Theresa May urged to stand by manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping

The Conservatives have been urged to follow through with a manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping and tackle homelessness, as new figures reveal that thousands of vulnerable people have slept rough on London’s streets over the last year.

Figures from the CHAIN Greater London report reveal that 8,108 people were seen rough sleeping in London in 2016-17, slightly higher than the previous year when 8,096 people were seen rough sleeping by outreach workers.

Theresa May pledged to “halve rough sleeping over the course of the parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027” and create “a new homelessness reduction taskforce that will focus on prevention and affordable housing”.

Labour also pledged to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, but also vowed to “take action to tackle the root causes of homelessness, including safeguarding homeless hostels and other supported housing from crude Conservative cuts to housing benefit”.

Housing and homelessness charity St. Mungos is now calling on the UK Government to adhere to its manifesto promise.

Dominic Williamson, St Mungo’s Executive Director of Strategy and Policy, said: “Rough sleeping is dangerous and the number of people experiencing this in our capital city and across the country is a real scandal.

“After the doubling of the figures since 2010-11, we are encouraged to see that the rapid increases in the number of people seen sleeping rough on the streets of London over the recent years seems to have slowed. However, the fact remains that 8,000 people slept rough on our streets last year.

“The CHAIN report highlights the amazing work done by outreach teams, No Second Night Out, hostels and other services to find people and help them off the streets as quickly as possible. We welcome the Mayor of London’s commitments to tackle the problem and are pleased to be a member of his taskforce.

“But making real progress will require leadership from central government. That is why we were very pleased to see all the main political parties making pledges to tackle rough sleeping in the run up to the general election. The Conservative party itself committed to halve rough sleeping by 2022, and end it completely by 2027.

“These figures today show that this ambitious aim will require further coordinated work across central, regional and local government, communities, health, welfare, police and housing agencies to make it a reality.

“Preventing more people coming on to the streets is a priority. Earlier this year the Homelessness Reduction Act was passed with cross-party support. Ministers must now implement the Act as quickly as possible and support local authorities to implement it in full.

“We also need to see a new national rough sleeping strategy which particularly focuses on the needs of those with a mental health problems and protects the funding for hostels that provide a vital route off the streets for homeless people.

“We are calling on the public to ask their MPs to press the government further on their commitment on rough sleeping.”

Thousands could die from cold homes this winter, charities warn

Thousands of vulnerable people throughout Britain are at risk of dying in their own homes due to cold and fuel poverty this coming winter, charities have warned today.

In response to new official Government figures released today on fuel poverty levels in England, showing that four million households are now living in fuel poverty, a new report from National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland (EAS) warns that over 9,600 frail and vulnerable people across the UK are at risk of dying this winter due to cold and poorly heated homes.

The shocking figure is the equivalent of 80 people a day losing their lives because of cold homes and the many medical complications this can cause. Both the NEA and EAS are calling on all four nations’ of the UK to hold an urgent summit to work to resolve the growing crisis of fuel poverty.

Living in a cold home increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke due to high blood pressure, and respiratory illnesses such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) and asthma. It could also worsen arthritic and rheumatic conditions.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at NEA, said: “We know cold, damp conditions have the worst impact for the most vulnerable members of our society and across the UK sadly we think they kill up to 80 people per day in the winter months. This is not acceptable in the fifth largest economy in the world.

“Cold homes also cause untold havoc to our national health services. This costs us all as taxpayers well over £1 billion a year as well as increasingly long queues to see GPs, get treated at Accident and Emergency or hampers efforts to discharge vulnerable patients out of hospital.

“We are calling for a joint ministerial summit on health and fuel poverty with representatives from across all four nations’ governments. Now is a crucial time to review the key priorities across all UK nations for the coming winter and beyond.”

Norman Kerr OBE, Director of Energy Action Scotland (EAS), added: “Encouragingly the links between cold homes and health are being acted upon across the UK and are already shaping local and national delivery.

“Many organisations are already providing leadership and good practice examples of preventative action. The Scottish Government needs to work in partnership to maintain this momentum and should create formal links between fuel poverty, energy efficiency delivery and the health sector, including building on the Scottish Public Health Network guidance and this should feature in the new fuel poverty strategy”.

