Category Archives: Poverty

Council scraps £100 fines for begging

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A local authority has given up trying to fine people £100 for begging after realising that the tactic doesn’t work very well, rather unsurprisingly.

Southampton City Council brought in the Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) three years ago – and in that time 32 fixed penalties have been issued of which only one has actually been paid.

Conceding defeat, the council said: ‘Few of these fixed penalties were paid and they did little to change the behaviour of these individuals.’

However, an outfit that represents business types called Go! Southampton is demanding the PSPOs remain, as the problem is apparently getting worse and ‘professional beggars’ are operating ‘on a rota basis’.

In a letter to the council, GO! Southampton said: ‘PSPO is one of the few tools we have to combat the proliferation of beggars. Over the last 12 months, 60% of our businesses have reported that antisocial behaviour issues associated with begging have impacted their business.’

But according to the council, the likes of police action and community protection notices have been more effective.

Community wellbeing councillor Dave Shields said: ‘It’s not working and we would rather focus on the things that will work.’

Government floats ‘fairer, more compassionate’ council tax recovery system

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The government that nominally runs the UK has pledged to create a ‘fairer, more efficient and compassionate debt recovery system’ for council tax.

Apparently moved by concerns from charities, debt advice groups and local authorities, ministers are now busying themselves with improvements.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is set to engage with said bodies on changes to the current collection system before ‘considering further reforms later this year’.

According to local government minister Rishi Sunak, the successful collection of council tax is ‘essential to running public services, like caring for those most at risk, collecting bins and keeping our transport networks running’.

Which is why he’s ‘pushing forward work to make the council tax collection system fairer and more efficient – so people are treated with compassion while services get the funds they need’.

And we wish him all the best with that.

But what might these touted ‘reforms’ consist of? Handily, the government has provided some ideas:

  • Ensuring affordability assessments are central to collection processes so individual circumstances are taken into account and people are given appropriate time to pay off arrears
  • Improving links between councils and the debt advice sector
  • Developing and supporting fairer debt intervention methods

According to the press release, local authorities issue nearly 24 million council tax bills a year to ‘help fund key local services, from adult social care and children’s services, to refuse collections and leisure facilities. Uncollected tax means less money for services and higher bills for residents who do pay on time.’

Caroline Siarkiewicz, director and debt advice expert at the Money and Pensions Service, said: ‘One third of people seeking debt advice have council tax arrears, so it’s really important that people receive the right guidance and support to manage their finances.

‘We are delighted that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to reviewing how local authorities recover unpaid council tax.’

 

Over 630,000 living in ‘hazardous conditions’, report

A major report has revealed that 631,000 people in England are living in ‘hazardous conditions’.

In response to 2017’s Grenfell Tower disaster, and commissioned by homelessness charity Shelter, ‘A Vision for Social Housing’ consulted over 31,000 people from across the country and brought together 16 commissioners from across the political spectrum.

The report reveals that 3.1 million people in England need a social home – and of the 1.27m in greatest need: 631,000 live in hazardous conditions; 240,000 live in overcrowded accommodation; 194,00 live with ill health or disability; 128,000 are rough sleeping and hidden; and 79,900 are homeless and in temporary accommodation.

Asking ‘what is the future of social housing’, the authors state that the country is ‘feeling the effects of 40 years of failure in housing policy’ and specifically blame:

  • A failure to build enough homes. Over the past five years, housebuilding has averaged 166,000 a year, yet government wants to deliver 300,000 homes a year
  • Huge waiting lists for social homes. Today, 277,000 people are homeless
  • The explosion in the numbers renting privately, unable to buy or access social housing
  • Huge rises in welfare costs to government, driven by more people renting privately at higher costs

According to the report, if the crisis is to be solved, 3m new social homes must be built over the next 20 years.

