Sunday 20 December 2015

Derbyshire County Council announce plans to build homes

Just as the internet ink was drying on this BelperStuff post: Local Tory housing strategy in ruins Derbyshire County Council (DCC) announced that they planned to build houses, a direct response to the housing shortage and the inability of private developers to cater for the local and regional need.

Here is the link to that press statement: We'll be building homes

Hopefully I will be forgiven for pointing out that the DCC has a Labour majority so have no qualms in stepping in when the marketplace fails to deliver; in direct contrast to the pathetic response of the Tory controlled Amber Valley Borough Council (AVBC), a council that offers no solutions to the housing shortage that blights the lives of so many families. Over the years the Tory AVBC has boxed themselves into corner by rigorously applying the Thatcher doctrine of selling off council homes and other assets which used to provide the borough with much needed revenue. Prior to the setting up of what was to become Futures Homescape, the housing association which took over the role of provider of social housing, there was a concerted effort to rid the council of these assets. There were incentives to buy the council house you lived in or to vacate your council house and buy a private dwelling. This led to a decline in the number of houses available to those on lower incomes as sufficient replacement houses for those sold off were never built. We have to ask some fundamental questions and I would suggest these for a start:
  1. What was the asset value of the council house stock prior to the right to buy legislation?
  2. What then was the value of this stock as it passed into housing association ownership?
  3. What was the ratio of revenues/cost of housing provision over this period?
  4. What money has the council received in payment for handing over these assets?
  5. What are the total sums involved in the right to buy discounts and monies handed over to those vacating council homes?
These are very basic questions to ask, not just to be critical of past and present governments but to provide a framework for discussion on how best to cater for housing in a society that is driven by home ownership whilst a growing number of citizens have no hope of ever becoming homeowners. This is why I welcome the initiative of the Labour councillors controlling the DCC; they recognise the need so just get on with the business of solving the problem. The spirit of '45 is alive and well and meets regularly in Matlock.

Contrast this DCC statement:

"This ambitious project aims to provide some much needed homes for the county, and generate income so we can fund vital local services".

with this from the AVBC:

" ....................Regrettably, however, despite the fact that there are many sites within the Borough that have been given planning approval by the Council, the Council has no powers to force developers to start building the houses, or influence the timeframe over which a site is developed.”

It should be said that individuals, many of them Labour supporters, have over the years benefited from the right to buy but we should realise that they were residents who had sufficient incomes to be granted a mortgage. The effect was that housing subsidies such as discounts and incentives were handed to the better off rather than those on inadequate incomes. It has been reported that a third of all council homes sold off under right to buy were in the hands of private landlords: see this Daily Mirror article from 2013 where these two comments stand out:

  • There are five million people waiting for social housing in Britain and house building cannot keep up with demand.

  • Meanwhile, the private rented sector has almost doubled in a decade and 8.5 million people are tenants – one in six households.
This massive shift of housing from public to private is a major tax burden as rent subsidies have ballooned over the past 3 decades, money paid out to private landlords for houses that used to be owned by councils. Whereas rent subsidies used to be an internal council cost, paid for by council revenues from the housing stock the current rental benefit is paid out to a private landlord. So this great Tory housing initiative has resulted in a situation where the state, be it national or local government, hands over vast amounts of cash to the private sector for the provision of homes that were sold to them at a discount rate. The stupidity of this beggars belief. I urge you to read the Daily Mirror article linked to above for further insights into who has gained from this absurd strategy.

Do you recall the graph of changes in UK housing provision in the BelperStuff post from December 15th ................. oh why not cut to the chase ...... here it is again:

Still no updated data past 2005 but the search goes on
It is evident that local authority housing played a crucial role in house building and that once cut by the Tories the promised increase in the private sector provision never took place. Obviously such a graph has to take account of economic cycles but the overriding fact is that we cannot rely on the marketplace to supply the homes that our society needs. This is realised by the DCC and that is why their initiative is so important.