Carole Morgan-Jones, Director of NEA Cymru, said: “We hope our recommendations will help put an end to ill health and deaths caused by the cold homes crisis in Wales. It is clear to me and our supporters more can be done to transpose a clear blueprint for action consistently at a UK, national and local level.

“In Wales we also want to see the new Public Service Boards for every local authority area outline how they intend to address cold homes and fuel poverty in their first Local Well-being Plans next year”.

Pat Austin Director of NEA NI who chairs the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, added: “In Northern Ireland, health must play an upfront and central role in the new Outcome Based Programme for Government and this will require close alignment with the proposed action for a new Fuel Poverty Strategy.

“More can also be done to improve targeting, tailored advice and referrals to the health related fuel poverty schemes. The new UK wide Digital Economy Act should be adopted for all relevant Northern Ireland fuel poverty schemes.

“We also need a watching brief on home heating oil prices. In Northern Ireland home heating oil is the main fuel source with 68% of households reliant on this unregulated fuel to heat their homes. In January 2016 the price of oil was at an all-time low, but since then the price has increased by almost 50%.”

Biggest ever study of food banks warns use likely to increase

Powered by article titled “Biggest ever study of food banks warns use likely to increase” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for on Thursday 29th June 2017 05.00 UTC

The biggest study yet undertaken into food bank use in the UK has been published, painting a bleak picture of modern life for those who need the service. The research, carried out at Oxford University, found many food bank users experiencing profound poverty and destitution, and struggling to buy food and pay bills.

The study warns that benefit freezes and the continued rollout of welfare changes such as universal credit and cuts to disability payments are likely to drive up food bank use in future years. It calls for a review of the current freeze, pointing out that as the cost of living rises, welfare payments are likely to provide inadequate protection from severe food insecurity and destitution for many households.

Most food bank users reported that they were unable to afford to buy sufficient food, as well as finding it difficult to pay the rent, heat their home or buy clothes and toiletries. This should be regarded as a “serious health concern”, the report says.

“These findings serve to reinforce what we already know: poverty and hunger are real in the UK today,” said David McAuley, chief executive of the Trussell Trust food bank network, which commissioned the research.

It found that people with a disability or chronic illness who were in receipt of benefits were disproportionately likely to be referred to food banks, as were lone parents and poorer families with three or more children.

“These are the same groups that have been – and continue to be – hit hardest by welfare reform, such as loss of disability entitlements, increased conditionality and sanctions, the benefit cap, and reductions in tax credits. Our observation that these groups are disproportionately needing help from food banks is unlikely to be coincidence,” the report’s lead author, Rachel Loopstra, told the Guardian.

The Trussell Trust operates 1,390 food banks out of its 420 food bank centres across the UK. In 2016-17 it provided 1.2m food parcels to clients, 440,000 of which went to households with children. There are at least 1,000 more non-Trussell food banks operating in the UK.

Nearly 80% of food bank users suffered from severe and chronic food insecurity, with potentially serious consequences for their health and wellbeing, the report says. They were likely to be vulnerable to malnutrition and nutritional deficiency, and might struggle to manage conditions such as diabetes.

It says disabled and ill claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who have been found unfit to work but are expected to prepare for work in the future were over-represented in food banks compared with other benefit users. This is worrying, it notes, because new claimants of the benefit are subject to a £30-a-week cut in payments from April. “This may result in even more ESA claimants having to use food banks,” it says.

Two in five food bank users were waiting for benefit payments, with the biggest single proportion of these waiting for seven weeks or more. The study notes that the rollout of universal credit, under which all claimants must wait six weeks for a first payment, could exacerbate food bank referrals.

A government spokesperson said it was helping millions of households meet the everyday cost of living while also spending over £90bn a year on extra support for those who needed it. “Employment is the best route out of poverty, and with record numbers of people – including disabled people – now in work, we’ve made great progress,” they said.

The study found that one in six households using food banks had someone in work – although in almost all cases this was part-time or insecure employment that left them unable to plan for living expenses or cope with a financial shock such as an unexpected bill.

“The absence [from the data] of people in full-time work suggests that full-time employment is protective against the need to use food banks, while underemployment or insecure employment may put households at risk of needing to use food banks,” the study says.

Overall, household incomes were desperately low, with most reporting monthly incomes over the past month of between £100 and £500. About 16% of those surveyed reported no income at all in the month before coming to the food bank.

