United Nations begins investigation into UK’s extreme poverty

From CNN: The United Nations has launched an investigation into extreme levels of poverty in one of the richest countries in the world: the United Kingdom.

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, is starting a two-week fact-finding mission, visiting some of the country’s poorest towns and cities to examine the effects of austerity measures on rising levels of hardship.

Alston, known for his no-holds-barred critiques, will gather evidence on the impact that changes to welfare benefits and local government funding as well as the rising costs of living have had on British families.

“The Government has made significant changes to social protection in the past decade, and I will be looking closely at the impact that has had on people living in poverty and their realization of basic rights,” Alston said in a statement.

“I have received hundreds of submissions that make clear many people are really struggling to make ends meet.”

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“I was trained to get Universal Credit claimants off the phone”

From Sky News: Former Universal Credit case manager Bayard Tarpley writes about his experience working in its Grimsby call centre for two years…

Have you ever wondered if the service person on the end of the phone is being deliberately being obstructive?

Well the answer is yes. And I should know – I worked as a Universal Credit case manager where agents were trained to get people off the phone without answering their query.

The answers were from a “deflection script”.

And they were not what you want to hear if you’re a single mother desperate to pay your rent or face being kicked out your home.

[Read full article on Sky News website…]

Universal Credit deliberately makes it hard for claimants to pay for childcare, MPs told

From HuffPost UK: Ministers have been accused of taking an “ideological” decision to make it harder for Universal Credit claimants to secure childcare.

Dalia Ben-Galim, Director of Policy at Gingerbread – a charity that helps single parents – said people receiving the new benefit struggled compared to those in full time work.

Speaking to the Commons Work and Pensions committee on Wednesday, she noted there were two systems of claiming back the costs of childcare – one of those on Universal Credit and one for people in full time work.

The tax-return scheme non-benefit claiming parents use only requires proof their child is registered with a care provider.

People on Universal Credit must provide a receipt as evidence for each payment made to a care provider – which often get rejected over small details.

Ben-Galim said: “I think that is ideological, that is an active decision that has been made about how people depending on where they are on the income scale are treated.”

[Read full article on HuffPost UK…]

Millions to lose £52 a week with Universal Credit, report shows

From The Observer: A comprehensive analysis of the impact of Universal Credit, compiled by the Policy in Practice consultancy, found that almost two in five households in receipt of benefits would lose an average of £52 a week.

While Universal Credit has already been rolled out in some areas for new claims, a crunch is due to come next year when millions are moved from the current system to the new programme, which rolls several benefits into a single payment.

Some 2.8 million homes would see their income cut under the Universal Credit system, according to the analysis.

According to the research, a million homeowners currently receiving tax credits will be worse off under the new system. They will lose an average of £43 a week.

Researchers found that 600,000 working single parents receiving the current tax credits system will be worse off, losing £16 a week on average. About 750,000 households on disability benefits will be worse off. Their average loss is £76 a week.

The self-employed lose out under rules in Universal Credit that assume a minimum income from self-employment, usually £1,187 a month. It means that 600,000 self-employed people will be worse off.

Under the tax credits system, payments are made for more than two children if they were born before 6 April 2017. As a result, 300,000 families will be worse off, losing an average of £40 a week each.

[Read full article on Guardian website…]

“National disgrace”: At least 449 homeless people died last year

From HuffPost UK: At least 449 people died while being homeless across the UK in the last year, a shocking investigation has revealed.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in partnership with Channel 4 News, has found a former soldier, a physicist and a travelling musician were among those who lost their lives.

Among the tragic findings, one man’s body showed signs of prolonged starvation. In one week alone, 14 people died.

There is no official figure for the number of people who die on the streets, though a series of reports suggest homelessness is rising.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “Rising levels of homelessness are a national disgrace, but it is utterly unforgivable that so many homeless people are dying unnoticed and unaccounted for.

“To prevent more people from having to experience the trauma of homelessness, the government must ensure housing benefit is enough to cover the cost of rents, and urgently ramp up its efforts to build many more social homes.”

[Read full article on HuffPost UK website…]

Justice ‘only for the wealthy’: Law Society condemns legal aid cuts

From The Guardian: It is increasingly difficult for defendants and claimants to find solicitors prepared to represent them due to government legal aid cuts, the Law Society has warned.

