Poverty ‘driving people to choose between eating or keeping clean’

In Kind Direct charity warns of ‘hidden crisis’ facing thousands after it distributes £20.2m of hygiene products in one year

Growing numbers of people are facing hygiene poverty, where they are unable to afford essential products such as shampoo and deodorant, and are having to choose between eating and keeping clean, a charity has found.

A report from In Kind Direct says thousands of people are seeking help and describes the issue as a “hidden crisis”. Last year the charity distributed a record £20.2m of hygiene products, a rise of 67% on £12.1m the year before.

Robin Boles, chief executive of In Kind Direct, said: “This is hitting families hard. The fact that last year was our busiest year ever, distributing products to charities and the people they help, highlights the stark choices people are facing.”

The study has prompted campaigners to call for the government to do more to alleviate poverty. They say cuts to working benefits coupled with rising inflation have left families struggling.

Samantha Stapley, operations manager for England at the Trussell Trust food bank network, described the report as “very concerning”. She added: “When people are referred to food banks with no money for food, they’re often struggling to afford other basic essentials too.”

The report shows 82% of 948 charities have seen an increase in demand over the past year from people who cannot afford essential items.

A further poll of 1,000 people, conducted by In Kind Direct, found that 37% of those surveyed, and 56% of 18- to 24-year-olds, have had to go without hygiene or grooming products, or cut down on them, owing to low finances.

Stapley said Trussell Trust research with the University of Oxford had found that more than half of the households visiting the network’s food banks were struggling to afford toiletries.

She added that voluntary organisations alone could not resolve the problem and the underlying causes of poverty needed to be addressed. “Making work more secure, tackling the high cost of living and working to reduce the issues people experience with benefit payments would all make a difference,” she said.

Her words were echoed by Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child PovertyAction Group, who said: “To tackle it we first need to ensure that benefits once again reflect families’ needs and so rise with inflation. No one should have to suffer the indignity of living without basic sanitary products.”

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/27/poverty-driving-people-to-choose-between-eating-or-keeping-clean-in-kind-direct?


‘I can’t breathe and can barely walk’ Shock as gran who is in pain 24 hours a day ruled fit for work only weeks after suffering a stroke

Pauline Pike has battled cancer, uses a nebuliser to help her breathe and has just suffered her second stroke – but hardhearted benefits bosses have ordered her to find a job.

A shocked gran who battled cancer and suffers chronic breathing problems has been told she’s fit for work – just weeks after having a stroke.

Pauline Pike has a history of health problems stretching back more than 30 years including cancer, diverticulitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and asthma.

She has also had a kidney removed and suffered her second stroke six weeks ago.

Yet hardhearted benefits bosses have just told her they’re taking away her benefit payments and ordered her to find a job.

read more here: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/i-cant-breathe-can-barely-10878261

UK ignoring the human rights and basic dignity of people with learning disabilities

Tories accused of being ‘arrogant’ and in ‘confused denial’ about the impact of austerity cuts.

A major new report from The Centre for Welfare Reform argues that the UK is tipping backwards to an era of institutionalisation, and of disregard for the human rights and basic dignity of people with learning disabilities.

The report ‘Back to Bedlam‘, written by the distinguished academic and researcher Robin Jackson, warns that decades of progress in advancing disability and human rights is now in reverse, blaming years of austerity and cuts in welfare support.

 The report also argues that policies have been imposed without any significant accountability or discussion, adding that many of these decisions mean the UK is now in breach of international standards.

Rent arrears for Universal Credit tenants remain ‘stubbornly high’

The National Federation of ALMOs and the Association of Retained Council Housing voice strong concerns at government’s plans to accelerate the roll-out of UC.

In a joint report, the NFA and ARCH are calling on government to halt to the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) and remove the seven day wait period for new claims.

The report, ‘Pause for Thought – Measuring the impact of welfare reform on tenants and landlords 2017 survey results’ has tracked the impact of welfare reforms on landlords and tenants.