The persistent financial poverty experienced by most food bank users in the survey challenges the depiction of them in some quarters as victims of their own inability to manage money. During the general election, the Tory MP Dominic Raab notoriously described their predicament as “a cashflow problem”.

Two-thirds of those who used food banks were aged 24-39, with only a tiny proportion of users classified as pensioners, suggesting that pensioners – whose incomes have been protected in recent years – are at lower risk of food insecurity.

The research, which was commissioned by the Trussell Trust, conducted in-depth interviews with members of over 400 households referred to food banks. The charity gave out 1.2m emergency food parcels in 2016-17, up 6.4% year on year. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Report slams 20 years of failure to improve social mobility in Britain

Successive governments have failed to improve social mobility in Britain and reduce the gap between Britain’s ‘haves and have nots’, according to a highly critical report published on Wednesday.

The Social Mobility Commission, a non-departmental public body charged with assessing progress in improving social mobility in the UK, warns that without urgent and deep-seated reform, social and economic divisions in British society are likely to widen and negatively impact upon community cohesion and economic prosperity.

Its report ‘Time For Change’ examines policies made over the past 20 years and assesses whether they have had a positive or negative effect on social mobility in Britain.

The report covers 4 life stages from the early years and school through to training and further/higher education and then into the world of work, and assigns a ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green’ rating depending on the social outcomes of policy decisions made during these times.

Worryingly, the analysis was unable to award an overall ‘green’ rating for improving social mobility at any of the life stages, with only 7 individual policies scoring a ‘green’ while 14 score ‘amber’ and 16 ‘red’.

While the report praises measures taken to increase employment levels and get more young people into higher education, it concludes that “too little” has been done to break the link between socio-economic background and social progress.

New social divides have been created across geographies, income groups and generations, the report says, adding that many policies introduced over the last two decades are no longer “fit for purpose”.

The Commission says it is vital that politicians learn from past mistakes, so as not to widen the attainment and income gap between rich and poor even further, listing 5 key lessons it says need to be recognised (as quoted):

  • successive governments have failed to make social mobility the cornerstone of domestic policy – so in future they should develop a strategic cross-departmental social mobility plan
  • long-term progress has too often been sacrificed to short-term change – so 10 year targets should be implemented to ensure public money is spent effectively
  • how policies have been designed has often been misaligned from the objective of securing higher levels of social mobility – so public policy should be subjected to a new social mobility test
  • public resources have not been properly lined up behind social mobility policies – so future budgets should identify how public spending addresses geographical, wealth and generational inequalities
  • governments have overly limited their scope of action – so in future they should be more active in building a national coalition with councils, communities and employers to improve social mobility

Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “As the general election seems to demonstrate, the public mood is sour and whole tracts of Britain feel left behind. There is a mood for change in Britain.

“When more and more people feel like they are losing out, social mobility matters more than ever before. Higher social mobility can be a rallying point to prove that modern capitalist economies like our own are capable of creating better, fairer and more inclusive societies. It is the best antidote to the growth of political populism, both right and left, that we have witnessed around the world.

“For 2 decades, successive governments have made the pursuit of higher levels of social mobility one of the holy grails of public policy. While there has been some progress, it has not gone far enough towards translating welcome political sentiments into positive social outcomes.

“In fact, what is so striking about this new analysis is how divided we have become as a nation. A new geographical divide has open opened up, a new income divide has opened up and a new generational divide has opened up.

“If we go on like this, these divisions are set to widen, not narrow. There is a growing sense in the nation that these divisions are not sustainable, socially, economically or politically. There is hunger for change.

“The policies of the past have brought some progress, but many are no longer fit for purpose in our changing world. New approaches are needed if Britain is to become a fairer and more equal country.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “This report from the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission shows that their policies will not improve social mobility in Britain.

“School budgets are being slashed, Sure Start Centres are being lost and there is nothing approaching a skills plan that will let us face the challenges of post-Brexit Britain.

“Theresa May’s reckless approach to our country’s future will see a generation of young people losing out. The next Labour government will ensure that wealth, power and opportunity are enjoyed by the many not the few.”

Find out more: Further findings from the report can be viewed here.

Council homes sold off almost three times as fast as new ones are built

Powered by article titled “Council homes sold off almost three times as fast as new ones are built” was written by Jessica Elgot Political reporter, for The Guardian on Wednesday 28th June 2017 07.00 UTC

Council homes are being sold off almost three times faster than local authorities can replace them, new analysis has revealed, with some local authorities selling 20 times the number of homes that were built in three years.

