution does matter. I’ve said in the past that when it comes to housing, if you are working and playing a part in your community, you should get extra points. In terms of the housing list, that is the right thing to do. That is what welfare reform looks like to me.

Here’s the problem with this government, they are not just heartless they are hopeless too. Because actually their welfare reform doesn’t work. They say they want to make work pay – Mr Osborne was repeating this on Tuesday . What he doesn’t admit is that his striver’s tax that is coming in today – the limit to 1% of the increase in social security payments – is hitting precisely the people he says he wants to help: the people on tax credits and others.

They’re hopeless too because their bedroom tax is not just cruel and unfair but actually is going to force people into the private sector, which will cost more. And universal credit it in chaos.

But now we come to the wider issue. Because there are two different views you can take on this: do you try and unite your country and bring it together or do you exploit tragedies? Like the Philpott tragedy. And the right place for Mr Philpott is behind bars. But do you exploit the deaths of six children to try and make a political point about the welfare system? And at the same time say to people actually this is somehow a commentary about so many people on benefits. Of course there is a minority of people on benefits who should be working and aren’t. Labour’s the party that’s going to get them back to work. But what I’m not going to do is engage in nasty, divisive politics.

I have got a very clear message for the British people on this: we can either succeed as a country by uniting, by using the talents of everybody, by using the talents of everybody out of work, by putting them back into work and making sure there is real responsibility. Or you can say let’s divide, let’s set one group of people against another – that’s not how we won the Second World War, that’s not how we succeeded as a country after the Second World War. Now if people want that nasty divisive politics they can have it from the Conservative Party, they’re not going to get it from me. I’m a unifier, not a divider.

That is what One Nation Conservatives used to believe. And frankly, you know what, I think One Nation Conservatives will be turning in their grave at what’s happened to today’s Conservative Party. They would be ashamed of what’s happened to this Conservative party. Because they have made a political decision, it’s not about the national interest, it’s a political decision to divide this country. Well I’m not having it. I’m not doing it. That’s not my politics.”

A clearer statement of the official position.

BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL TO GIVE MARION WAY SOME TLC

The long awaited plans to upgrade Marion Way Play Area began yesterday and we have written to all residents living near to the park to let them know what is happening!

The park at Marion Way has been neglected and under used for a long time and has over the last five years fallen into a real state of disrepair. This has been extremely bad news for youngsters in the area as it is presently the ONLY park in Hall Green providing play equipment for children and young people.

Monies have now been released to be specifically used for this project and as the long awaited signs of Spring finally arrive, the refurbishment could not be more timely, and it is hoped that children in Hall Green will soon be able to use these new facilities and enjoy themselves in a safe fit-for-purpose park.

Despite the refurbishment, Cllrs Sam Burden and Barry Bowles are fully aware that Marion Way offers a limited facility, and as the number of children and young people in Hall Green grows, so does the need for additional facilities. As your elected representatives, they continue to pursue the establishment of additional facilities and resources and continue to move forward to locate another playspace for children and young people at the Newey Goodman Open Space, which is located on the Stratford Road, near to the Robin Hood Island. If successful, this can only spell good news for all in Hall Green.

When asked about the planned refurbishment, Councillor Sam Burden said “I am extremely pleased to see the park refurbished. We need to ensure we have safe areas for our children and young people and the upgrading of the park with new equipment is much needed in a Ward where our children have so few places to have fun and enjoy themselves.”

Councillor Barry Bowles said “Play and playgrounds foster communality and free expression. A child who plays regularly learns to respect the environment and the world around him or her. Children of school age, who have been able to play regularly, have been shown to possess a higher level of co-ordinated skills that equip them for life and make them confident. By providing a specific area where they are welcome and where they can be valued and cherished, children and young people learn that the world they live in respects them.”

We believe this new upgrade is great news and we are sure that all parents will be pleased that Birmingham City Council will be overseeing this vital work for future generations. We will also continue to drive forward plans to ensure the children and young people of Hall Green are afforded the facilities and resources they deserve.

Please be sure to let us know your thoughts once the refurbishment of this lovely little park is complete and of course of any other issues that concern the Hall Green community.

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Are you sure we are all in this together?

We have a coalition Government behaving as if it has a mandate and as if it won a landslide victory. The radical welfare changes that started on Saturday are yet another clear indication of this Tory led government’s cynicism, arrogance and of its total lack of compassion.

Today sees the continuation of their ideological attack with changes being implemented to disability benefits in the north of England ahead of a nationwide roll out of the new measures as part of the government’s plan to cut the welfare bill.

The move to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIP) will end what Iain Duncan Smith called the ‘ridiculous’ system that gives people lifetime awards as the disability living allowance is replaced by the new personal independence payment (PLA).

The new system which includes face-to-face assessments and regular reviews (managed by ATOS) and will see changes to assessment claims that might mean 600,000 people miss out on support with some new assessment rules on mobility being sneak in through the back door.

Over half a million people have now signed a petition asking George Osborne to live on £53 per week, something he has brushed off as a publicity stunt. Yet surely this shows the real depth of feeling, from ordinary men and women, already struggling and this Government should pay heed to the level of opposition being displayed to their vicious welfare cuts.

We can all feel the effects of this governments attack on ordinary men and women. Many in work are not only seeing their hours reduced but their ‘in work’ benefits reduced also and those who are out of work are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. If we are not personally touched by these changes, then our families, friends, neighbours most certainly are.

One thing we can be certain of is that we are not all in this together.

Ed at the People’s Policy Forum in Brum

Watch Ed Miliband’s full speech to the People’s Policy Forum in Birmingham. To join the debate at http://www.yourbritain.org.uk

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The myth of the "welfare scrounger"

A little noticed piece of DWP research shows that four out of five claimants spent at least three quarters of the past four years off unemployment benefit.

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