The Daily Mirror article has prompted me to look once again at the original research done by BelperStuff on the distribution of the increased wealth of the UK, how the sums implicit in a growing GDP have drifted towards the already wealthy ......... here is that graph again:

It should be remembered that a random juxtaposition of data is unscientific but the fact that the decades that have seen an inexorable drift of wealth towards the wealthy have coincided with the very same decades there has been a relentless shift of ownership of assets and services from the public to private sectors. Two major shifts in the fabric of our nation ............ in my mind they are linked.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

National Health Singers ........................ fight for the NHS

A member of BelperStuff editorial team sent me a link to the National Health Singers on YouTube. I don't often mention the NHS even though I am very supportive ............ this is just not my area of expertise (I can almost hear the comment, "well what is your area of expertise"?) Anyway, here are the National Health Singers:

I don't think there is any need for me to add any words except for what is written beneath the video:

Published on 8 Dec 2015
'Yours' by the National Health Singers
download on iTunes now!

And on Amazon here:

And Google Play:

Proceeds will go to a number of UK medical charities.

The National Health Singers are a choir of NHS workers established in 2015 by junior doctors. We believe that every person has the right to NHS healthcare free at point of access and that right should never, ever be threatened.

Our message is simple:
Fight for the NHS
Fight for the junior doctors
Fight to keep the NHS Yours!

Please share our song and YOUR NHS stories and photos using #NHSYours

Contact your MP and raise your voice for your NHS!

Follow us on Twitter @NHSsing2survive - post us your photos 'Whose NHS?' #NHSyours

Please Subscribe to our YouTube Channel


Music & Lyrics by Clare Dove
Lyrics by Dr Sanju Arianayagam and Clare Dove
Musical direction and arrangement by Mark de Lisser
Produced by James Wallace
Film direction by William Walsh
Additional footage by Hannah Anketell @whatifnomad

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Local Tory housing strategy in ruins

It gives me no joy to write this post because it means that the housing shortage in the borough of Amber Valley will continue ........ and become worse ........... for the foreseeable future. This is the inevitable conclusion following this statement: Amber Valley Borough Council has expressed regret at having to withdraw its Core Strategy from the public examination that was due to resume next week. The Tory leader of the AVBC, Alan Cox said, “I am deeply dismayed that such a decision had to be made at the eleventh hour, after so much effort and expenditure on the process by so many. Regrettably, however, despite the fact that there are many sites within the Borough that have been given planning approval by the Council, the Council has no powers to force developers to start building the houses, or influence the timeframe over which a site is developed.”

Take a look at this: Link to an article in the Derby Evening Telegraph Why am I not surprised that Councillor Cox makes no mention of the desperate housing shortage but opines instead about the green belt.

Oh yes local Tories, you should hang your heads in shame because the duty of a council is to look after the needs of those who live in the borough, to do whatever is in their power to facilitate the health and wellbeing of those that they represent ......... housing being of prime importance. What the local Tories should be aware of is how many new homes are needed, how many wait for years for the chance to buy or to rent at an affordable rate. This current impasse follows years of failure to sort out housing needs in the area, the failure to agree the core strategy being an inevitable result of withdrawing from the active provision of homes, relying instead on the fickleness of private investors and property developers to dictate housing strategy. Make no mistake about this, Cox's admission that the council, "has no powers to force developers to start building the houses" is an admission that the changes in local government provision of housing brought in by the Thatcher government in the 1980's has skewed the housing market so that it is now no longer in a developer's interest to build homes for the poor. By playing politics with the core strategy the AVBC Tories have loaded the plan with sites that limits profitability for investors to the point where the return on investment is minimal or does not cover the cost of finance.

The effects of privatisation. I will dig out more recent data and post an update - hopefully soon

In the pre-Thatcher years this would not have happened because a council had the power to raise the capital required to build homes, maisonettes and apartments ........... according to the needs of those living in the borough. Today, the council has no control, a situation made much. much worse because they have handed over any council homes not sold off under the right to buy legislation to a housing association ........... and Osborne has this year announced that right to buy will now apply to housing associations. So we have a deteriorating stock of social housing ....... developers reluctant to build "affordable" housing ............ and not even prepared to build homes for those in a position to buy them.

This is the folly of privatisation writ large and I have to repeat that it gives me no pleasure to point out the stupidity of Tory policy. The consequences are too serious, the adverse effect it has on our local society and economy highlights that playing fast and loose with people's lives because of an unproven faith in the primacy of market forces is simply unforgivable.

