"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Archive for January, 2010

Diss mum’s anguish over lack of support for new help centre

A heartbroken mother spoke of her disappointment after an appeal to establish a new drug and alcohol support centre in Norfolk failed to receive a single donation.

Jackie Talbot launched a campaign last month to give more support to addicts after her youngest son died of a suspected heroin overdose last year.

Talented amateur boxer and father-of-two Michael Talbot, 26, was found dead at his parents’ home in Diss on February 7, a day after being released from a six-week prison sentence.

But a month after the Michael James Talbot Memorial Trust was launched to raise £150,000 for a centre in the town for drug and alcohol addicts, the good cause’s bank account remains at zero.

Mrs Talbot said she was “stunned” that nobody had financially supported the trust. However, she said she would not give up and her first aim was to reach £5,000 to get charity status.

“It is unbelievable. We have received absolutely nothing.”

“It is something that begins at home and we all want to make the world a better place, and when it is something happening on our doorstep it is up to the community to do something about it,” she said.

The 56-year-old said the idea of a drug and alcohol support centre in Diss had been backed by the Trust Alcohol and Drugs Service in Norwich and she had received letters of support from other families affected by drugs in Norfolk and Suffolk.

She added that preparations were under way to organise a kickboxing event in Diss and a bands night in Harleston to raise funds for the trust.

Mrs Talbot, whose son’s inquest is set to take place next month , said she would be grateful for other fundraising ideas to help the appeal get off the ground.

“It is an issue that tends to be swept under the carpet and people do not want to come to terms with. But we are living in the 21st century and it has to be brought into the public eye. Although there are procedures and clinics in place, there is not enough help for addicts out there,” she said.

Contact the Michael James Talbot Memorial Trust on 01379 643157 or write to 3A Uplands Way, Diss, IP22 4DE.


Plod Off!

After recent revelations about the ridiculously high relocations packages Norfolk Police Authority are willing to spend on Chief Constables, we are of the opinion that Norfolk Constabulary should step back and focus…….before the locals notice something going on!

Norfolk police ‘need more cash’

Norfolk police’s share of council tax must increase by 3.5pc next year if the force is to maintain its current performance, a meeting heard last night.

Speaking at a public meeting at the force’s Wymondham headquarters police authority chairman Stephen Bett outlined how the force is already planning to save £15m over the next three years as it faces a “dire” financial situation.

He added that whichever party won the next general election would inevitably make substantial cuts to police and public spending in general.

“Once a new government is in power it is going to be quite frightening how little money there is to go around,” Mr Bett said.

But deputy chief constable Ian Learmonth, currently in temporary charge of the force, pledged that the county’s increased number of police officers – which currently stands at 1,644 – can be maintained for at least one more year.

He added: “We cannot gaurantee we can maintain these numbers indefinitely but, at a time when some forces are considering cutting numbers, we can maintain our existing level of officers and police community support officers.”

The 3.5pc proposed increase would equate to £5.05 a year for a Band B property or £6.51 per year for those in Band D.

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, asked what would happen if the police precept was set one or two percent lower than the level suggested.

Chief financial officer Rupert Birtles said that the very minimum needed to “stand still” was 3pc and if it were set lower there may be a need to “touch the frontline” although current officer numbers would still be sustainable in the short-term.

Every 1pc of the police’s council tax precept is equivalent to £550,000 in the force’s budget. At 3.5pc the force would be able to continue its modernisation while also looking at ways it can become more efficient.

The police authority will make a formal decision on its council tax precept over the coming months.


Zero Waste Solutions For Climate Change & Jobs

What we do with waste impacts society, the environment and the local economy. Waste is often seen to be a problem, yet in some communities waste is seen as a valuable resource that can be used to create jobs and reduce the environmental impact of disposal facilities and technologies.

Research has shown that reuse, recycling and composting reduces carbon dioxide emissions compared to landfill and incineration and international research shows that more jobs are created in reuse, recycling and composting than in landfill or incineration.

Recent research by NEF looked at the social impact of different professions. Waste recycling workers reduce carbon emissions and for each £1 spent on wages £12 of value will be generated, on the other hand, investment bankers in the City of London destroy £7 of social value for each £1 that they generate.

We can reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs that have social and environmental benefits through Zero Waste programmes. Zero Waste is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective strategies available for combating climate change. We would like to work with communities to stop incineration, other ‘end-of-pipe’ disposal technologies and bailing out the banks and campaign instead for investment in new green jobs and a zero waste economy for a resilient future.

Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Zero Waste will prevent the pollution of land, water or air that is threatening our planetary, human, animal or plant wellbeing..”