The report states that “clearly the problems associated with the UC roll-out identified in previous research remain unresolved.”

Almost four years on from the initial introduction of UC in October 2013 research shows delays in the UC assessment process, poor communications between DWP and landlords, and the seven day wait period continue to cause significant problems to both landlords and their tenants.

Other issues such as digital access also present problems for 50 to 65-year-old claimants.

Key findings include:

  • Tenant rent arrears among UC claimants remain stubbornly high at 73%, a total cost of £6.68m
  • Families with no previous history of rent arrears are being driven into debt, with 40% of households accumulating rent arrears as a consequence of claiming UC
  • Households already struggling with rent payments are being driven deeper into debt as the average arrears amount for UC claimants has increased from £611.73 ( March 2016)  to £772.21 (March 2017).

In general its members support the principles of UC and appreciate the value of encouraging individual responsibility; having introduced a variety of initiatives and projects to support tenants into work.

Councils and landlords are also developing innovative practices including triage systems and employing additional support workers to identify and prioritise those households in greatest need.

However, it is clear that support provided to tenants by landlords alone is not sufficient to resolve the problems being experienced and is not scalable as the roll-out accelerates across the country and many more families and children become a part of the Universal Credit system.

To date, councils and landlords have borne the costs of providing essential support to tenants transitioning onto UC.

Whilst this has been manageable in small numbers (currently roll-out stands at 2.6% of our tenants) the level and intensity of support needed can not be sustained by landlords alone as the roll-out is set to increase rapidly over the course of 2017/18.

Eamon McGoldrick, managing director, NFA says: ‘We are strongly urging government/DWP to halt the roll-out of UC and ‘Pause for thought’ – until the system works properly for both claimants and landlords.

read more here: http://www.24housing.co.uk/news/calls-to-halt-roll-out-of-uc/

The rollout of Universal Credit should be paused until significant problems with it are fixed (petition)

Sign the petition here:

We are adding our voice to a growing body of evidence that Universal Credit is causing financial distress, and ask for the further roll out of Universal credit to be paused until existing problems with it are fixed;

Our principal concerns are;
*more than one in three people are waiting in excess of 6 weeks to receive any income, and 11 per cent are waiting more than 10 weeks

*rent arrears among Universal Credit claimants are rising.
*clients on universal credit are nearly one and a half times as likely to seek advice on debt issues compared to those on other benefits.
*foodbanks in areas of full universal credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85 per cent average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64 per cent.

Why is this important?

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said: “Universal Credit is already failing too many people, pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet. Citizens Advice supports the principles of Universal Credit, but pushing ahead with roll out while the system remains beset with problems will put thousands more families at financial risk.
“The current flaws with the system also undermine the very reasons Universal Credit was introduced: to simplify the benefits system and make sure every hour of work pays. As things stand, too many people are finding Universal Credit very complicated, and problems such as long wait for payments or difficulties getting help with an application mean they are less able to focus on getting into work or increasing their hours.”
“The government needs to pause plans to accelerate the roll out of full service Universal Credit this Autumn and devote the time and resource needed to tackle the key problems which mean the system is not working.”

Based on data from a representative survey of people seeking advice in universal credit full service areas as of May 2017, Citizens Advice highlights that –
More than one in three people are waiting in excess of 6 weeks to receive any income, and 11 per cent are waiting more than 10 weeks;.
30 per cent of people have made 10 or more calls to the helpline to sort out their claim at a cost of up to 55p per minute, and often have to wait over 30 minutes to get through;
40 per cent reported they were not aware they could get an advance payment to help with the initial waiting period for their first payment, and more than half borrowed money whilst waiting; and
clients on universal credit are nearly one and a half times as likely to seek advice on debt issues compared to those on other benefits.

Solving problems in the practical operation of universal credit must be an ‘urgent priority’ in the new Parliament, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field has said.