I will print here the Tory statement and the Labour response to enable you to make up your own mind:

Amber Valley Council Press Release

News Release

Council compelled to withdraw Core Strategy

Amber Valley Borough Council has expressed regret at having to withdraw its Core Strategy from the public examination that was due to resume next week.

The Council had believed that after many years, and considerable public consultation and heated debate about potential housing development sites, it was finally in a position to secure formal adoption of the Core Strategy.

The reason for the withdrawal is that, following discussions with relevant housing developers in the last two weeks, the Council can no longer be confident that the developers will deliver the previously predicted number of houses within the next five years on the sites proposed by the Council. Government policy requires the Council to show that enough homes will be built in the next five years to meet objectively assessed housing need.

Cllr Alan Cox, Leader of the Council, said:
“I am deeply dismayed that such a decision had to be made at the eleventh hour, after so much effort and expenditure on the process by so many. Regrettably, however, despite the fact that there are many sites within the Borough that have been given planning approval by the Council, the Council has no powers to force developers to start building the houses, or influence the timeframe over which a site is developed.”

He added:
“The Council remains fully committed to establishing an up-to-date Local Plan for Amber Valley, which will provide a robust set of policies and proposals to support housing and economic growth in the Borough, whilst at the same time safeguarding and enhancing the environment. It will not, however, be practical to achieve a demonstrable five year supply, through the identification of further sites for housing development, without re-visiting the overall strategy for housing growth.

“The process of reviewing the growth strategy and reaching a conclusion as to an alternative approach, including appropriate public consultation and engagement, will take at least 12 months.”

In addressing concerns about the implications of making decisions without an up-to-date Local Plan, particularly where the Council cannot show a five year land supply, Cllr Cox said:
“This does not mean that any development, whatever the impacts, will be acceptable. Neither does it mean that there would be no point in refusing a housing scheme because we wouldn’t stand a chance on appeal. National planning policy, and the objective of pursuing sustainable development, is a material consideration in planning decisions irrespective of the status of an area’s development plan and will enable the Council to continue to protect the Green Belt and other areas of environmental importance for heritage, landscape and other reasons.”

He added:
 “Levels of planning appeals upheld against an authority’s original determination remain constant at only one per cent of all planning decisions in England. There are several recent cases where development has been refused permission, even in the absence of an up-to-date Local Plan or five-year land supply, because it would conflict with national policy objectives.” 


Cllr Chris Emmas-Williams, Labour shadow Deputy Leader has demanded the resignation of Amber Valley Borough Council Leader Cllr Alan Cox after the last minute withdrawal of the Council’s Core Strategy days before it was due to go before an Inspector
Cllr Emmas-Williams said ‘What a total mess the Tories have made once again in our Borough. This is the second time in two years that they have made disastrous decisions to the major planning vehicle for our next generation. When the plan was first presented the Inspector suspended the hearing because of their incompetence and now with the resumption of the hearings of the Amber Valley Local Plan Part 1 Core Strategy due to commence on Tuesday ( 15th December) next week they have had to be cancelled because the authority cannot now once again demonstrate a 5 year supply of housing land. The Tories have buried their head in the sand, removing sites purely on political grounds and despite being told by the Labour opposition that the figures that they were using were unsound since last July they have ridiculed our stance. At the last working party group meeting in early November Labour members once again questioned the 5 year supply numbers as they had changed five times in the last two weeks and were told by the Tories that they could guarantee with 100% confidence that the figures were accurate.’
' We have returned back to the ‘smoke and mirrors’ game that ex Leader Cllr Bradford used which is disastrous for the planning process and despite the comments by Conservative Cllr Alan Cox the Borough is now at the mercy of planners and developers who will get applications approved on appeal due to their total incompetence. For that reason I am asking Cllr Alan Cox to consider his position as Leader of the Council, as well as Chair of Planning, because it is through his lack of judgement and blatant political interference in the process that our green spaces are at the mercy of aggressive developers.’