Zero Waste International Alliance (2004) www.zwia.org

Come join us for a day of inspirational talks, discussions & workshops. Exploring the concept philosophy and reality of Zero Waste.

Lively chat & entertainment

Suggested Donation £3

Reasonably priced refreshments and & light lunch available, served to your table.

RSVP & further Information:
01502 519892 or 07737 229647 maxine@brightgreen.org.uk


9:30 The Story of Stuff Annie Leonard
10:00 – 11:00 Richard Anthony: Zero Waste communities & principles
11:30 – 11:30 Maxine Narburgh & Jim Mclaughlin: An introduction to climate change

Zero Waste & jobs

11:30 – 12:00 Coffee
12:00 – 12:30 Ralph Ryder: The impact of incineration in communities
12:30 – 13:00 Panel discussion Q&A: The road to Zero Waste

13:00—14:00 Lunch – poetry & music
14:00—15:00 Workshops
A practical guide to setting up & running a community owned reuse & recycling project this workshop will outline how to set up a community reuse or recycling project, issues, pitfalls to avoid, understanding markets, creating jobs and training opportunities


Developing a campaign for Zero Waste in your community this workshop will help you organise community campaigns for zero waste, looking at successful community initiatives from the UK & around the world.

15:00 Feedback
15:15 Tea Coffee & Chat
16:00 Close

Speakers Biographies

Richard Anthony, San Diego, California. Rick has spent more than 30 years in resource recovery and management and is the principal for Richard Anthony Associates, a firm that helps businesses and communities plan for zero waste. He is an advocate and leader in the area of Zero Waste Systems approaches to wasted discards. Rick is also a director of the California Resource Recovery Association, Keep California Beautiful, and the Grassroots Recycling Network and is a founder of the Zero Waste International Alliance.

Jim Mclaughlin is an expert in reuse & recycling community enterprise development, having set up several highly successful projects including Doncaster Refurnish. He is also a Board Director of the Furniture Reuse network & the Community Recycling Network.

Maxine Narburgh runs Bright Green an environmental social enterprise based in Suffolk, she is also a founder member of Zero Waste Europe and a member of Zero waste International Alliance. Maxine works on reuse, recycling and composting projects in the UK and campaigns for Zero Waste.

Ralph Ryder is coordinator of the national network Communities Against Toxics and a founder member of the Chartist, the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN. Europe) and Health Care Without Harm (Europe). He is also the Western Europe Regional Node for the Global Anti-Incineration Alliance/Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives (GAIA)

‘Deep ethnic segregation’ mapped in England’s schools

Isn’t it time we used more common sense? Multicultural and identity politics do nothing more than segregate. IF WE CAN’T GET THAT RIGHT IN OUR SCHOOLS, WHAT CHANCE EQUALITY IN THE REST OF ‘SOCIETY’?

Pockets of deep segregation are revealed in a mapping of the ethnic make-up of England’s schools.
University of Bristol researchers show that in Manchester, fewer than 1% of pupils of Pakistani origin are at schools which have a white majority.

It also shows changes – with the number of white primary school pupils in London falling by a quarter since 2002.

The project’s director says the overall trend is for more pupils to mix – with segregation “constant or decreasing”.

The Measuring Diversity project at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation provides an ethnic breakdown of pupils in local authorities in England.

Changing populations

This shows both the numbers of different groups and also the extent to which they might meet by attending the same schools.

The project’s website shows the great variation in the school population across the country – with some areas in which white pupils remain the overwhelming majority and others which are much more diverse.
In Hull, there are no primary schools which are defined as “minority white” – in which less than 30% of the school population are white.

In contrast, in London the number of white minority primary schools has risen from 22% to 36% between 2002 and 2008.

This reflects that the number of white pupils in London primary schools has fallen by about a quarter in six years – and only about 6% of primary schools now have a substantial white majority.

The figures, taken from the annual census of state schools, also reveal patterns of divided communities – with pupils much more likely to attend school with people from their own ethnic group.

In Oldham, about 80% of pupils from the sizeable Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities go to schools where they will meet few white pupils.

In Camden, north London, more than three quarters of Bangladeshi pupils go to mostly non-white schools.
In the same borough, only one in six white pupils go to schools in which white pupils are a minority.
But Simon Burgess, director of the centre at Bristol University, says that the overview of the statistics shows that there is no increase in segregation.

“The overall pattern is that segregation is either constant, or decreasing,” he says.
Professor Burgess wants the information on local areas to inform the debate about diversity and make-up of communities.