Analysis of figures from 72 councils who responded to freedom of information requests found the mass selloff has raised more than £930m from the sale of more than 12,000 council house since 2014. In those boroughs, just 4,309 houses were built in the same time.

When the government expanded right-to-buy in 2011, ministers said they were committed to “one for one replacement”. The Department for Communities and Local Government pledged it would ensure “every home sold is replaced”. However, councils have consistently warned that they are unable to keep up with the loss of housing under right-to-buy.


London councils have sold homes in the highest numbers, given the demand for property in the capital. Kensington and Chelsea, the borough at the centre of the row over the Grenfell Tower fire, has built no new council houses since 2014 but has sold 46, netting the council more than £14.3m.

Tower Hamlets, which sold seven times as many council homes as were built over the three years, raised the most cash from the sales, just under £104m. “It takes time to find suitable building sites and procure the construction of new homes,” a spokesman said.

In Waltham Forest, 345 council houses were sold, but none have been built in the borough since 2014.

“All local authorities face a considerable challenge as a result of government policy that requires them to sell their housing stock while constraining their ability to invest in it,” a council spokesman said. “We fully support the Local Government Association’s campaign to ask government to look at this position again.”

Properties have sometimes sold for huge sums. In Wandsworth, 11 of the council houses sold at auction for over a million pounds each, though the capital raised is held for housing purposes such as new builds and estate regeneration.

Though London boroughs sold proportionally far more homes than were built, the gap is still stark elsewhere in the country. Aberdeen City council has built just 24 homes since 2014 but sold almost 20 times that number.

South Tyneside, one of the boroughs in England that has seen one of the steepest increases in levels of deprivation, has sold 417 council houses but built none.

A spokesman for the council said the problem was “changes to affordable housing grant funding, restrictions on housing revenue account borrowing and the continued risk of losing stock to right to buy.”

The council said it now uses registered providers for new affordable homes, which the council said had delivered 231 properties since 2015. Of the councils that responded, Leicester has sold the most council houses, 892 properties, which is more than seven times the number that were built.

Andy Connelly, Leicester’s assistant city mayor, said right to buy had significantly affected housing stock. “This means we are never able to meet demand for accommodation on our housing register,” he said.

“We lost £1.6m in rental income last year due to the right to buy scheme, which means less money to run our housing services. Although we get a percentage of the money from each sale, it’s not enough to allow us to replace stock on a one-to-one basis.”

Connelly said current projections predicted 1,600 new homes were needed every year in the city, but current supply was only 1,200.

“Until the government provides a fairer balance in the way that the right to buy scheme is administered, it is extremely difficult for us to replace housing stock on a one-to-one basis,” he said. “This is a common problem for local authorities up and down the country.”

The outgoing Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, whose party requested the figures, said they showed the government’s aim to replace council houses one for one had been “utter fantasy”.

“Council housing used to mean a decent home for all, now it means years on a waiting list and council houses being flogged off for over a million,” he said. “Thousands of council houses are being sold off by the Tories never to be replaced. This is devastating our social housing stock and robbing many families of a safety net.”

Farron said new safeguards and funding should ensure councils were able to replace housing stock. “The Conservative ideological crusade over right to buy is ripping the heart of communities and threatens to change the face of many towns up and down the country,” he said.

The DCLG said councils were meeting their targets, though the commitment was never to replace every right to buy sale, only additional sales under the expanded scheme from 2012.

A DCLG spokesman said: “Every additional home sold under the reinvigorated right to buy scheme must be replaced by an additional home. Local authorities should deliver these additional affordable homes within three years, and so far they have achieved this.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Social care cuts to continue in spite of £1bn boost, English councils say

Powered by article titled “Social care cuts to continue in spite of £1bn boost, English councils say” was written by Denis Campbell Health policy editor, for on Tuesday 27th June 2017 23.01 UTC

Cuts to social care will continue this year despite ministers putting in an extra £1bn to halt the deterioration in services, senior council officials have said.

Local authorities in England plan to make £824m of savings in their social care budgets in 2017-18, according to research by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass).

Older people who rely on councils to provide personal services at home or places in care homes will be hit again as social service departments struggle to reconcile rising demand and increasing costs with limited budgets, it warns.