Local Plan Part 1 Core Strategy Submission (what is it)

The new Amber Valley Local Plan Part 1 Core Strategy, which sets out a spatial strategy and key planning policies for development in the Borough until 2028, was originally submitted to the Secretary of State on the 20th December 2013.
The Local Plan covers everything from new homes and jobs to retail and leisure facilities, transport and local services, energy and the environment. It aims to make sure the new homes, jobs and services required by communities are located in the most sustainable places. It will also deliver the infrastructure, facilities and other development needed to make this possible. In addition, it identifies strategic sites where the Council expects the most significant developments to take place.

If you want to read more:

............ you can go to the Amber Valley Labour Group website and whilst there take a look at Paul Jone's blog (the Labour leader on AVBC)

Friday 4 December 2015

BelperStuff reaches 10,000 views today ............. a post for nerds and geeks

BelperStuff reaches 10,000 views today

This blog started on 23rd April 2015 .......... 226 days ago. The motivation to create BelperStuff was to supply a commentary for the national, borough and town council elections that were to be held on the 7th May ......... from a Labour Party perspective. Straight away there was an attempt to show how decisions made in Westminster affect local life and the format of viewing the world from the prism of a small town in Derbyshire emerged. It has astonished me that BelperStuff has achieved an average of 40 views per day.

There have been 75 posts which (yes I've taken my socks off so this is easy), which means that posts have averaged 133 views. Obviously it's not that simple as the front page of the blog can show a number of posts (today, as I write this, there are 7 on the front page) which can be read by merely scanning down. Posts read by this method do not show up in the statistics so the average views of posts is probably much higher.

Subjects dealt with have tended to follow what is in the news but often a few days after mainstream media headlines to give a bit more background information or to help publicise research that may be somewhat obscure (my favourite is the Berkeley College paper into the psychology of republican sympathisers - Is there a cure for conservatism). On some issues BelperStuff has been in the lead and I am thinking of King Street buses and local poverty statistics.

A feature of BelperStuff is that it does not just link to other people's work but also posts original research undertaken by the editorial team. This is very often the only way to understand the reality of life that is masked by the silky words of politicians and the distortions of a biased media.

Data snapshots

I have taken snapshots of the usage data that is provided to blog authors. This shows a strong following in the States, perhaps not so surprising but some of the other countries are unexpected. There were minimal views in Russia at first but a reference in a post to the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) resulted in 33 views in one day. I regret not making a tally of all the other countries where people have viewed the blog but the first list shows only the top ten. Missing are views such as 33 in China and even a couple in North Korea (amongst- easily - 30 other countries) but perhaps the saddest was the lone reader in Aruba, (a small island in the Caribbean just off the coast of Venezuela). I imagine this to be a holidaymaker who has had enough of the sunkissed beaches and cobalt blue seas but craves a bit of news about Belper Town Council. Sad if true. (If you are that person please post a comment and explain yourself).

United Kingdom
United States
New Zealand

Other statistics available to a blogmeister are the most popular posts but here the list is limited to the top five. It is evident that specific posts about Belper gain the highest readership, perhaps not so surprising given the name of the blog:


18 Sep 2015, 1 comment

Now some stuff for the real nerds

Watching the daily view count it is very apparent that European and UK readers are using Chrome whilst in the US there is a tendency towards Internet Explorer. The views by iPad, iPhone or Android devices seem to be evenly spread over the planet.

So, the next 10,000 ................ 

........... will be more of the same. Posts are restricted to at most 2 per week to avoid overburdening the readership as they are already assailed with stuff from right, left and centre. Left to my own choice BelperStuff would concentrate on the environment. public transport and poverty ........ global, national and local ................ but there are so many interesting topics that just keep cropping up. Perhaps it's for the best to just carry on in the same vein, after all, an average of 40 views a day to read the musings of an old fart like me is very gratifying.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Osborne's political handbook -- Chapter 1 -- Smoke & Mirrors

After managing to win an election following 5 years of ripping off the poor to enrich the already wealthy George Gideon Oliver Osborne was approached by a publisher with a book deal that he just could not refuse. They asked him:

 "How have you managed to get people to vote for you when you've been systematically emptying their wallets, making a really bad fist of the economy and ruining the lives of young and old alike?"

"It's simple",  Osborne replied, and then proceeded to write this political tome, the fruit of his summer hols spent touring in his campervan. 