“It is a common saying that people’s attitudes are strongly influenced by their school days. So the peer groups that children play with, talk to and work with are important factors moulding their perspectives on society,” he says.

“The extent of ethnic diversity in schools is an important issue of public debate. This website provides some facts to enlighten this debate.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that schools were obliged to “promote community cohesion through twinning, sports and art to equip young people to live in a multicultural country”.



Carer Watch are concerned that all past / present governments have failed to recognise that family carers are at the heart of the care system. Unless family carers are acknowledged and supported, both financially and through care services, no new system will be sustainable. Family carers are not an optional extra to be added on as an after thought.

Any new government needs to face up to this and make some speed in deciding how to adequately fund family carers. Ten years of nothing was serious, TWENTY YEARS OF NOTHING IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
Carer Watch believe that ANY Government should recognise that carers are a unique group within the benefits system because they have to fulfil the government contracted 35 hours of care to qualify for Carers Allowance.

To this end we are asking all Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to support this campaign. Details can be found here .

We need your help too……….

Carer Watch asks you to pledge your support here in….

1. demanding an IMMEDIATE review of Carers Benefits

Carers should be paid a level of financial support that

1. eliminates carer poverty and
2.empowers carers to achieve dignity and quality of life.

The present allowance of £53.10 is an affront to human dignity and fails to support carers..see notes below

2. protecting Disability Benefits ( over 65s ).
One of the objectives of originally introducing AA was that it helped and empowered the claimant, it gave them the independence and flexibility of directing the spending of their allowance based on their own judgement of their immediate and individual needs.. AA is an entirely fit for purpose benefit just as it is, LEAVE IT ALONE.

You can see details here of our campaign fighting to protect Disability Benefits . This campaign covered several months and we will be contacting all groups/organisations again that represent carers/disabled/elderly asking them to pledge their support too.

1. Carers Allowance is the lowest paid benefit. (which has to be worked for, at the
rate of £53.10 per week, £2761.20p per year).
2. If a carer has no savings to speak of & is not supplementing their income with
other employment they may be entitled to some help with council tax & £30 a week
extra income from Income Support. If however, a carer has savings of over £16000,
the only income they will receive in return for working 24/7 will be £53.10 a week.
They are forced to subsidise their own caring role by spending their savings.
3.Many carers are self-funding their caring role when they draw down their pensions
early & use their savings to supplement their Carers Allowance.
4. Carers are discouraged from bettering their circumstances through education as
they are penalised the whole amount of their Carers Allowance if their chosen course
exceeds 21 hours.
5. Carers Allowance is paid to a carer for one persons care only.
6. The Overlapping Benefit Rule restricts carers claiming other benefits.
7.Those in receipt of CA who reach pensionable age find their CA stops but their
caring role continues.
8. When a Carer ceases to be a carer , & elects to return to the job market , he \
she does NOT qualify for JSA automatically as CA does NOT count towards the credits
needed for JSA.


Moazzam Begg, Jihadism and Norwich Amnesty

by Paul Stott

On 20 October last year I saw former Guantanamo Bay inmate and Director of Cage Prisoners Moazzam Begg address the Norwich branch of Amnesty International, as part of Amnesty’s ‘Protect the Human Week’.

However well intention Amnesty International are, and I think they are correct in their call for due process and in their opposition to Guantanamo and similar institutions within Afghanistan, there is a real risk here in terms of their credibility.

Begg outlined the process that led him to be taken in what he referred to as extraordinary rendition – from Islamabad, to Bagram in Afghanistan, then to Camp Echo in Guantanamo Bay. He argued too much attention has gone on to the Cuban facility, when the bigger issues are around Bagram, secret detention and proxy detention using sites in countries such as Libya and Syria.

This message was appreciatively received by Norwich Amnesty, who had earlier campaigned hard for Binyamin Mohamed, also held by the Americans until February 2009. It is fair to say this was a well meaning, rather middle class audience but I fear one that is also slightly gullible.

Putting aside the case of Mohamed (who we are supposed to believe travelled to the centre of the world’s heroin trade in order to receive treatment for drug addiction) Begg and Cage Prisoners were not entirely straight with Norwich Amnesty.

Firstly lets take the Cage Prisoners promotional material at their stall that evening. It centred on their film and glossy leaflets promoting their work. Yet when I attended Islam Expo in June 2008, literature with official Cage Prisoners leaflets (upstairs at the Olympia event) – included prison details for that well known ‘prisoner of conscience’ Abu Hamza, convicted of eleven charges in February 2006, including soliciting murder.