In a fiercely worded attack on funding restrictions, Christina Blacklaws, the society’s president, said British justice now existed “only for the wealthy, or the small number on very low incomes lucky enough to find a solicitor willing and able to fight a mountain of red tape to secure legal aid.”

Public access to justice and the right to a fair trial has never been so restricted, according to the organisation that represents solicitors across England and Wales.

[Read full article on Guardian website…]

Welfare spending for UK’s poorest shrinks by £37bn

From The Guardian: Spending on welfare benefits for the UK’s poorest families will have shrunk by nearly a quarter after a decade of austerity, according to new figures highlighting the plunge in living standards experienced by the worst-off.

By 2021, £37bn less will be spent on working-age social security compared with 2010, despite rising prices and living costs, according to estimates produced by the House of Commons library.

The figures, obtained by MP Frank Field, show that just under half the total savings will come from the freezing of most working-age benefit levels since 2016, a policy which will deliver cuts of nearly £16bn.

Some of the most striking cuts are in disability benefits – personal independence payments (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) – which together will have shrunk by nearly £5bn, or by 10%, since the start of the decade.

A new measurement of UK poverty published last week highlighted that more than half of families living below the breadline contained at least one person with a disability.

Other cuts include: tax credits (£4.6bn), universal credit (£3.6bn), child benefit (£3.4bn), disability benefits (£2.8bn), ESA and incapacity benefit (£2bn) and housing benefit (£2.3bn). By contrast, spending on the state pension will be £1.7bn higher by 2021.

[Read full article on Guardian website…]

The number of homeless pensioners is the highest it’s been for a decade

From The Big Issue: The number of pensioners being accepted as homeless has skyrocketed by 40 per cent in five years, according to new figures.

A total of 2,520 people aged 60 and over were classed as ‘without a safe and secure home last year’ – the highest number for over a decade.

The government figures for January to March of this year also uncovered a 54 per cent rise in single parent families forced to turn to temporary accommodation.

There has been a three per cent increase on the number of families waiting for a permanent place to stay with 79,880 altogether in hostels and B&Bs. This figure has risen by 56 per cent since the onset of austerity measures in 2010.

[Read full article on The Big Issue website…]

‘Two-child policy’ cuts benefits of more than 70,000 families

From The Guardian: More than 70,000 low-income families lost at least £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the Tory government’s “two-child policy”, official figures show.

The statistics reveal that during the first year of operation, 59% of the 73,500 families who lost financial support for a third child were in work. Nine per cent of UK claimant households with three or more children were affected.

Campaigners said the number of families affected by the policy would drive up UK poverty levels, putting an estimated 200,000 children into hardship.

The policy means households claiming child tax credit or universal credit, who have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, are unable to claim a child element worth £2,780 a year for these children.

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The New York Times: In Britain, austerity is changing everything

From the New York Times: A walk through this modest town in the northwest of England amounts to a tour of the casualties of Britain’s age of austerity.

The old library building has been sold and refashioned into a glass-fronted luxury home. The leisure center has been razed, eliminating the public swimming pool. The local museum has receded into town history. The police station has been shuttered.

Now, as the local government desperately seeks to turn assets into cash, Browns Field, a lush park in the center of town, may be doomed, too. At a meeting in November, the council included it on a list of 17 parks to sell to developers.

[Read full article on New York Times website…]

Most DWP frontline staff “say Universal Credit should be scrapped”

From HuffPost UK: Two-thirds of frontline Department for Work and Pensions staff have said the roll-out of crisis-hit Universal Credit should be stopped, a Channel 4 investigation has revealed.

Some 70% of DWP staff say the roll out of Universal Credit should be stopped according to a survey carried out by a trade union.

The Public and Commercial Services Union poll found 79% of respondents felt there was not sufficient staff to meet demand from claimants.

The union, which represents frontline DWP staff, many of whom work in high street job centres, polled 550 of its members for a Dispatches documentary.

A whistleblower who currently works for the #DWP told the programme: “Sometimes we’ll have a couple of people on our team on leave or off sick and then the work really piles up at that point and these claims have not been given the due attention they deserve.

“A lot of [claimants] can miss their payments… It could mean that they won’t be able to eat for another couple of days, it’s very tough on them.”

[Read full article on HuffPost UK…]

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