Calais refugee campsite - now knee deep in mud.
This is the reality of living out of doors.
"My daughter's choice last year, the Peak District in Derbyshire, was so relaxing so we went one better in 2015, the Speke District in Liverpool. There was plenty of time in the evenings to knock off a few chapters after enjoying the bonhomie of the communal campfire, a centerpiece of the themed campsite ....... this year a very realistic recreation of the colourful refugee camp in Calais" ........... he mused.

So ........ onto the book. The first chapter contains the meat of the book ........... well that's what your reviewer thought as he never got started on chapter 2, the will to live thankfully kicking in before the awfulness of Osborne's worldview could do irreparable damage. Chapter 1, Smoke & Mirrors said it all. Osborne has found that the gullible Tory voter will cheer him to the rafters as long as he says the right things. They don't look at what he is doing, preferring instead to be comforted by his words. This man can truly do no wrong as is evident in that loose assemblage of sheets of paper that goes by the name of The Sun:

BRITAIN’S struggling workers were saved from a £1,300-a-year income hit yesterday as George Osborne pulled a U-turn on his tax credit cuts.

Yes good old George, he has saved those struggling British workers from .......... what he threatened to do to them up to last Wednesday lunchtime. But has he really? Are struggling British workers safe from the tax credit cutting scourge that was dreamt up by Osborne, probably whilst relaxing with a warm can of Vimto as he enjoyed the balmy evening air;  the sunset burnishing the refinery smokestacks on the opposite bank of the Mersey from the Speke campsite, the grim chimneys becoming thought provoking symbols of what Britain might become if he should decide to call a halt to the alternative energy industry and turn back to fossil fuels (but that's the subject of another chapter). So did he save those struggling workers?

No .............. it's all smoke and mirrors

Once again we are indebted to the Institute of Fiscal Studies for blowing away the smoke and leading us gently by the hand from Osborne's hall of mirrors IFS Autumn Tax credit update.

Source: Resolution think tank (from IFS)
See how closely the effect of the so called u-turn of tax credit cuts have hardly changed anything because tax credits will gradually wither and die as recipients are moved across to Universal Credits. This is what has been cooked up between the DWP and the treasury, ODS and Osborne. A look back at the BelperStuff post following Osborne's Summer statement - Let no man steal your thyme  shows that not a lot has changed:

It is obvious that the debate has not ended with the Lord's rejection of tax credit cuts despite pressure groups applauding themselves for doing such a good job. For those of a more cynical persuasion (BelperStuff), you can never trust a Tory, especially the crowd now inhabiting Westminster. The fight has only just begun.

Smoke & Mirrors

Forgive me but the words of this song fit so well:

Saturday 21 November 2015

Local Tories branded as hypocrites

BelperStuff never takes any statement at face value so always delves and checks background facts before posting. It does not matter who has made the statement, Labour, Tory or some other .......... BelperStuff always checks the facts. Yesterday, hearing about a press statement just issued by Amber Valley Tories led by Clr. Alan Cox the first instinct was to question both the Tory claim and Labour's response. This post contains the evidence that was uncovered. The item in question was this:

Link to Tory lies and hypocrisy article , the stop press piece on the Amber Valley Labour Group website. Clicking on the link you will find:

Following last night's  Full  Council meeting ,at which the  proposal to support Whole Council elections was rejected. the Tory group issued a press release  criticising the Labour group for not supporting the proposal by saying it will result in the loss of £250,000 of savings between 2019-2023.

It goes on:

The sheer hypocrisy of Cllr Alan Cox's comment about saving money is laughable. Cllr Alan Cox and his group voted against  a similar proposal  put forward by Labour, when we were in control of the Council, on 2nd March 2015 which would have saved £235,000 from May 2016-2019 and the additional £250,000 between 2019-2023 a total of £475,000. The Conservative proposal would only have become effective from 2019 and saved £250,000. I think the question for Cllr Alan Cox is why did he voted against making saving of £475,000 only 10 months ago.

