Friday 29 November 2013

Carers Rights Day 2013

Carers UK have published new figures showing people caring unpaid for ill or disabled loved ones are missing out on the support they are entitled to, so on Carers Rights Day I am urging carers to find out about the support available.

There are 6.5 million people in the UK providing unpaid care and support to family, friends and neighbours saving the country over £119 billion every year.

The charity says that a total of £1billion in Carer’s Allowance is being unclaimed nationally as over 360,000 full-time carers miss out on the main carers’ benefit. In the Wigan Borough 2,127 carers are missing out on over £6.6million of unclaimed benefit per annum according to new figures from carers charity, Carers UK.

Carers make a huge contribution to society, but without the right support caring can be tough. It is vital that we all help to identify and support those caring for ill, frail or disabled loved ones and signpost them to the advice and support available.

Carers can order a free booklet called Looking after someone: a guide to carers’ rights and benefits from Carers UK or calling the Adviceline on 0808 808 7777.

Monday 25 November 2013

Payday Loan rates to be capped

I am pleased that the Government are at last responding to this issue but the devil really is in the detail and we will have to wait to learn exactly what George Osborne is proposing.

It is not just the high rates of interest that punish borrowers but the unacceptable methods and charges of debt collection – particularly using Continuos Payment Authority (CPAs) to empty peoples bank accounts. The constant advertising and text messaging bombardment urging people to take out these loans targeted at the vulnerable should also be regulated.

Citizens Advice are right to raise the issue of choice in the market and that a cap on credit must be a cap on the total cost of credit. We must also encourage mainstream lenders like the high street banks offer short term loans and continue to encourage the growth of Credit Unions.

Friday 15 November 2013

I'm backing calls to show respect for shopworkers

I joined staff at The Co-operative Food store in Winstanley this morning, to back a campaign calling on shoppers to show respect for retail workers.

My visit is in support of national shopworkers’ union Usdaw’s “Freedom from Fear Campaign”, and its Respect for Shopworkers Week, which runs from 11-15 November.

As a community retailer, The Co-operative is backing Usdaw’s campaign and has taken a leading role in tackling retail crime.

Verbal or physical abuse is not part of the job description for staff working in retail. Shopworkers should not have to put up with harassment or abuse from customers, when they are trying their best to serve the public.

They deserve our respect and that is why I applaud Co-operative stores across our area for backing Usdaw’s ‘Freedom from Fear' campaign.

Gwynneth Smedley, The Co-operative Food’s Regional Stores Director for the North West and North Midlands said, “The Co-operative’s food stores provide an essential service to local communities, that many people rely on in the run up to Christmas, and anti-social behaviour by a minority can have a devastating impact. However, it’s also a time of year shops are crowded and people are more stressed, so this is an important reminder that everyone, including retail workers, deserve respect.”

This week retail staff trade union leader John Hannett revealed survey results showing that 1 in 6 shopworkers had not reported a violent attack to their manager or the police.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary said, “It is very worrying that 1 in 6 shopworkers who have
been physically assaulted did not report the incident to their employer or the police. We are shocked that
so many are suffering in silence and I would urge shopworkers to report all incidents, to give us and the
employers the chance to sort the problem."

"We are seeking a change in the law to provide for stiffer sentences for those who assault workers
serving the public. There is a real need to address the scourge of violence against workers. This
proposal would make it clear to potential assailants that attacking shopworkers is totally unacceptable
and reassure retail staff that reporting incidents will result in proper punishment for the offender."

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Bedroom Tax

Pic with Shadow Secretary of State for
Work & Pensions Rachel Reeves MP
So here we are over six months on from the introduction of the bedroom tax, and we can properly appraise its impact.

Back in April, in a debate in Westminster Hall, I described the Government’s policy as cruel and wicked. As likely to bring misery and hardship as anything else and I have been proved right. Arrears have risen, families have cut back on essentials, and communities have been undermined.

But has it been successful on the Government’s own terms? As a policy it was always more about saving money, pure and simple, than anything else.

In the DWP impact assessments this was projected to amount to £930 million over two years (2013/14 and 2014/15). But this figure has been shown to be wildly optimistic, as the recent report by the Centre for Housing Policy at York University, based on real data from a number of housing organisations, including Wigan & Leigh Housing (WALH) has shown.

In Wigan, according to Government figures, £2.9 million could be saved annually. This would be achieved if nobody moved (and made up the rent shortfall themselves) or if everyone downsized within the social rented sector. It is not clear which of the options the Government prefers, but we are certainly seeing more of the former than the latter.

This is because in Wigan we have a shortage of one and two bedroom properties (and a surplus of three beds).  So there is nowhere to move to. This is the case in much of the North. Does the Government know this? I wonder sometimes if this Government understands anything about the North.

If tenants cannot move to council properties with fewer bedrooms then they must make up the rent difference themselves. In my constituency there are 4200 tenants affected, with reductions in housing benefits ranging from £517 to £1273. That money has to be found. And so often it will be found only by cutting down on essentials, such as heating and food. The York report quotes a number of people facing this dilemma, and reveals also the stress and anxiety that it also causes. In October 2,500 people contacted WALH about rent and debt – an increase of over 50%.

The other alternative is not to pay rent of course and one clear consequence of the bedroom tax is the building up of rent arrears. In Wigan the number of tenants in debt with their rent has risen from 33% to 53%. That’s over half.

This is a headache for tenants but it is also headache for councils. The Government talks of saving money, but it forgets the extra costs to councils and housing associations. The bedroom tax means a loss of rental income for Wigan Council and Wigan and Leigh Housing that has been estimated to be in the region of at least £1m a year. That’s money that could be used to build new homes. The staffing costs of dealing with increased arrears, rehousing and abandonments could perhaps be as much as £300,000 per annum. Has the Government thought of this in their calculations?