Mr Field highlights that, while many respondents supported in principle the objectives of universal credit, there was a near unanimous set of concerns about its implementation, including –
claimants waiting 12 weeks or more for their first payment, resulting in hardship and distress;
vulnerable claimants struggling to adapt to receiving universal credit as a single monthly payment;
the seven waiting days at the start of a claim, for which claimants receive no benefit, adding to claimants’ financial difficulty;
rent arrears amongst universal credit claimants rising;
poor communications between landlords, support organisations and the Department where universal credit ‘full service’ is operating; and
universal credit inadequately supporting claimants in emergency temporary accommodation.

Referrals to food banks have increased by more than 16 per cent in universal credit full service areas, according to a new report from the Trussell Trust.
the Trussell Trust highlights that, between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, it provided 1,183,954 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, of which 436,938 went to children. Other key findings include –
foodbanks in areas of full universal credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85 per cent average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64 per cent;
the effect of a 6+ week waiting period for a first universal credit payment can be serious, leading to foodbank referrals, debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and eviction, and these effects can last even after people receive their universal credit payments, as bills and debts pile up;
people in insecure or seasonal work are particularly affected, suggesting the work incentives in universal credit are not yet helping everyone; and
navigating the online system can be difficult for people struggling with computers or unable to afford telephone helplines – in some cases, the system does not register people’s claims correctly, invalidating it.


The real rate of worklessness is quadruple the official rate

 In reality, about 21.5% of British workers are either officially unemployed, inactive, or employed part-time even though they really want full-time work.
  • Government statistics put unemployment in Britain at just 4.5% — a record low not seen since the 1970s.
  • But the real rate of unemployment is four times that.
  • We walk you through the evidence that shows why official unemployment numbers are so misleading.

LONDON — Unemployment in Britain is now just 4.5%. There are only 1.49 million unemployed people in the UK, versus 32 million people with jobs.

This is almost unheard of. The last time unemployment was this low was in December 1973, when the UK set an unrepeated record of just 3.4% unemployment.

The problem with this record is that the statistical definition of “unemployment” relies on a fiction that economists tell themselves about the nature of work. As the rate gets lower and lower, it tests that lie. Because — as anyone who has studied basic economics knows — the official definition of “unemployment” disguises the true rate of unemployment. In reality, about 21.5% of all workers are without jobs, or 8.83 million people, according to the ONS.

That’s more than four times the official number.

Here is how it works. First the official numbers from the ONS, showing unemployment at 4.5%:


For decades, economists have agreed on an artificial definition of what “unemployment” means. Their argument is that because there is always someone who is taking time off, or has given up looking for work, or works at home to look after their family, that those people don’t count as part of the workforce. In addition, the unemployment rate can never truly hit zero, because even when people change jobs they tend to take a break of a few weeks between them. Very few people quit on Friday and start at a new place on Monday. In the UK and the US, technical “full employment” has, as a rule of thumb, been historically placed at an unemployment rate of somewhere between 5% and 6%. When unemployment gets that low it generally means that anyone who wants a job can have one.

Importantly, it also means that wages start to rise. It becomes more difficult for crappy employers to keep their workers when those workers know they can move to nicer jobs. And workers can demand more money from a new employer when they move, or demand more money from their current employer for not moving.

The UK right now should be a golden age for workers — low inflation and low unemployment. Now is the time to get a job. Now is the time to ask for a raise. It doesn’t get better than this. Wage rises ought to be eating into corporate profits as bosses give up their margins to retain workers, and capital is transferred from companies to workers’ pockets. Trebles all round!

Of course, that isn’t happening.

Wages in the private sector have not started to rise. Public sector wage rises are capped at 1%. There has been a little uptick in new hire rates, but the overall trend is flat. This is part of the proof that shows real unemployment can’t be just 4.5%:

weekly wages starting salaries Pantheon Macroeconomics

More importantly, wages are not keeping pace with inflation. Here (below) is wage growth after inflation has been taken out. Workers’ real incomes are actually in decline, which is weird because “full unemployment” ought to be spurring wages upward. Overall inflation ought to be driven by wage inflation. Yet wage inflation isn’t happening:

unemployment wages Pantheon Macroeconomics

So what’s going on?