BelperStuff contacted the leader of the Labour group, Cllr Paul Jones and asked him for details. He suggested that a careful reading of the minutes of the Special Full Council Meeting held on Wednesday, 2 March 2015 at the Council Chamber in Ripley would be enlightening (this is the link). Contained in those minutes is a fulsome report on the issue of changing the election process of the AVBC which would have taken effect from 2016. There are also details of the vote that was taken and it is plain to see that 20 Tories voted against the proposal (including Alan Cox). Obviously if Cox and his party decided to oppose the change in March but in November choose to vote for that change to be effective from 2019 it would seem that they have foregone the chance to save £235,000; money that would have been available to offset at least a small portion of the cuts to the borough finances that are being inflicted by Westminster Tories.

But why did the Labour group vote for the change in March but in November voted against? Delving more deeply into this we find that following ongoing consultation with local voters and organisations it emerged that there was a 69% majority to maintain the status quo. The Labour group, having debated this internally informed Cox that they would not be supporting the change in the November vote and it would have been prudent to cancel or postpone the meeting. Even with the knowledge that there would not be a two thirds majority (the rule for constitutional matters) in favour of the electoral change the Tories still pressed ahead with the meeting and the inevitable vote against. Their press statement followed immediately after, blaming Labour. 

BelperStuff is reminded of the statement to the press that Cox made just before the May election regarding the Council car park in Ripley (link to Alan Cox car park post). BelperStuff subsequently found out that the original decision to put the Town Hall car park up for sale was made over 4 years ago by the then Tory controlled Council. BelperStuff just does not have the time nor the inclination to subject every local Tory press statement to in depth scrutiny .......... life is too short. What we need from our councillors is wisdom and a willingness to search for what is best for the people who live in the borough and not this petty pint scoring (freudian slip - forgot the "o" in point) nonsense. Of course councillors should be free to comment on the actions of their political opponents but we have the right to expect that those comments are honest and reliable. Selectivity of facts is not a new phenomenon in Tory circles:

 In 1796 Edmund Burke wrote:
"Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatsoever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth."

 Edmund Burke is regarded by many Tories as one of the founding fathers of Conservatism and it would seem that Burke would find kindred spirits in Amber Valley Tories. 

Thursday 19 November 2015

A paper presented to the Belper Labour branch meeting ............ Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16

A discussion paper was presented at the last Belper & Duffield Labour Party branch meeting by Vickie, Nell and Cath which detailed the background and status of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill that is currently grinding its way through both houses of parliament. This is the bill that the Lords so famously voted against on the 26th October ........ voting for a delay so that the effects of these contentious measures can be fully understood.

The submitted paper was rigorously debated at the branch meeting but it was brought to my attention that in our desire to debate the meat of the matter we failed to allow the authors to highlight what it is that we can do to oppose the bill. I have therefore decided to post their report in full. The section that was not addressed is "What can you do" towards the end of the report.

The report mentions the second reading which took place 2 days ago so, after reading the report and exploring the embedded links you might like to cursor back up to here to read the: Hansard report on the second reading in the Lords 17/11/2015.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16 - report to branch 

Welfare policymakers in the UK have been grappling with the problem of balancing depressed wages for low-income workers against conditionality in the welfare benefits system since the mid-1980s. After 1997 Labour attempted to tackle the work-welfare bargain [that being in work should always make one better off than welfare] through the extension of tax credits which supplemented low incomes, contained discretionary elements to meet the additional costs of childcare and caring for a disabled child, and which continued to be paid during brief periods of unemployment.

After the Coalition Government came to power they designed and legislated for a radical overhaul of the work-welfare bargain which will eventually involve the abolition of the current system of in-work benefits and their replacement with a Universal Credit. Universal Credit is intended to address the problem that entering and leaving employment is much riskier for people on low incomes in receipt of multiple benefits by coordinating housing, council and income benefits (such as jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance) into a single payment which can simply be modified depending on level of earned income. In this way ramps into and out of employment should be smoother, with fewer perverse incentives to remain on welfare. However, there remain substantial concerns about the administration of Universal Credit and whether the rate at which benefits are tapered after someone returns to work will really leave low-income families better off in-work.

After the Conservative Government was elected in May 2015 they had to honour a manifesto commitment to make a further £12 billion cuts to the welfare budget on top of £17 billion achieved in the last parliament. The Welfare Reform and Work Bill represents an attempt to achieve this which, depending on perspective, will either accelerate the timetable for implementing Universal Credit or derail the project entirely.