The only real option for tenants in Wigan facing a housing benefit shortfall, and unable to find a smaller property in the social housing sector, is to go into the private sector. Yes, really. We estimate that 100 tenants have moved into the private sector in Wigan since April. More will likely follow, as arrears and debt continue to build up.

For Wigan private rents are £700 - £1200 more per annum than Council rents, which could result in an additional housing benefit cost of £229,000 in 2014-15.

Two-bedroom properties in Wigan are readily available at the local housing allowance rate of £80.77 per couple. The Government have made much play about the bedroom tax being fairer, since – we are told – people in the private rented sector aren’t able to afford extra bedrooms. But this is certainly not the case in Wigan, where one-bedroom properties are much scarcer, so people in the private rented sector can have a spare bedroom without paying for the privilege. I suspect that this is the case in the constituencies of many of my colleagues, too. I informed the housing minister of this fact many months ago, but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

The Government have also made much of the need to address overcrowding, by freeing up larger properties for bigger families. But that doesn’t hold water either. In Wigan there is a real problem in finding tenants for three bedroom houses and two bedroom flats. There are 10,110 three-bedroom properties, of which 553 became vacant, but only 353 applications were made for those vacancies Demand has fallen, with the result that properties are remaining empty for longer in certain areas. The idea that families are packed like sardines in undersized houses waiting for people with spare rooms to move is simply not true.

This is a Government policy which simply doesn’t work. Certainly not in Wigan and most of the north of England. It doesn’t save money. It doesn’t reduce overcrowding. And it’s not a fairer system. All it does is push people into arrears and reduce the living standards of some of our poorest citizens. And it brings increased stress and misery to thousands. That’s why I described it as cruel.

It’s also vindictive. Because at its essence it is an attack on people in social housing. It’s an attack on a way of life, and an attack on communities. The Government is meant to believe in communities and want to support them.

Not here. Not if people need to move every time their circumstances change. Image the situation. A couple move into a one bedroom flat. They have a child, they move away to a two bedroom flat. They have another child and then move to a three bedroom property. The eldest child turns 18, and then move back to a two bed flat and then a one bed flat. What happens to a sense of community when people are constantly moving, back and forth.

We should be building strong communities and not undermining them. Letting people put down roots and build neighbourhoods. Not moving people around like pieces in a chess game. It’s time for a rethink.

Monday 11 November 2013

My new role as a Milk Monitor at St Paul's Primary, Goose Green

I acted as milk monitor for the day at Saint Paul’s C of E Primary School in Goose Green on Friday (8th Nov) to celebrate free milk in schools.

Organised by the country’s leading school milk supplier Cool Milk, which also funds World School Milk Day in the UK, my visit was aimed at encouraging children to drink milk and teaching them about the nutritional benefits it provides.

As a child I enjoyed the benefits of school milk and I believe it is important that the children of today also enjoy the same privilege. It was great to see pupils at St Paul’s enjoying their milk and also the knowledge that they are receiving the nutritional benefits that milk provides.

My love of milk has stayed with me into adulthood and I still enjoy a glass of milk today or a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter’s night!

In the UK, an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five receive free milk every day, while pupils aged five to eleven receive subsidised milk.

Delivered fresh to the classroom, the milk is enjoyed as a group, promoting social development and independence. Milk is vital for building healthy bones and teeth and improves a child’s concentration, memory and creativity.

Friday 1 November 2013

Makerfield Christmas Veterans' Luncheon

Pic with the Mayor, Cllr Clive Morgan and veteran
 representatives at the inaugural 2012 event.
The second Makerfield Christmas Veterans' Luncheon will be held on Saturday, 7th December at St Matthew's Parish Hall, Billinge Rd, Highfield WN3 6BL commencing at 12noon.

The inaugural luncheon held in December 2012 was a great success and was attended by over 140 veterans.

Winstanley Ward Councillor, Clive Morgan will act as MC. Clive is himself, a former veteran of the 1982 Falklands War and served in the Welsh Guards.

The Mayor of Wigan for 2013/14, Cllr Billy Rotherham and the Mayoress will also be in attendance.

Tickets will be issued on a first come, first serve basis and can be obtained by calling my constituency office on 01942 824029 or by email. The closing date for applications is Friday, 22nd November. Tickets will be dispatched after this date.

Freeze that Bill!

I'm delighted that Ed Miliband has confirmed that a future Labour Government will freeze energy bills until the start of 2017.

Under David Cameron gas and electricity bills have gone up £300 for the average household.

Britain’s families are facing a cost of living crisis. Prices have risen faster than wages in 39 of the 40 months that David Cameron has been in Downing Street and energy bills have gone up by almost £300. David Cameron’s failure to tackle rip-off bills has meant that many people are struggling to pay their bills.

I know how people in Wigan are struggling with the rising cost of living. Many of my constituents have written to me worried about their energy bills, and having to make a choice between heating their homes or buying food.

When the price of energy increases energy companies pass this on but when it drops consumers don’t see their bills fall.

David Cameron can’t deal with the cost of living crisis because he stands up for a privileged few, not for ordinary families. David Cameron has cut tax for people on over £150,000 a year while raising it for everyone else.

Ed Miliband says Labour will freeze prices until the start of 2017 if Labour wins the next election. And he says we will break up the big energy companies so that we can all get a fair deal.

But people round here need help now. So I’m calling on David Cameron to freeze our bills now. And I’m asking local people to sign our petition so that the voices of Wigan are heard loud and clear in Downing Street.