This cannot be explained away as contrary to Cage Prisoners policy, as a glance at the prisoners list on their website demonstrates

Are would be shoe bomber Sajid Badat, arms importer Andrew Rowe or Abu Qatada prisoners of conscience? Not from where I am sitting. This aspect of Cage Prisoners work was entirely absent from the Norwich event. Put simply, Moazzam Begg and his group present one set of issues to a white middle class crowd from Norwich’s ‘Golden Triangle’, and another one to their fellow Islamists.

Secondly there is the issue of Begg himself. In Norwich he stated that his rendition was due to a UK intelligence services dossier re his visits to Bosnia in the early 1990s. This told the Americans he was a threat. Nothing more was said that evening, yet anyone with even a cursory glance of Begg’s book ‘Enemy Combatant’ can see this is far from being the whole truth.

In 1993 Begg visited a Jamaat-e-Islami training camp in Afghanistan, a camp still operating some four years after the Soviets had left the country. He then visited an adjoining Arab camp (p.50-57).

He explains to his future wife that something may happen to him if he goes to Bosnia (p.59) before going to a Mujahideen camp in the country (p.66-67). He subsequently plans a trip to Chechnya – not exactly the sort of place you go to for a Club 18-30 – but is stopped on his way out of the UK by the security services. He attempts to travel there anyway, but is refused entry to Georgia (p.87) so cannot reach his desired destination.

You do not have to be Sherlock Homes to take the view that following 9/11, Begg’s presence – in either Afghanistan or Pakistan – is likely to be of considerable interest to the security services.

Like Amnesty I disagree with how those same security services treated him – in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. But it is easy to feel just as uncomfortable with the sight of ‘progressive’ political activists queuing up to support someone who is by his own words a follower of the Salafi (early) way of Islam (p.331 of his book). What price ‘due process’ in a society run by Moazzam Begg?

In Norwich Begg made it clear that Cage Prisoners will continue, even if Guantanamo Bay closes. That in a way is no surprise – it has a wider objective. Some of those objectives are very far from the types of beliefs progressives claim to uphold.

The last word however, should go to Moazzam Begg himself, and this unintentionally hilarious exchange with two CIA interrogators from his memoirs (p.214):

‘I wanted to live in an Islamic state – one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world’.

- ‘So you chose the Taliban?’

‘I chose Afghanistan. I admit I have made mistakes – but had it not been for 9/11, I think I would still be living happily in Afghanistan’

- ‘Probably as a member of Al Qaeda or the Taliban’

‘I knew you wouldn’t understand. The Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past twenty-five years. You weren’t in Afghanistan – not before nor during the Taliban. Child sex, rape, looting, robbery, murder and opium production only ended when they took control. ‘

- ‘And in came amputations, floggings and executions..….’

Seriously ill patients ‘told to work’

A BBC investigation has heard claims of seriously ill patients being told they are fit enough to work and denied benefit payments.

Two former doctors for the private healthcare company Atos, which carries out the medical assessments have expressed concerns that the checks are being done too quickly and that the system is biased towards declaring people fit for work.

BBC Scotland’s Social Affairs Reporter, Fiona Walker, has been investigating why some of those who had high hopes for ESA say it has been a failure.

Employment Support Allowance, or ESA, is replacing Incapacity Benefit. It’s supposed to support the very sick, and as people get better, help them get back into the workplace.

The government said it wanted to get a million people back to work by 2015 but more that one year after introducing ESA, it says it can’t measure how many people the scheme has got back into the workplace.
During the investigation, we’ve heard claims that terminally ill patients are being told to attend back-to-work interviews while they apply for the new benefit.

We also heard concerns that the medicals are declaring seriously ill people as fit enough to go to work.
One of the patients we spoke to was Maureen Leitch. She says she was called in for a medical assessment just a few weeks after undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for vulval cancer.
She was declared fit for work and told she wasn’t entitled to ESA.

She said: “I was struggling terribly with the whole cancer. I was in extreme pain… It was a whole load of hassle, and aggravation that I didn’t need at the time I was going through the journey of the cancer… I feel insulted and badly let down, with the system.”

Maureen appealed the decision and it was overturned, meaning she was eventually awarded the benefit.
Currently, there are 44, 000 people waiting for their appeals to be heard. More than a third of people are winning their appeals.

Charities and organisations including Citizens’ Advice Bureau, say they’re worried that thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted because of the number of people going to appeal.
Everyone we’ve interviewed for this investigation agrees that getting people back to work can be good for them.