The commission warns that without a ‘radically different approach’ the country faces a future in which:

  • A generation of young families will be trapped renting privately for their whole lives, while more and more will face living in dangerous accommodation or going into debt
  • By 2040, as many as one-third of 60-year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point
  • £billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords due to a lack of more affordable social housing
  • Over the next 20 years, hundreds of thousands more people will be forced into homelessness by insecure tenancies and sky-high housing costs

Nadine, a private renter who contributed to the report, lives with her teenage daughter and works two jobs – yet still struggles to keep up with the rent. She said: ‘My rent is over half my monthly income, so that’s where most of my money goes. It’s hard to afford other things we need. I am cutting back and doing the best I can, but there are times we can’t live on the money we’ve got.

‘We budget on our food and it’s very rare that I buy anything full price. I shop around to take advantage of all the vouchers and deals I can get.

‘No one should have to spend more than a third of their income on rent. If they are going to set a minimum wage, then there should be places you can afford to rent on that income – how can it be a living wage if you can’t find anywhere to live on it?’

One of those who contributed to the report’s recommendations on reforming social renting was Rob Gershon, Lead of the HQN Residents’ Network, who said: ‘I’ve always thought of myself as incredibly lucky to be a social housing tenant… On the two occasions I’ve come to rely on social housing, it has been there to make sure my family has had somewhere to live.’

The commission recommends:

  • Setting clearer standards
  • Ensuring speedier redress for individual complaints
  • Proactive enforcement of regulation to protect social renters
  • Giving residents a voice in landlord governance and decision-making
  • Giving residents a voice in decisions made by national, regional, and local government

Click here to download the full report.

Universal Credit plunging ‘people into misery and despair’

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Universal Credit (UC) has finally gained international recognition – and it isn’t good.

After a 12-day visit of Britain, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has concluded that the government’s flagship reform of the benefit system has ‘plunged people into misery and despair’.

Speaking at the end of his tour, during which he spoke to Brits living in poverty in cities such as Newcastle, Belfast and Glasgow, professor Philip Alston said ‘if a new government were interested, the harshness could be changed overnight and for very little money’.

And what of the present government trying to run the UK? Well, they’re not having any of it, with a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson saying that ‘we completely disagree with this analysis,’ adding that the changes had led to the highest ever household incomes, record lows of children living in workless households, and one million fewer people living in poverty than in 2010.

In Newcastle, prof Alston visited the country’s largest food bank, which led him to say: ‘The picture I got in Newcastle, in particular, was a pretty grim one. I think local government cuts are draconian and will change the fabric of British society, but particularly in an area like the North East where you don’t have the same degree of economic vibrancy as you have in London, where these policies seem to be being designed.’

According to the special rapporteur’s report 14 million Brits are living in poverty, of which 1.5 million are classed as destitute and unable to afford basic essentials.

Prof Alston’s study contains particular scorn for UC, noting: ‘No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than UC. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.’

Though he admits that the plan to rolling six different benefits into ‘makes good sense, in principle’, the professor slammed the DWP for being ‘more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting’.

Responding, the DWP said that UC is ‘supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.

‘We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.’

The special rapporteur’s full statement can be read here.

Benefit sanctions ‘harmful’, ‘counterproductive’ and ‘pointlessly cruel’

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The government’s benefit sanction regime on people with a disability or health condition ‘does not work’ and is ‘harmful and counterproductive’, the Work and Pensions Committee has found.

In its newly published Benefit Sanctions report, the committee concludes that the ‘human cost of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions appears simply too high’.

According to the committee, back in 2012 the then coalition government ‘had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime’ when it introduced the sanctions.

At that point, the coalition promised to review the new rules’ impact and whether they were achieving their aims on an ongoing basis – but the committee says that six years later the government ‘is none the wiser’.

One expert witness told the committee that ‘if it was not for the embarrassment, the government would have suspended ESA sanctions altogether as soon as that National Audit Office finding came out that sanctioned ESA claimants were less likely to get into work’.

The report reveals that single parents, care leavers and people with a disability or health condition are disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by the withdrawal of benefits, and that until the government can ‘show unequivocally that sanctions actually help to move these claimants into work, it cannot justify these groups continued inclusion in the sanctions regime’.

The committee’s chair, Frank Field MP, said: ‘We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.’

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