Why does Britain have no wage inflation, if the labour market is so tight?

The answer is unemployment is not really that low. In reality, about 21.5% of British workers are either officially unemployed, inactive, or employed part-time even though they really want full-time work. (The ONS has a chapter on that here.) Some of those people — parents with newborns, university students — may not want jobs right now, but they will want jobs soon. Even when you take those out of the equation, the true rate of people without jobs who want them looks like this, according to analyst Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Economics:

slack labour unemployment Pantheon Macroeconomics

Note especially that the rump of “inactive” workers — the black bars — has stayed roughly the same for two straight decades.

The situation is worse from the perspective of men. The percentage of inactive male workers has tripled in the last 40 years, as more and more women are drawn into the workforce to replace them:

economic inactivity unemployment ONS

That last chart explains a LOT about politics in the UK right now.

On paper, Britain is supposed to be doing well — growing economy, low unemployment. So why did Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party get so many votes at the last election? (Answer: People still feel poor, their wages are not rising, and 1 in 7 workers is out of work.) Why did a majority of people vote for Brexit? (Answer: the economy for men is basically still in recession, and men don’t like losing their economic power, so this was a good way of “taking back control.”) And why are so many people trapped in the “gig economy,” making minimum wage? (Answer: Because the true underlying rate of unemployment means companies can still find new workers even in a time of “full employment.”)

So yes, it’s great that we have “low unemployment” in Britain.

But it would be better if economists (and the business media) were a bit more upfront about how our definition of “unemployment” actually masks the real rate of worklessness, which is quadruple the official rate.



I dropped out of society to save my sanity: My Wigan Pier Story

As part of our Road to Wigan Pier 2017 project, 80 years on from the publication of George Orwell’s essay, rough sleeper, Raymond Slater explains how sleeping rough saved his sanity
Raymond Slater, 55, has been homeless for the last 15 years and is currently living in Manchester. After struggling to manage on benefits, he dropped out of the system to ‘save his dignity’. As he tells Claire Donnelly, he has never been happier.

I spent years trying to find work, going to interviews, signing on and it was a constant stress. I was living with the worry of not having any money, paying the bills, fear of losing my flat and it was just a horrible way to live.

The system tells you all the time that it’s your fault, that you aren’t doing enough but there just weren’t any jobs there. I’d done stuff like security or working in supermarkets in the past and I was applying for up to three jobs a day but there wasn’t anything.

You can’t get a job if they’re not there.

I was trying to run a house on £50 a week and it’s hard. So I decided to leave it all behind. I got on a bus and got out of there. Now I don’t even sign on. I’ve got a bike and my rucksack and I can find places to eat and get washed.

read more here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/dropped-out-society-save-sanity-10782292


Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

Politics and Insights


Thousands of disabled people have already lost their specialist Motability vehicles because of Conservative PIP cuts and many more are likely to be affected.

Personal Independence Payment is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have issued a guidance document for providers carrying out assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which was updated last month. It can be found here: PIP Assessment Guide.

The DWP Chief Medical Officer states that this is a supplementary guidance, in addition to “the contract documents agreed with providers as part of the commercial process, providing guidance for health professionals [HPs]…

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If you are on Universal Credit you’d better not get ill

A recent phone query revealed yet another serious problem with Universal Credit. Frank rang us on behalf of his daughter, Jen, who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. Jen is on Universal Credit and was caught by the last throws of the Work Programme, so she can look forward to two years of being given useless things to do. However, going to the Work Programme provider was making her conditions worse – especially when they shut her in the computer room – so she has had to ask her doctor for help. When Frank contacted us Jen had just handed in her second six-week ‘fit note’, and was worried about being sanctioned if she didn’t go to her Work Programme appointment.

Read more of this article from scottishunemployedworkers.net here: If you are on Universal Credit you’d better not get ill