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill contains proposed amendments to much existing welfare legislation, most notably the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and its provisions, once enacted, are intended to achieve several policy goals.

1. Until last week, the bill contained a provision to reduce eligibility for in-work tax credits from around 3 million households in the UK from April 2016. The controversy surrounding the removal of tax credits was not the fact that it was occurring but that it was happening so swiftly, leaving many low-income working households with little time to adjust. The House of Lords voted to delay the implementation of this proposal by a further year, but it is not certain yet what amendments to the Bill the Government will table at 2nd reading on 17th November to ensure it achieves the same cost savings.

2. The legislative changes necessary to implement Universal Credit were enacted in 2012 but the bill will remove some additional payments available to disabled people who have ‘limited capability for work’.

3. s.96 Welfare Reform Act 2012 created a benefits cap, whereby no household in receipt of out-of-work benefits can receive an annual income greater than the then median household income of £26,000pa. The object of the cap was to ensure that the government could ensure that ‘in-work households’ were consistently better off than ‘out-of-work households’ but it has also been severely criticised for having a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable households including single parent families, families affected by disability and families affected by domestic violence. The new bill will reduce the cap further to £23,000pa from April 2016. This will be achieved either through reducing what a household can receive in housing and council tax benefit or Universal Credit in those areas where this has already been implemented.

4. The bill will have a significant impact on low-income families with more than two children as it restricts entitlement to child benefit and child tax credits to the first two children only. It also repeals almost all of the Child Poverty Act 2010 which placed an obligation upon the government to reduce child poverty as defined by four different measures by 2020. Instead the Secretary of State will have new duties to monitor social mobility, life chances and educational attainment of children in low income families.

What you can do?

All of the major unions are running campaigns related to aspects of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Unison which represents many low-paid workers who will be affected by the removal of tax credits is campaigning against the abolition of tax credits. The National Union of Teachers is concerned about the impact the bill will have on child poverty. Research the campaigns your union is undertaking to oppose the bill and what action they suggest members take.

In addition many major charities are running campaigns around the bill. The Child Poverty Action Group has produced some excellent (though currently not very up-to-date) briefings on the impact of the bill on children and it may be worth following them on social media.

Macmillan has been very concerned about the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance and the impact this could have on the cost of living for people diagnosed with acute illnesses such as cancer. They have produced excellent briefing materials and organised social media campaigns around the bill.

Major disability charities representing people with continuous disability have a more complex relationship with the changes to the law. They broadly welcome legislative commitment to support into employment for disabled people but they remain concerned about meeting the extra costs of disability in or out of work. A useful summary is provided in Scope’s evidence to the House of Commons

The major disability charities have collectively lobbied parliament around the bill under the umbrella of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and in the past achieved significant success in seeing earlier Welfare bills amended. If you are a disabled person who has received benefits you can support the work of the DBC by sharing your experiences with them.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Belper Tories don't believe that there is poverty in our town.

In the last post (An evening with Super Kitchen) we explored the response of Derbyshire County Council to the rising tide of food poverty. It is not wrong that there are those amongst us whose response to this would be, "but how much poverty is there?". Well not an unreasonable question for someone who never reads a newspaper or watches television but it is astonishing that such a question should be asked by members of Belper Town Council. Yes, at the town council meeting last Tuesday evening there was a debate questioning the existence of hunger in Belper. Our correspondent reported:

The Deputy Mayor asked if there really were Belper people going hungry, he asked this question more than once. Another councilor did not believe there were hungry families in Belper but she liked the Street Angels. Deputy Mayor again, ‘How many people are genuinely hungry in our society, it sounds 3rd worldly to me but is it real?’

Belper Town Councilors should be better informed than this. For a start they should read The Good Councillors Guide produced by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC). Within that guide they will find this:

Councillors need to know:

• the population of the parish and how the population is made up 
• how much an average household pays in council tax to the local council

This data would give them an idea of local poverty. Some of the town councillors have also been elected to the Amber Valley Borough Council (AVBC) and they should be aware of the the four yearly study produced by the council:

AVBC Area Profile Belper which contains details of income for Belper households. This is a very informative document which brings together a wealth of information that is invaluable for any councilor wishing to represent every element of the community.

