Thursday, 18 October 2012

Jesus wept!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Number of UK poor receiving emergency food aid doubles

The number of the UK's poor and destitute receiving emergency food aid has almost doubled in the past six months, the country's largest organiser of food banks has reported.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, which operates 172 food banks and has a further 91 banks under development nationwide, show that from April to September nearly 110,000 adults and children were referred for emergency help by professionals such as the police, social workers and job centre advisers and GPs.

The trust, which operates a controlled voucher scheme to track referrals, said that in the whole of the last financial year they fed 128,000 people. Based on demand over the last six months, they expect that number to rise to more than 200,000 between 2012-13.

In the trust's south-west region, one in 120 children have been fed with food packages during the last six months, while in Wales the current figure stands at one in 130.

A breakdown of the figures also shows that while less than one percent of those being referred are pensioners, there appeared to be a prevalence of young teenagers and adults taking up emergency food aid.

In the latest set of figures, 14,500 people, 16% of all those being referred, were aged 16-24, a group that makes up around 11% of the UK population in total.

The trust's executive chairman, Chris Mould, said that while they weren't reaching as many old people as they should be, travel and rent increases and the dire state of the youth employment market had left many of the UK's young adults in a desperate state with little financial resilience.

"When you've got people who are on the margin of just making it and there's another price rise, another change in their outgoings, they can't negotiate [the change]... something gives, and it is going to be the food."

The trust's own indicators show that the largest block of people were being left unable to feed themselves because of delays or a change in circumstances to their benefit claims.

Currently 45% of professionals referring families and adults for food packages cited troubles and delays with the benefits system, a figure that was up from around 40% on the year before and had more than doubled since the recession began in 2009.

Mould said the rise was "significant". "In the first half of this year that's another six or seven thousand people who are being helped at food banks because of problems relating to the timely availability of benefits," he said.

Mould said that other reasons for hunger included debt and delayed wages; circumstances arising out of domestic violence and sickness, but that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who are responsible for the benefits system needed to ask why so many people were being left hungry by bureaucratic failure; increased use of benefit sanctions; and the government's reform measures, which could require benefit claimants to switch to different types of benefits.

"The period in which people are left with no recourse to money and therefore an inability to get food on the table is longer," Mould said.

"The DWP should be deeply interested in what's driving and generating these crises. They really should be asking the question, is there anything we can do to resolve this and to reduce the prevalence, the occasions per month when this happens."

In response to the figures, a DWP spokesperson cited the fact that 80% of benefit claims were turned around in 16 days and said that reforms were making the welfare system more effective. "We recognise the welfare system we inherited is broken, trapping on benefits the very people it was designed to help. Our reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in society by making work pay and lifting thousands out of poverty," a department spokesperson said.

"Jobcentre plus processes thousands of benefit payments each day and we also pay crisis loans to help people who have emergency costs or benefit delays. Where appropriate we also refer people to the Trussell Trust following their request for us to do so," they added.

Shiv Malik and John Burn-Murdoch, The Guardian

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Cameron: 'This party has a heart'

Here's an extract from David Cameron's speech to the Tory faithful at Conference 2012:

"This party has a heart but we don’t like wearing it on our sleeve. Conservatives think: let’s just get on with the job and help people and not bang on about it. It’s not our style. But there’s a problem with that. It leaves a space for others to twist our ideas and distort who we are: the cartoon Conservatives who don’t care.

My mission from the day I became leader was to change that. Yes, to show the Conservative party is for everyone: North or South, black or white, straight or gay. But above all - to show that Conservative methods are not just the way we grow a strong economy, but the way we build a big society.

That Conservative methods are not just good for the strong and the successful but the best way to help the poor, and the weak, and the vulnerable. Because it’s not enough to know our ideas are right – we’ve got to explain why they are compassionate too. Because we know what we’re up against.

We say we’ve got to get the private sector bigger and the public sector smaller…our opponents call it ‘Tory cuts, slashing the state’. No: it’s the best way to create the sustainable jobs people need.

We say help people become independent from welfare…our opponents call it: ‘cruel Tories, leaving people to fend for themselves.’ No: there is only one real route out of poverty and it is work.

We say we’ve got to insist on a disciplined, rigorous education for our children…our opponents call it: ‘elitist Tories, old-fashioned and out of touch.’ No: a decent education is the only way to give all our children a proper start in this world.

The reason we want to reform schools, to cut welfare dependency, to reduce government spending is not because we’re the same old Tories who want to help the rich...’s because we’re the Tories whose ideas help everyone - the poorest the most."

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

North-eastern NHS Trust set to sack 5,500 staff and re-employ them on inferior terms and conditions

NHS bosses in North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust are due to sack all 5,500 staff and re-employ them on inferior terms and conditions which is a move away from the national agreement Agenda for Change (AFC). The Trust runs University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton and the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

It aims to remove enhanced sick pay from those staff entitled to be paid the normal shift rate when on sick leave. This is part of the national terms and conditions and signals a move away from AFC by the employers that could see the introduction of regional pay and further attacks on terms and conditions. This proposal is part of a package to make savings of £40 million over three years. Previous plans by the Trust included regular car boot sales in the hospital car parks.

Managers have called this a consultation exercise yet plan to sack staff; and those who refuse the new terms will have them imposed upon them without any form of negotiation or consultation. The Trust is hoping to close the two main sites and develop a single centre. Previous plans under PFI have failed and it now looks like NHS staff are being penalised in order to fund new developments.

Nationally AFC is under attack and the employers want to negotiate a range of cuts to terms and conditions attacking holiday entitlement, sick pay, shift allowances and pay progression in return for so called guarantees and no further cuts in the future.

Alarmingly, there have been signs in the early stages from the unions that they would be prepared to negotiate and that the unions should enter into a form of concession bargaining. This has been met with understandable opposition from union branches and members with the call that this agreement should be defended and unions should refuse to negotiate any erosion of pay and conditions. So far the unions have not made a clear statement saying they will refuse to negotiate and further talks are to take place.

There have also been developments in the South West where employers have set up a pay cartel to try to break up national bargaining and introduce regional pay. And there have been rumours of a pay cartel in the Northern region despite a number of Trusts saying they have no intentions of moving away from AFC.

Unison's head of Health has issued a strong statement attacking this proposal and warns of the potential impact of staff coming into work when unwell and the potential threat to vulnerable patients.

Strong words must be matched with action and a campaign to defeat these moves and defend the national agreement. A local and regional fightback is needed now but unless the unions organise on a national basis and prepare for industrial action there will be similar moves across a range of NHS Trusts as managements try to make workers pay for the crisis in funding and the attacks on the NHS by the Con-Dem coalition government.

John Malcolm, Unison branch secretary (mental health), writing in a personal capacity on the Socialist Party website

Friday, 5 October 2012

Cuts could force Shelter office closures

Shelter is considering closing eight of its advice offices in England because of cuts to legal aid. The government cuts will mean a 50 per cent reduction in funding for the housing charity’s face-to-face advice services. Shelter is currently consulting staff on the impact of the cuts before it makes a decision.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: ‘If these services have to close as a result of cuts to legal aid, this will be a massive blow not only to our staff, but to the people in the affected areas who will no longer be able to get face to face advice and support from Shelter. We will be doing all we can to ensure people around the country can still get help with their housing problems through our helpline and website.’

He added that the ongoing recession and welfare reforms mean the loss of the services would be felt particularly keenly. The affected offices would be in Rotherham, Ashford, Milton Keynes, Cheshire, Gloucester, Somerset, Hertfordshire and Cumbria.

Inside Housing

Kenyans tortured by British colonial forces told they can sue Britain

Three elderly Kenyans tortured by British colonial forces were told they can sue Britain, in a London court judgment likely to encourage other claims dating back to the days of the British Empire. The government, which had tried for three years to block their legal action, said on Friday it planned to appeal as the judgment could have far-reaching legal implications.

Paulo Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, who is about 73, suffered castration, rape and beatings while in detention in the 1950s during a crackdown by British forces and their Kenyan allies on the Mau Mau movement fighting for land and freedom.

The trio want Britain to apologise and to fund welfare benefits for Kenyan victims of torture by colonial forces. "The people they imprisoned and put in the detention for seven years (resulted in Kenya) losing a generation," Gitu Wa Kahengeri, Mau Mau War Veterans Association secretary general, told reporters in Nairobi. Nearby, about 40 Mau Mau veterans and relatives cheered, hugged and performed a traditional dance in the midday heat when the news came through.

The veterans said British authorities should stop using legal technicalities to fight the case and, instead, negotiate a settlement speedily as the claimants were frail and elderly. "What could be more despicable, what could be more immoral of Her Majesty's Government than to bide time simply to wait for all these victims to die one by one before tasting justice," Paul Muite, a lawyer advising Mau Mau Veterans, told reporters in Nairobi.

At first, Britain had said that responsibility for events during the Mau Mau uprising passed to Kenya upon its independence in 1963, an argument which London courts rejected. The government then said the claim was brought long after the legal time limit. However, judge Richard McCombe said in Friday's judgment there was ample documentary evidence to make a fair trial possible. "The government and the military commanders seem to have been meticulous record-keepers," he said.

The Foreign Office said while it did not dispute that the claimants suffered torture and other ill treatment, it would appeal nevertheless, because of the judgment's implications.