Efforts to keep older people healthier at home, so they avoid unnecessary stays in hospitals, will also be reduced as councils switch money from prevention work into their general social care budget.

Despite more cash from both the government and the increased 3% precept on council tax bills for social care, the system “still remains on a cliff edge” as a result of deep cuts in recent years, Adass said.

“The welcome £2bn [over three years] in funding will help close the funding gap facing adult social care, yet councils still plan to make further savings of £824m this year, which will impact on those that receive care,” said Margaret Wilcox, the organisation’s president.

“This is because more older and disabled people are living longer and with increasingly complex support needs, as well as financial pressures caused by the welcome ‘national living wage’ and other cost pressures, including emerging ones from the NHS, such as fines for delayed transfers of care.”

The £2bn for social care – the first £1bn to come in this financial year – announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in March’s budget helped avoid “a precipice in social care”. But need rising by 2.8% a year and costs growing by £378.5m will force councils to cut further the amount of social care they provide, even though the amount they spend on it will increase by 8% to £14.2bn this year.

The £824m of savings this year will means that overall councils will have spent more than £6bn less on social care since austerity began in 2010 under the coalition.

Adass’s annual survey of social care budgets, based on information from 95% of all councils, is very gloomy about the sector’s prospects this year. More care home providers are set to hand back contracts and cease operating because they cannot make money any more.

The survey also bore out claims made on Tuesday by NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, that many councils are not using the £1bn on action to schemes specifically designed to speed up patients’ discharge from hospital. Only a third have done so, Adass found.

“Given the huge pressures facing social care services, expecting this money to double up by coming to the aid of the NHS was always likely to prove to be a triumph of hope over expectation”, said Richard Humphries, an expert in social care at the King’s Fund health thinktank.

A government spokesperson said: “We have already invested an additional £2bn to relieve short-term pressures across the health and care system. However, we know we need to ensure the system is prepared to meet the challenges of an ageing population, which is why we will be consulting on options to improve social care and put it on a more secure financial footing.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Tory pledge to cap energy bills missing from Queen’s speech

Powered by article titled “Tory pledge to cap energy bills missing from Queen’s speech” was written by Adam Vaughan, for The Guardian on Thursday 22nd June 2017 06.16 UTC

Millions of people are unlikely to see their energy bills capped after Theresa May appeared to make a U-turn on one of her flagship election promises – to the delight of big energy companies.

The prime minister had pledged to cap bills for 17 million families on the worst-value energy tariffs, but the plan was missing from the Queen’s speech and No 10 would not confirm a cap would go ahead.

Instead, the government looks likely to extend an existing ceiling on bills for 4m households on prepayment meters to a further 2.6 million vulnerable customers.

That compromise would be exactly what the industry has been lobbying for, and a huge rowing back by the Conservatives after months of escalating rhetoric from May and ministers.

An extension of the prepayment meter cap, which started on 1 April after a recommendation by the competition watchdog, is far from the “muscular and strong” action that Greg Clark, the business secretary, had threatened.

No 10 would only say that May was committed to extending price protection for vulnerable customers, and was considering how best to do that.

The share price of Centrica, which owns British Gas and is the UK’s biggest energy company, climbed more than 2% after the Queen’s speech.

Iain Conn, the chief executive, who has argued that price caps could stifle competition, said he believed a wide-ranging cap was off the table.

“I’m hopeful that this approach in the Queen’s speech could actually go further and more progressively towards the right type of market than if we had gone for an explicit price cap,” he said. “I’m encouraged by what’s been said so far, but it’s early days.”

However, the government does appear to be entertaining the idea of setting targets for shifting customers off standard variable tariffs, the default energy deals that two-thirds of households are on.

In a letter to the energy regulator sent on Wednesday, Clark asked Ofgem to consider “the future of standard variable tariffs”, and to safeguard “customers on the poorest value tariffs”.

The business secretary said he hoped energy companies would not attempt to delay new measures during any consultations.

“I would be surprised and disappointed if the major energy companies did not acknowledge the need for such changes and be supportive of them, and for them to be made quickly, so there is common treatment across the industry.”

However, one industry expert was sceptical. Nick Mabey, chief executive of the energy thinktank E3G, said: “The prime minister claimed she would do what it takes to reduce energy bills. That will take a lot more than the business secretary, Greg Clark, issuing tinkering instructions to Ofgem.”