Frequent appraisals

What they’re concerned about is the way the system is working in practice.
Dr Chris Johnstone is a GP in Paisley. His work to help his patients back to work helped shape the ESA policy.
He said: “I have no problem with a rigorous medical assessment done in a supportive fashion.
“But I think if you have a slipshod one done, as it appears to be anecdotally, that’s unfair for the people going through the system. It feels like some of it is done inappropriately and it’s almost being done to save money rather than to look after people.”

Ultimately the decision on whether you get benefit or not is down to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), but they have contracted a private healthcare company called Atos to carry out the initial medical assessments.

I’ve spoken to two doctors who used to work for Atos. They say they are concerned about the way checks are being done. They both say they are worried that speaking out will affect their medical careers so we’ve agreed not to reveal their names.

This is what one of the doctors told me: “We would frequently have appraisals. They were all about how many clients you had seen and the average length of time it took to complete each assessment and write the reports.

“I wanted to know if they were happy with the quality of the reports I’d done but they hadn’t even looked at my reports, only at the time it had taken. It’s really tough to qualify for ESA.
“When doctors go in for the day’s assessments, they pretty much know the clients are going to be turned down.”

The other doctor I spoke to backed up those claims.

We asked to do an interview with Atos, but they refused.

Gaining skills

Instead they gave us a statement saying: “We are continually monitored and audited by the government to ensure that it completes the highest standard of assessment and that medical advice is correct.

“Atos Healthcare and its employees are not advised of the result of the assessment and the outcome has no bearing on Atos Healthcare targets or remuneration.”

Helping people back to work is one of the key aims of ESA. But the government can’t tell us how many people this new scheme has got back into work.

The minister for Disabled People at Westminster is Jonathan Shaw, MP. I asked him why his department couldn’t tell us how many people ESA had successfully got back to work.

He said: “What’s essential is that we are providing a programme, across the board, not just for ESA claimants but for youngsters, for disabled people for elderly people, to try and gain the skills that they can to stay in the labour market and return to work.

“We’ve got the pathways to work programme, which as I say is helping thousands of people who I’ve met up and down the country… this is early days, for the Employment Support Allowance.”

Mr Shaw also said he would be looking into the way cancer patients are treated.


Welfare Reform

Welfare for all? The Welfare ‘Abolition’ Bill

The government’s Welfare Reform bill has been passed by the House of Commons and is now being debated in the House of Lords. The bill contains a wide range of new regulations, and is being rushed through parliament despite widespread opposition. For such a wide ranging bill to be passing through parliament without extensive draft regulations and at such speed means that it has been impossible for most interested parties to undertake effective scrutiny of the major changes. The bill contains a number of get out clauses for the government, signs that the bill that has not yet been thought through. For example, Clause 7 (which provides of the abolition of income support) empowers the Secretary of State to repeal any act or regulation where he considers it necessary or expedient to do so. The government have also failed so far to clarify their position where the bill appears to contradict their other statements, for example around carers continued entitlement to income support whilst the issues around whole system of benefits for carers is resolved.

The key areas of the bill will:

Privatise more of the work of the Jobcentre Plus to companies who will be paid on a payment by results scheme.

Impose more conditionality on claimants, including docking payment for missed interviews and compelling people to undertake activities to prepare them for work.

Introduce compulsory work for benefits in a US style workfare scheme called work for your benefit.

The ending of income support signals the end of the principle that those in need deserve help. ‘Work for your benefit’ forces people to labour in roles for a quarter of minimum wage, and reduces the opportunities for people to find properly paid employment. Much of the Bill is about increasing conditionality on claimants, lone parents, and sick and disabled people, yet there is nothing about benefit adequacy. Jobseekers Allowance is paid at less than £10 a day, if it had increased in line with earnings over the past 30 years the rate for a single person over the age of 25 would be more than £100 a week.

The bill also proposes the privatisation of large parts of the Jobcentre Plus Service, to companies who will be paid for each person who gets into paid employment. While the Government has sought to justify increased conditionality for many claimants on the grounds of increased provision of high-quality, personally tailored employment and skills related support, there is no provision in the welfare reform bill that people have an entitlement or guarantee to this. Instead the payment by results culture is likely to lead to the provision of generalist support from companies who are focused on meeting their targets rather than on the individual, with the use of sanctions to ensure that people must comply with whatever support they are offered. This culture from the Jobcentre Plus and private companies will disadvantage disabled people and others who have more complex support needs who will take longer to make a transition into work and who may be more expensive to support.

