Not-so Universal Credit

Often said that Universal Credit is fine in theory, by which I think is meant making judgements outside of the total impartibility of the scheme which is years late and relies on too many things to be got right.  And of course a reminder that it is not “Universal” cos it doesn’t include Council Tax Support which people will lose if they don’t claim early enough.
The scheme is thought good in principle cos it combines 6 payments so ought to mean less money lost on administration.  But it relies on employers being able to report quickly and effectively, relies on clients having IT access and skills, and presumes there wasn’t an agenda to reduce the amount of money issued.  It  is also vulnerable to pratfalls associated with some firms paying out money early for Christmas.  
Trying to  help clients make claims and appeals too has become trickier with the loss of printed letters to work with.  
The roll-out has now happened in Nottingham and new claimants & claimants with new circumstances are now being transferred to Universal Credit – although not for claims involving 3 children or more.  
Meanwhile cuts are significantly affecting people with disabilities or disabled children.  
Then there’s the gap that comes with moving from payment as is needed yo payment a month later.  
The responsibility falling upon tenants to pay rent rather than money being paid directly to the landlord has also caused challenges and unwelcome changes.  Nottingham City Homes are working very hard and getting rent paid first.  But social housing agencies elsewhere are deciding. not to take people who are not run employment which given some of them used to be council house providers is just shocking, especially since we’ve just celebrated the end of World war 1 and homes for heroes.  Some private landlords have also given up offering homes, whilst the rent being demanded has gone up generally.  Since 2015, the benefit available for renting – local housing allowance – has been frozen, such that only 1 house within 5 miles of The Meadows, advertised by Right Move is available for within £50 more than the allowance.  
Meanwhile, if a claim for support in one of the six aspects goes wrong, it is the whole lump that is affected, not just one part.
So yeah, fine in principle, but in practice, a lot of people are going to get hurt.  
Universal Credit has been condemned by Michael Heseltine and John Major.  
We rehearsed the matter again at Nottingham City Council recently.
I’m not surprised the Labour Party has said they’ll abolish it.  

TO BE RE-REVIEWED.

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Meadows Advice Group AGM 2018

The advisors have served more clients in 2017-18 than ever before and helped bring in more extra benefit than before.
902 clients.
£1,707,056.
This for an operating deficit of £966.
Been helping elsewhere, e.g. Clifton, too.


But it turns out that the extra benefit raised is cos DWP have been more awkward in accepting claims.  One of the daft things has been making venues for processing appeals more distant – at the end of a bus route in Strelley, and even in Leicester and Derby, instead of the previous venue in the city centre.  And being able to make the more difficult locations has sometimes been suggested as reasons as to why they don’t need the benefit.

The rock bottom benefits are to be frozen for another year – that’s 4 years at £73 a week.
Meanwhile, the Conservative government have announced that tax allowances and the tax threshold will be raised in a ways which gives most tax reductions to the better off.
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There’s been some surprise that some Conservative MPs have only just realised that Universal Credit means people will lose out.
Meanwhile gratitude to the 3 Nottingham Labour MPs and Vernon Coaker MP for attending a CAB 2-hour briefing 11 days previous.  Concern was expressed that the disabled and children are the ones losing out most.

My concern remains how the poverty is not visible enough.  Health visitors and schools report the issues, but the public awareness and concern is muted.
Unemployment is down, except suspicion is that it’s the ability too claim that explains the reduction.  For instance, you are punished if you don’t answer phone calls, and DWP expect you to have a phone, and what’s the cost of that?

Meanwhile, people need help for money to get a bus ride for a job interview, or even money for new clothing, and organisations like the One Stop Shop ate Bridgeway Centre try to help with that.

I tried to explore whether Brexit and new less helpful trade deals threaten the kind of jobs low income families rely on.


Having brought down the mood of the meeting by exploring all the problems we face, I dud take the time to thank the advisors of Meadows Advice Group, and the volunteers on the board who serve most, those who are in most need.
TO BE REVIEWED.

“I, Daniel Blake” showing in The Meadows

Showing at Bridgeway Hall, at the shopping centre, tonight at 6pm; free admission.
Ken Loach’s welfare state polemic is blunt, dignified and brutally moving” – The Guardian.
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Showing financed by Nottingham City Council, because we are fed up withe the harshness of the DWP system, and because the film draws upon real events that took place in Nottingham.
Lilian Greenwood MP will open proceedings, supported by Martyn Neal, senior worker at Meadows Advice Group.
Support will be available for people who need help.

Thanks for making the event happen to – Meadows Advice Group, One Stop Shop, Meadows Partnership Trust, St.Saviour’s SouperKitchen, NeMTRA,  Bridgeway Hall and Dave Shaw.

In November I asked a question at full Council –
“I understand that research for the film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ was conducted in St Ann’s and the film highlights the shortfalls of the welfare system.
“How fit for purpose does the Portfolio Holder think the welfare system is?
Councillor Graham Chapman replied as follows:
If you want a brief answer, it isn’t, but allow me to elaborate.
‘I, Daniel Blake’ is about the injustices and cruelty of the benefits system, in particular the system of sanctions implemented under this and the previous coalition government. Rarely do statistics speak for themselves, but in this case they do. The latest statistics for Nottingham on sanctions since the regime was put in place in 2012, for Jobseekers Allowance there have been 34,200 referral sanctions in the city under the new JSA sanctions regime.
In only 14,700 cases was there a final decision to apply to sanction, that’s 43%. Of the 14,700 decisions, 5,200 went through the appeals process and of these, 3,200 decisions were overturned. In short, only 1 in 5 of all original decisions to apply sanctions were upheld and only 1 in 16 of referrals were upheld and many of those would not have been legitimate because many people would have been too demoralised to appeal – and we all know people who would not have appealed, even though they had a just case.
So, you’re down to 1 in 16, and in my view it’s probably 1 in 20 or 1 in 30. As for Employment Seekers Allowance the numbers are much smaller, nearly 2,000 original referrals since December 2012 and only 400 decisions were taken in impose sanctions, that’s 1 in 5. Of these, 150 were overturned which means that only 1 in 8 people were actually sanctioned.
The significance of this is that the whole infrastructure has been developed, taking up the time of thousands of officials, of assessors, adjudicators, food bank volunteers and benefit advisors, to help implement and pick up the pieces of a system that is grossly inadequate and incompetent. Worst still, this has inflicted misery on whole groups of people, some mentally ill who did not deserve it. Further still, it has forced a lot of hard working civil servants against their will to become people who sanction rather than support. This too, was well illustrated by the film. Nor should anyone believe that this exercise has been driven principally by the need to save money because it has probably cost far more than it has saved. It is to do with punishment and indiscriminate punishment at that. It derives from a view that people on benefits are fundamentally ‘scrounging’ – that they are taking money from others. It is a tabloid view of the world which now seems to dominate certain parts.
It forgets that large numbers, like Daniel Blake, have paid into the system for many years, large numbers are children, like the children in the film who are caught up in ‘punishment’. It forgets that most benefits go to people already in work but in low paid jobs, but none of that counts when you are looking for scapegoats for a crashed financial system. Actually, it is a class issue – some very well-off people caused the crash, but on the whole it has been lots of not very well-off people who have paid for the consequences. Compared with the brutality applied of the benefits sanctions system, the approach to tax evasion, to syphoning off pension funds has been kid glove and in some cases, some people have even been awarded with honours.
Which brings me on to the phrase which encapsulated a lot of this attitude and that phrase is ‘something for nothing’ – how many times have we heard that phrase from the papers and from a certain Mr George Osborne MP? This phrase means that if you are a wealthy newspaper owner living abroad and paying virtually no taxes or if you are the son of a wealthy family benefitting from inherited, unearned income and a place at a Westminster school, which you certainly didn’t pay for by doing a paper round then you are a respectable member of society, even though you are getting a great deal for not a lot. If you are Wayne, living on the Aspley estate, with no chance of inheritance or any of the privileges it can buy then, somehow, you are a ‘scrounger’ and so are all of the other people on benefits.
That is the attitude which has driven the UK state, which I am very proud of, into punishing hundreds of thousands of decent, vulnerable and poor citizens in pursuit of a minority who are defrauding, and to concentrate on these mainly innocent people at the expense of concentrating on where the real money is, such as tax evasion from a number of large corporations and tax evasion from a number of very rich individuals, many of whom are associated with the Conservative Party. This, too, is an implicit lesson of ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

Looking forward to March 2017

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Expecting the new phases of residents parking permits to kick in this month:
– permits should be with residents by 10th March;
– from 10th March, warning notices will be issued to any contravening vehicle for the following 2 weeks; after this date, Penalty Charge Notices will be issued.

Hoping for play equipment to be installed on The Green this month.

“I, Daniel Blake”
– to be shown at Bridgeway Hall on 30th March, meet at 6:30 for 7pm;
– free food for clients of Meadows Advice Group, Clifton Advice Centre and One Stop Shop, but please book (otherwise £5 adults, half price for others);
– Introduction by Lilian Greenwood MP;
– hosted by Meadows Advice Group and Councillors Heaton and Edwards;
– showing of an award winning film that portraying the experiences of DWP that people can suffer, including drawing on events that happened in Nottingham;
– E-mail – meadows_advice@btconnect.com, or phone 01159860197.

BTW, new Bio-City extension lights up at 6pm on 9th March.

Bridge branch Labour Party – February 2017

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Councillor Graham Chapman explains that the City Council now spends £96 million per annum on adult care compared to £9 million on bins and waste collection.
Adult care is where the crisis is developing.  We’re living longer, people with  disabilities are living longer, and the living wage – applauded – has meant adult care services are becoming more expensive.
Government support for local government has been directed away from those authorities serving those most in need.  And yet special deals are done for  Surrey County Council, both in previous years, and now this year, as a local referendum for a 15% increase in their Council tax this year.
The NHS has struggeled too cos it’s not geting the real terms increases it was getting, bu also because cuts to council services isnonsense when caring for someone at home costs c. £500 per week, whilst care in a hospital costs c. £2000 per week.
And councils like Northants are in trouble cos they took all the one-off deals from national gov’t to keep Council tax down and now find they haven’t got the tax base they need for services.
So Nottingham will increase the Council tax by 2% and nd the furteher 3% recommened by the national governemt for adult care.
There is also a lot going on in seeking extra revenue from running services for others, reduce the proprtion of spend on overheads.
Meanwhile, the national gov’t should reverse the cuts in Corporation tax, cos it’s only going out in dividends, whilst an increased tax would incentivise mre investment.
TO BE PROOFED and UPDATED.