Too poor to flush the toilet

“A disabled mother from Yorkshire says she is so worried about the cost of water that she sometimes has to miss out on washing or flushing the toilet.

Shirley Widdop, from Keighley, whose bill, based on a water meter, has risen by 35%, says: “It’s outrageous and like something from the 1930s.”
“We shouldn’t have to ration water.”

A report on poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that arrears for water bills are now the most common form of debt for the poorest families.

“I am on a water meter and because I’m on a low income I constantly worry about the bill being too high,” says the 51-year-old, who lives with two of her children.

She says it’s embarrassing but wants to raise awareness for many other people in a similar situation “who can’t speak up for themselves”.
The Consumer Council for Water, the watchdog for water consumers, says the number of people being put on to reduced rates for water bills, because they are struggling to pay, has risen by 50% in a year, to almost 400,000. …”

“Nine children in typical class of 30 now living in poverty as levels soar to worst seen in decades, report says”

“A “relentless rise” in the number of working families struggling to make ends meet means more than half a million children in Britain are now trapped in poverty, a damning report has revealed.

In-work poverty is the highest it has been in 20 years and in a typical classroom of 30 children, nine are living in poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s state of the nation report says.

Although successive governments have argued work is the fastest route out of poverty, the figures show 8 million people are living in poverty in households where at least one person is already in work.

The alarming figures come after the chancellor Philip Hammond revealed Brexit will make the UK worse off under any scenario.

The government estimates the UK economy could shrink by 3.9 per cent after 15 years under Theresa May’s Brexit plan, compared with staying in the EU.

But a no-deal Brexit could deliver a 9.3 per cent hit, the figures say.

Overall one in five of the UK population (22 per cent) are already in poverty – a total of 14.3 million people, and 56.5 per cent of those in poverty are living in household where someone is in work.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned families could be “pushed over the brink”.

He said: “We are seeing a rising tide of child poverty as more parents are unable to make ends meet, despite working. This is unacceptable.

“It means more families are trapped in impossible situations: struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table and dealing with the terrible stresses and strains poverty places on family life.

“It’s time for us to decide what kind of country we want to be. As we leave the EU, we must tackle the burning injustice of poverty and make Britain a country that works for everyone.

“We can do this by taking action on housing, social security and work to loosen the constraints poverty places on people’s lives. No one wants to see more families being pushed over the brink.

“We have an opportunity to fix this and ensure everyone can reach a decent standard of living – it is one we must seize to make the country work for everyone after Brexit.”

In-work poverty has been rising even faster than employment, the report says, and has been exacerbated by many parents working in low paid service industry jobs with little chance of career progression “especially in hotels, bars, restaurants and shops”.

Any gains from the national living wage and tax cuts are often outweighed by changes to tax credits and benefits that top up low wages, while the cost of housing has risen.

To stem the rise in poverty, the report calls for major government investments in affordable housing, ending the freeze on benefits and tax credits, and for employers to help people progress in the workplace.”

“The public service gamble: Councils borrowing billions to play the property market”

New report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

“In the last two years, the number of councils investing in property has doubled. In the past financial year alone, councils spent a total of £1.8 billion on investment properties, a six-fold increase from 2013-14.

Of biggest concern is the scale of debts accrued by four of the smallest local authorities in England – including Spelthorne Borough Council in Surrey, which says it is “heavily reliant on investment income” to fund the services it provides.

Spelthorne has so far borrowed £1 billion despite having a net annual budget of just £22 million – this equates to 46 times its spending power. Three other councils, Woking, Runnymede and Eastleigh, have borrowed more than ten times their budget.

The Bureau has obtained details of the property investments made by more than 100 local authorities. Today we have published the details in full, providing unprecedented insight into how councils are becoming property speculators – with additional details on the millions paid to property and finance consultants.

Properties bought by councils include a BP business park in Sunbury purchased by Spelthorne for £392 million; a Tesco Extra bought for £38.8 million by East Hampshire District Council; branches of Waitrose and Travelodge acquired by Runnymede District Council for £21.7 million and a B&Q store that is now owned by Dover District Council. Other acquisitions range from farmland and gyms to a Royal Mail depot and a solar farm.

Councils say they have been forced to find new ways to generate income given the steep cuts in central government funding, which the National Audit Office calculates has fallen by half in real terms since 2010.

But experts warn that commercial property investments are volatile, and the fact that councils are financing them through borrowing makes them even riskier. If anything goes wrong, the consequences for taxpayers could be severe.

“This is a risk that local authorities have never been exposed to before”
“If you look at the most extreme examples, there are public services used by vulnerable people which are dependent on how well rental income in the property market is doing,” said Don Peebles, Head of Policy for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), which oversees council finance and publishes the guidelines local authorities are supposed to follow.

“This is a risk that local authorities have never been exposed to before and you have to ask whether they are equipped to handle that risk.”

Warnings unheeded

The spending spree has been made possible by councils’ easy access to low interest loans from the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB), a national government body. There are no limits to how much councils can borrow and they do not have to prove they can afford it – the PWLB leaves this up to councillors to decide. … “