The bill does not consider supporting people to access training and jobs with fair pay and decent conditions, or set out to secure adequate incomes for people loosing their jobs or unable to find work. There are no measures to challenge discriminatory attitudes held by employers in order to support more disabled people and people with mental health issues into work; or proposals to help parents by encouraging flexible working practices and expanding the provision of affordable childcare. The focus on conditionality and sanctions in the Bill at a time of rising unemployment will cause anxiety and fear amongst those affected – lone parents, carers, disabled people and those facing the prospect of unemployment. These people face tougher tests to qualify for benefits, and if they fail they could be cut off with no support.

What is contained in the bill?

Abolition of Income Support

The Bill allows for the abolition of income support, and provides that any groups that remain on Income Support can be required to attend work focused interviews, and undertake work related activity or be subject to a sanction.

Increased conditionality

People claiming benefits will be compelled to follow the directions from an employment advisor or face sanctions on their benefits.

Work for your Benefit

‘Work for your benefit’ is workfare. It is enforced labour at a rate of as little as £1.73 per hour (combining current JSA rates with a 35 hour week). The Bill proposes piloting of workfare and would allow for a national rollout without further primary legislation. But DWP research already suggests that:

there is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work;
it is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high;
it is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to work;
it can reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.

Work related activity

The bill will allow the Jobcentre Plus, and private contractors, to issue mandatory directions to lone parents and sick and disabled claimants that they must undertake a specific activity, or face a sanction on their benefits.

Increased conditionality for couples

The Bill makes two changes for couples claiming benefit. Firstly, it removes the right of a sick or disabled person to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the couple where their partner could instead claim JSA. Secondly, the Bill requires partners of claimants of IS, ESA and JSA to undertake work related activity or be subject to a sanction, meaning that partners cannot choose not to work.

Changes in contribution conditions for JSA and ESA

The Bill proposes a significant restriction on eligibility for contributory JSA and ESA. Those in work will find that they have to work for longer to pay the contributions required to qualify for benefit. This will reduce the number of claimants who qualify for contributory ESA and JSA, and will force many more claimants on to means tested benefits, which are complex and suffer from low take-up. Others will have no entitlement at all to means tested benefits.

Carers Allowance and Maternity Allowance

The Bill abolishes the dependent additions paid with carers allowance and maternity allowance. Both benefits are non-means tested and are paid to some of the poorest people in the country. Its removal will lead to an increase in reliance on means tested benefits, or for those who fail the means test, having to live on a lower level of income.

Benefit penalties for ‘offenders’

The Bill proposes that claimants who have been convicted, cautioned or fined of any offence of fraud will have their benefit suspended for four weeks. The proposal will catch people who are overpaid benefit due to a DWP mistake or error or misunderstanding on their part, but who but lack the skills and confidence to seek advice and challenge poor decisions made by the DWP. Benefit fraud is now a smaller problem than error, and is also smaller than that of non-take up, yet the Bill has nothing to say about how those missing out on their entitlements can be helped to claim. In addition, continuing to issue high profile ‘tough’ messages stigmatises the claimant population by instilling a wrongful stereotype that claimant fraud is common.

Training and skills of employment advisors

The Bill gives employment advisors greater responsibility in supporting people to look for work and in imposing sanctions on people who do not follow their directions. Advisors are currently insufficiently trained on working with people who need more support to look for work, including people with mental health issues and people with disabilities, yet the Bill does not propose to increase the training for employment advisors. The payments by results culture in this bill means that it is more likely that the employment support offered to people will be generalist, meaning people who have support needs, who it will be more expensive to support into work, will not receive appropriate help and will risk having their benefits cut under the new sanctions. There is nothing contained in the bill about how claimants will be protected from the unfair application of sanctions.

Mandatory drug testing

The Welfare Reform Bill introduces the power for mandatory drug testing for benefits claimants. The penalty for not complying with the test, or with a resulting rehabilitation plan is loss of benefit for 26 weeks.

Compulsion to access medical treatment

The Bill will allow employment advisors to decide the appropriate activity a claimant should undertake to be ready for work, including activities to manage their health. This power could be used to require a claimant to access healthcare provision, take medication or access psychological therapies. This will blur the boundaries between health provision and social control, and may mean that people are compelled to access physical or mental health treatment in order to obtain their benefits.

Data sharing

The bill proposes that information about benefit claimants will be more widely shared between government agencies, including sharing information from the police, prison service and health services with employment agencies.

Right to control for disabled people

The proposal is for a pilot to see whether people should be given control over their social care support, it does not give a commitment that this will happen for everyone. The government does not yet have a clear idea about what types of funding and support people would be given control over, how they would implement individual budgets or how they would give increased control to people who do not want individual budgets.