ScottishPower, which has called for a car-insurance-style model instead of standard variable tariffs, urged Ofgem to abolish the tariffs “as a matter of urgency”.

John Penrose, a Tory MP who has led calls for a relative price cap, asked May if the promised “price protections” would be a cap that saved 17m households up to £100 each, as she had said during the campaign.

“I can confirm we do indeed intend to take action on this issue. We recognise the problem that there is in relation to energy bills,” said May in parliament, though she did not refer to any cap.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said: “This is another stunning U-turn from a demonstrably weak and wobbly government. Only last month Theresa May was explicitly promising a price cap for 17 million families and has now seemingly collapsed under lobbying from the big six energy companies.”

The Liberal Democrats, who did not back a cap in their manifesto, said the Conservative policy had been “pure economic illiteracy”.

“The best way to bring down bills is to break up the monopoly of the ‘big six’ and encourage new entrants to the energy market,” said Lynne Featherstone, the party’s energy spokesperson. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Number of homeless housed in temporary accommodation up 61% since 2010

The Chartered Institute for Housing has responded to “worrying” homelessness statistics, which show that the number of households accepted by local authorities as statutory homeless is on the rise.

The data reveals that between 1 January and 31 March 2017 local authorities accepted 14,600 households as being statutorily homeless, up 1% on the previous quarter and down 1% on the same quarter last year.

Households in temporary accommodation on 31 March 2017 was 77,240, up 8% on a year earlier, and up 61% on the low of 48,010 on 31 December 2010.

There were 6,590 households living in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation, an increase of 11% from 5,960 as at 31 March 2016. Of these 3,010 (46%) had dependent or expected children.

Of the 77,240 households in temporary accommodation on 31 March 2017, 21,950 (28%) were in accommodation in another local authority district. This is an increase of 10%, from 19,880 at the same date last year (28% of the total).

Of the 21,950 accommodated in another local authority district, 19,670 were from London authorities (90% of the England total).

CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves said: “Today’s figures are extremely worrying but sadly not surprising – homelessness has been steadily rising in all its forms since 2010, partly because of the pressures on the housing market but also some of the welfare changes that have come into force over the past few years.

“We are particularly concerned about the continuing rise in the numbers of households in temporary accommodation, which has soared by a staggering 61 per cent since December 2010.

“The number of households trapped in bed and breakfast accommodation has also risen, and includes thousands of families with children. This type of accommodation is often very poor quality and highly unsuitable, especially for families.”

She added: “There has also been a jump in the number of households placed outside their local authority district, which may be down to the increasing cost of housing, especially in London.

“This issue has been in the spotlight over the past week following the horrendous events at Grenfell Tower.

“The cost of housing can make it difficult for local authorities to find a home for people in the same area, but councils must do everything they can to avoid moving people away from their communities and support networks – in any situation.”

Faye Greaves said the new Homelessness Reduction Act was a good first step towards tackling rising levels of homelessness, but that legislation on its own would not be enough.

She said: “The government must ensure that councils have the resources they need to deliver their new obligations.

“History tells us that we can reduce or even eliminate homelessness but it does require a co-ordinated approach – that means government investment, funding for affordable housing and a concerted effort across the housing and homelessness sectors.”

Benefit cap on lone parents of under-twos is unlawful, court rules

Powered by article titled “Benefit cap on lone parents of under-twos is unlawful, court rules” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for on Thursday 22nd June 2017 12.13 UTC

The government’s policy of imposing the benefit cap on tens of thousands of lone parents with children under the age of two is unlawful, discriminatory and has resulted in “real damage” to the families affected, the high court has ruled.

The benefit cap, which limits the total amount households can receive in benefits to £20,000 a year, or £23,000 in Greater London, was envisaged as an “incentive” to persuade unemployed people to move into work.

However, Mr Justice Collins said in his judgment that the policy visited “real misery to no good purpose” on lone parents with very young children who were subject to the cap despite there being no official requirement for them to find work.

Lone parents with children under two did not qualify for free childcare and so would find it difficult and often impossible to juggle working the minimum 16 hours a week required to evade the cap while finding means to care for the child.

He said: “The evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to individuals such as the claimants. They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.”

Most lone parents with children aged under two were not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and it was “obvious” that it would exacerbate poverty. “Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been given leave to appeal against the ruling. A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the decision and intend to appeal. Work is the best way to raise living standards, and many parents with young children are employed.

“The benefit cap incentivises work, even if it’s part-time, as anyone eligible for working tax credits or the equivalent under universal credit is exempt. Even with the cap, lone parents can still receive benefits up to the equivalent salary of £25,000, or £29,000 in London, and we have made discretionary housing payments available to people who need extra help.”

Campaigners said they hoped the ruling would lead to the abolition of the benefit cap. Although the principle of a cap is popular with the public, critics have argued that the benefit cap is a powerful driver of poverty and destitution. Official estimates published earlier this year show 50,000 low-income families caring for an estimated 126,000 children were at risk of serious financial hardship after being trapped by the lower benefit cap.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting on behalf of the families, said: “The benefit cap has had a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable lone parent families and children across the country. Single mothers like my clients have been forced into homelessness and reliance on food banks as a result of the benefit cap.

“Thousands of children have been forced into poverty, which has severe long-term effects on their health and wellbeing.”

She added: “We are pleased that today’s decision will relieve my clients – and other lone parent families around the country – from the unfair impacts of austerity measures which have prevented them from being able to provide basic necessities for their children.”

The challenge was brought by four lone parent families with children under the age of two. Two of the families had become homeless because of domestic violence. As a result of their caring responsibilities and the cost of childcare, they were unable to work the 16 hours a week required to evade the cap.

They argued that the government’s failure to exempt them from the cap had a profound impact on them and failed to take into account the disproportionate impact of the benefit cap on lone parents, who are overwhelmingly women.

An estimated 26,000 lone parents with children under the age of two have been affected by the benefit cap since it was introduced in 2013.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group charity, said: “In exposing the absurdity and cruelty of the benefit cap, we hope this case is the beginning of the end for this nasty policy. It is a policy that punishes the vulnerable for being vulnerable and even fails on its own terms.”

Dalia Ben-Galim, director of policy at Gingerbread, the charity for lone parents, which gave evidence in the case, said: “This is a fantastic result that offers real hope for some of the most vulnerable families in the UK. When it comes to single parents, the benefit cap rules risked pushing them into ever deeper poverty.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Universal credit rollout in North Kensington halted after tower fire


Powered by article titled “Universal credit rollout in North Kensington halted after tower fire” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for on Wednesday 21st June 2017 06.00 UTC

Officials have halted the planned rollout of universal credit into North Kensington, west London, next month, saying they want jobcentre staff to focus on supporting claimants affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Universal credit, which pulls together six separate benefits into one monthly payment, has been dogged by criticism that design flaws and payment delays were causing low-income claimants to run up rent arrears and rely on food banks.

Kensington and Chelsea was due to move to the “full service” digital-only universal credit on 19 July as part of the wider phasing in of the system across the UK by 2018, but the Department for Work and Pensions said the North Kensington jobcentre would now be excluded.

It is understood that DWPofficials were nervous that any disruption to benefits caused by teething problems associated with the new system would cause extra difficulties for local claimants already coping with the tower blaze and its aftermath.

A DWP spokesperson said: “The priority is to make sure people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire get the help they need. That’s why we will defer the rollout of the full universal credit service to North Kensington that was due to take place next month, so staff can focus on providing that extra support to affected residents.”

The shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “We welcome this initial step to ensuring that those affected by the awful events at Grenfell Tower do not face the difficulties that so many social security claimants on universal credit do, on top of the trauma and distress they will be facing, as they try to come to terms with this dreadful tragedy.”

Just two months ago, a cross-party committee of MPs highlighted serious concerns with the operation of universal credit, including claimants waiting 12 weeks or more for their first payment, resulting in hardship and distress.

Campaigners have long being calling for changes to the design of universal credit. In particular they have argued that the 42-day wait for a first benefit payment has left many poorer claimants destitute.

In April the Trussell Trust food bank network reported that in areas where the full universal credit rollout had taken place, food bank referral rates were running at more than double the national average.

The DWP announced on Tuesday it had exempted claimants in North Kensington from normal unemployment benefit rules after residents expressed fears that Grenfell Tower survivors might be sanctioned for failing to look for work.

The department said it did not know how many North Kensington claimants would have moved on to the new system next month. Only those making new benefit claims, or renewing existing ones as a result of changed circumstances, such as losing a job, or moving house, would initially switch to universal credit. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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