The section on household incomes is very informative and I have copied the relevant data:

Number of households Income below £192 per week
Belper South 2,528 334 = 13.21%
Belper Central 2,403 315 = 13.11%
Belper North 2,147 260 = 12.11%
Belper East 2,402 216 = 8.99%
Total 9,480 1,125 = 11.86%

So 11.86% of Belper households have to exist on less than £192 per week. Perhaps that might not mean much for an out of touch Tory but so-called affordable rents in Belper can be well over £110 per week for a two bedroom dwelling ......... not much left to pay all your other bills plus feed yourself and your family. A privately let 3 bedroom home can set you back over £160 per week. A bleak prospect for those homes where the main income is via insecure zero hour contract jobs.

If you compare the household income data for 2008 and 2013 we find that poverty in belper has increased by 64% .......... see below:

BelperStuff using source data from AVBC
There was a huge rise in poverty in just 4 years.We have to remember that this data spans the years that were impacted by the effects of the credit crunch and only when the next Area Profile is produced will we have easily accessible information to assess the current poverty in the town. That will be (hopefully) in 2017 and I fear that the numbers suffering poverty will only have increased by then.

What we should also remember is that the internationally recognised definition of poverty is 60% of the mean household income which at the moment is around £206 per week. Of course the Tory government has abolished this as a measure of poverty in the UK but I find the Joseph Rowntree Trust Definition of Poverty to be most instructive. If we use this measure we find that a shade under 14% of Belper households were below the poverty line in 2013 ............ that's 1,280 homes ............ the doubting deputy mayor should be aware that up to 300 homes in his ward, Belper North, are having to struggle below he poverty line.

Why has poverty increased so much?

That graph is truly shocking for one such as myself who grew up with the security of the Welfare State .......... the safety net. With this concern in mind I delved into the Belper specific data held by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and what I found has caused me much head scratching.

Belper families receiving tax credits
Year Families In work
2008 2230 1960
2009 2230 1925
2010 2195 1895
2011 1780 1515

The data relating to the number of Belper families in receipt of tax credits is confusing. I have not complicated this basic table with any division involving Child Tax Credits and if I had the data would have been impenetrable. What is disturbing is the fall in numbers between 2010 and 2011, the first year that can be attributed to the ConDem government. I have no idea why 415 families stopped receiving tax credits (around 20%); or the steady fall of those in work receiving tax credits (around 30 to 35 decrease per year) should suddenly become a fall of 380 (again 20%).  Unfortunately there is no more current data readily available but for 20% of those relying on tax credits to boost their inadequate incomes to have lost that help in 2011 we have to assume (pending other evidence) that this had a massive effect on poverty in the town. Have the numbers receiving those credits deteriorated between 2011 and 2015 ............. and what would be the effect of George Osborne's tax credit cuts on Belper families (those cuts have only been delayed by the Lord's digging their heels in).

Tax credits ...... basic facts

In 2008 there were 3,600 children in Belper being supported by tax credits .......... this had decreased to 2,725 by 2011. Obviously for an accurate assessment we need to chart the number of children in the relevant years but ............. in 2011 the number of children aged between 0 and 17 was 4,450 ........ so 60% of Belper children were then supported by child tax credits. Can you image what the effect of child tax credit cuts will be on Belper children and families. To forecast this you would need access to data that is held by government departments but it would be safe to make a basic, conservative assumption that the percentage of Belper families living below the poverty line would rise to at least 25%, with the eventual figure possibly well above that.

We should not be surprised that our local Tories have no idea of the plight of many Belper folk who daily have to struggle to pay their bills, juggle heating or eating, put a roof over their heads, find bus fares to go to work and school, clothe their kids .........basically exist. They should know about this and then they would be able to make a proper judgement on an application for a grant such as last week when they refused to help the food bank.

This is why there is a need for food banks and ideas like Super Kitchen. There is real poverty in Belper and if Tories at national and local level are blind to it then we must rely on cash strapped Labour controlled councils to stem the tide (Derbyshire County Council) and then, ultimately, take action ourselves.