Social fund and Community Care Grants

Plans for the future of the social fund are not clear. The proposal is for the Social Fund to be partially administered by private loan providers who would charge interest on the loans, yet there is no rationale about how this will improve the operation of the fund. The bill will also enable successful Community Care Grant applicants to be provided with the item they have applied for rather than money.

Birth Registration

The Welfare Reform Bill introduces compulsory joint birth registration for unmarried parents, and sanctions can be applied if a mother fails to disclose the father of her child.
Child Maintenance

The bill also proposes new collection and compliance arrangements for child maintenance, including the withdrawal of driving licences and passports of non-resident parents who do not pay child maintenance.


Survey shows great divide in region’s educational ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’

A divide has opened up between the education haves and have-nots across East Anglia, new figures reveal.

Location is shown to be a key factor for children as they fight for a prosperous future, with youngsters in some areas trailing well behind those living just a few miles down the road.

The EDP has analysed district-by-district statistics detailing how well 11-year-olds did in English, maths, science, reading and writing tests earlier this year.

They show that youngsters in Waveney are the worst of more than 350 council areas in England for their English results, with only 68pc getting the target level four.

Great Yarmouth is rock-bottom in the country for the percentage of 11-year-olds who got at least a level four in reading, writing and maths – at just 44pc percent, well under half of the children who sat the tests.

Meanwhile, more prosperous South Norfolk is 8th best for English results, with 88pc of children getting at least level four.

Other figures show:

Waveney and Yarmouth are joint second from bottom of the table for maths, with 66pc getting the target level four – with only Wansbeck in Northumberland faring worse, at 65pc

Waveney is the worst in England for English and maths combined, with 57pc getting level four in both

Waveney and Yarmouth are tied at the bottom of the table for the average points score for pupils in the tests, at 26.5.

It might be expected that many of the worst performing councils are in inner cities.

But many of the areas near the bottom of the table are in deprived coastal areas, some of which have endured high unemployment and falling income per household as holiday habits have changed.

They include Wansbeck in Northumberland, Great Yarmouth, Waveney, Swale in Kent, Ipswich, Hastings in East Sussex, Adur in West Sussex and Thanet in Kent.

Chris Snudden, Norfolk County Council’s head of primary school improvement, said: “We know that some areas of the county have significant levels of deprivation, including Great Yarmouth.

“Some of the performance there comes from communities that are increasingly taking families from other parts of the country and other parts of Europe. Therefore the figures are not a surprise.”

Mrs Snudden added: “Our aim is that all children should do as well as they can. Our school support money is weighted according to the greatest need.”

She said along with the extra money, there was extra teaching in small groups for children with identified difficulties.

Mrs Snudden cited the work of Alderman Swindell Infant in Yarmouth, which had been named “outstanding” by Ofsted despite the challenges of deprivation and large numbers of overseas children.

“Our evidence is that if you get your strategies right, children can succeed. It’s not a quick fix, it’s a lot of hard work with children, parents and communities.”

Earlier this month, the EDP reported that Norfolk improved from 119th to 111th of the 150 local authorities in England in the 2009 primary school tests.

The county remains comfortably below the national average, despite a small improvement in the percentage of pupils getting the target level four in maths and science and small dip in English results.

The more detailed district-by-district figures show how Norfolk’s long-term position in the bottom half of the table is down to piecemeal performance, with results particularly poor in Yarmouth and Norwich, below average in Breckland, average in King’s Lynn and West Norfolk and North Norfolk, and well ahead of the mark in Broadland and South Norfolk. source

Retreat on ‘draconian’ testing for disability benefit

Ministers are to change the way disabled people are assessed for benefits amid uproar over a “draconian” testing regime that aims to cut the welfare bill and get more people into work.

The Department for Work and Pensions is to review the work capability assessment test – a key part of its welfare-to-work programme – after being warned that it was deeply flawed and would lead to many disabled people, and those with genuine health problems, being unfairly penalised.

The government wants to slash the number of people on incapacity benefit – to be replaced by a new benefit, the employment and support allowance (ESA) – by one million from its current total of 2.7 million.

Over the next three years, it intends to test all those on incapacity benefit to find out if they are genuinely unable to work, and then place them on ESA, where payments differ according to levels of disability or illness.

Those who fail the test altogether and are judged fit to seek work will be placed on jobseekers’ allowance, which will mean considerably lower income. Once all 2.7 million have been tested, incapacity benefit will cease to exist.

Over recent months, however, ministers have been bombarded with complaints from disability groups and others about the new tests, which are already being used to assess new claimants for employment and support allowance.

Work capability assessment places claimants into different categories depending on needs and abilities. A higher payment of up to £108.55 a week will be made to severely disabled people who are not expected to work and a lower one of £89.90 goes to those who need tailored support to find work. Other, non-disabled people are expected to find work without support and receive JSA of £65 a week.

Disability groups, which had supported the reforms in the belief that they would tackle “disability poverty”, say the assessment does not reflect how an impairment impacts on someone’s everyday life or ability to work.

Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, said the tests were too rigid. “They do not measure ability to perform work functions (eg, typing, packing or sweeping) but are based on someone describing their average day and simple tasks like picking up a coin from the floor (to test movement, for instance),” said Coyle.

Evidence from the first tests for ESA showed that many people who needed help were being wrongly judged as fit to seek work. As a result, they were being placed on jobseekers’ allowance and denied access to programmes to help them find suitable employment, such as Pathways to Work, specifically set up to help those on incapacity benefit.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “The government’s draconian approach of forcing people off incapacity benefit when they clearly can’t work is having tragic consequences and robbing people of help when they are in most need. The government needs to urgently review the employment and support allowance capability test.”

Figures for new claimants for ESA showed that, of the 193,800 people who made a claim between October 2008 and February 2009, 36% were found to be fit for work and therefore not eligible for the higher benefit.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The work capability assessment looks at what people can do, rather than what they can’t, to give them the support they need to get back to work and avoid ending up on long-term sickness benefits. For those who cannot work, they will receive additional support and help.

“This is a relatively new process, but we were very grateful to have organisations such as Disability Alliance involved in the consultation process and the development of the programme from the very start.

“We will be reviewing it to see where improvements and changes need to be made to ensure that it is working as it should be.”

In October, Jonathan Shaw, minister for the disabled, said about 15% of those tested would be “disallowed employment and support allowance”.


Fuel Tax Increases.

More tax increases that will hit the poorest in the county to fill up the coffers of a bankrupt state purse.

Fuel prices in Norfolk could hit record highs this year, with a raft of tax increases set to send pump prices soaring.

Yesterday prices crept towards 116p a litre for both unleaded and diesel at some garages in the west of the county. Two days earlier, prices were averaging below 110p a litre.

Queues formed at forecourts in King’s Lynn and Fakenham, as drivers topped up for a final time before the VAT rate on petrol went back up to 17.5pc from 15pc.

But the Petrol Retailers Association warned there was worse to come, predicting prices could overtake the record of 120p a litre reached briefly in July 2008 by the end of this year with a further tax rise in April and some forecasters predicting higher and additional rates on taxation later in the year.

Sally Smith, Norfolk spokeswoman for the Country Land and Business Association, said: “It’s the old double whammy for anyone living in a rural area.

“It’s going to hit the whole rural economy, everything from taking beet to the sugar factory to school buses. It’s a pretty miserable start to the great new decade.”

Tim Bonner, from the Countryside Alliance, said: “You have to drive to access more and more services with the centralisation of things like healthcare, so we say to the government have you considered the impact this is going to have on rural communities.

“Since 1998 or 1999, we’ve had a government which said we’re going to have rural proofing and consider the affect of our policies on rural areas – here’s another classic example of their not doing that.

“There are other ways and means of raising tax income, it’s unfair that rural areas have to bear this additional burden.”

On the eve of the VAT increase, the 6000-strong PRA said Britain’s 33m drivers were “an easy target” for a government desperate for cash to plug a record deficit.

Fuel duty is set to rise by at least a 1p a litre in April, while tax subsidies for biofuel production will also end, pushing prices even higher.

In a report on industry trends, the PRA warned fuel taxes could increase by at least 10p a litre by the end of 2010. A widely-expected increase in the VAT rate to 20pc could push unleaded prices up to £1.23 a litre and diesel to £1.25 or even higher.

The RAC said the cost of filling the average 55-litre tank with unleaded had increased 22pc from £49 to £59.67 since December 2008, with diesel drivers facing a 9pc hike from £55.66 to £60.45.

Yesterday prices in Norwich varied between 106.9 and 110.9 for unleaded and 108.9 and 111.9 for diesel. But increases tend to take effect more slowly in cities and larger towns, where competition between supermarkets drives down prices.

“Rural areas do pay higher than the average,” said Paul Watters from the AA. “You have less hypermarkets, you have less choice, that leads to an increase in price.”

Staff at some service stations said prices would be going up over the next couple of days as fresh stocks of fuel arrived from wholesalers.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers