“14 MPs turn up to discuss UN report on 14 million people living in poverty”

“The UN’s report on poverty in Britain is at risk of being swept under the carpet after just 14 MPs turned up to debate the issue in parliament yesterday.”


Meanwhile for the debate on increasing MPs pay:

“”England ‘needs millions of homes to solve housing crisis’ “

“Three million new social homes must be built in England over 20 years to solve the “housing crisis”, a report says.

Housing charity Shelter says upfront costs of £11bn a year could come from housing benefit savings by moving tenants from high-cost privately rented homes to social housing. … ”


“370,000 More Families Hit By Tory Child Benefit Cuts, Institute For Fiscal Studies Reveals”

“The number of families hit by child benefit cuts has soared by 370,000 thanks to Tory ‘stealth’ tax changes, a leading think tank has revealed.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that George Osborne’s decision to freeze income eligibility thresholds will leave one in five families facing the loss of all or some of the payments.

Six years to the day since the former Chancellor introduced his austerity crackdown, the number of those affected has surged by a third, the IFS analysis discovered.

Labour’s John McDonnell pounced on the figures as proof of the continuing impact of Osborne’s cuts programme, telling HuffPost UK that it was further evidence for the need to back Labour’s Budget amendment on Tuesday to review child poverty and equality levels.

Child benefit was a ‘universal’ benefit until the Tories decided in 2012 to severely restrict eligibility to exclude any household with someone earning above £50,000 a year.

But the IFS study found that failing to increase the threshold in line with inflation – while increasing higher rate tax thresholds – has dragged many more middle income families into the cuts.

“For the first time, significant numbers of families without a higher-rate taxpayer will lose some Child Benefit,” it said.

Based on current earnings growth, it estimates that 60,000 families without anyone earning £50,000 will lose out in 2021–22, doubling to 120,000 such families in 2022–23.

Child benefit is currently worth £1,079 per year for the first child and £714 for each subsequent one.

The IFS said that in its first full financial year of operation (2013-14), the new policy meant that 13% of families with children, or around a million, lost at least some of the benefit as a result of the policy, with around 700,000 losing all of it.

In 2019-20, it estimates that the share of families with children who are affected will be 18%, or 1.4 million, of whom a million will have lost all of their entitlement.

“In other words, the number of families with children who are affected will have risen by about 36%, or 370,000, in just six years.

“What cannot be justified is to have an ever-increasing proportion of families exposed to the policy over time, with the increase determined by the rise in prices since 2013.

“The cumulative impact it has in raising taxes or reducing benefits by stealth can do nothing for trust in government….”


“Nearly 5,000 schools in England not given promised cash – union”

“England’s biggest teaching union has accused the government of breaking its promise to provide a modest cash boost to every school in England, claiming figures reveal that nearly 5,000 schools have received no extra funds or have even had their funding cut.

In the wake of mounting concern among teachers and parents about a school budget crisis, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, told MPs last year that a new national funding formula would guarantee each school “at least a small cash increase”, a pledge repeated by the prime minister in the Commons last May.

The National Education Union argued the offer was inadequate given the scale of the school funding squeeze, but its analysis of recent government figures subsequently revealed that 4,819 schools had either received no extra funds or had had their budget cut.

“This is yet another failure and another broken promise by government on school funding,” said Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary. “The fact remains that schools were never going to manage on the money promised by government.

“However, headteachers, teachers, school staff and parents will be dismayed that even the meagre amounts of funds supposedly allocated to schools will not be received by everyone. Parents and school staff simply cannot trust what the government says on education funding.”

The NEU compared the schools block funding allocations for 2017-18 and 2018-19 and found that a quarter of primary schools (25%) and one in six secondary schools (17%) either received no cash increase or suffered an actual cut to their funding.

Responding to the NEU analysis, a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said that since 2017 the government had given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school in order to ensure fairer funding across the country.

“Government provides this money to local authorities and they have the freedom to work with schools to allocate their budgets in a way that best suits local needs,” the spokesperson said.

“While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that we are asking them to do more. That’s why we’re supporting schools and headteachers, and their local authorities, to make the most of every pound.”

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, total school spending per pupil in England has fallen by about 8% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18. …”


“Need to sign on? You’ll have to walk 24 miles to the jobcentre”

A lesson for all rural dwellers unlucky enough to lose a jobm

“Twenty-four miles there and back is one hell of a hike to your local jobcentre. But when Ray Taylor, 56, had his benefits cut for 13 weeks after illness meant he missed an appointment to sign on, he had no option but to get out his walking shoes. He doesn’t have friends with cars to give him a lift, and with no money coming in, he couldn’t pay the £7 bus fare from the small Cambridgeshire town of Ramsey to Huntingdon, where he is registered for benefits. And if he missed signing on again, he would be sanctioned again.

Taylor, a former electrician – he couldn’t afford to update his qualifications after being made redundant and going freelance – is remarkably stoical about what could be a weekly trek. “If you’ve got a 9 o’clock appointment, you have to set off in the early hours to make sure you get there,” he says. There have been “quite a few times” he has set off at two in the morning to avoid penalties for lateness. (“Sanctions” can involve benefits being reduced – or stopped entirely.)

A pre-dawn start in the pitch-black of rural Cambridgeshire with cars and farm lorries rumbling along pavement-less roads doesn’t sound all that safe. Taylor, who survived being homeless in Cambridge for seven years before being housed in Ramsey, smiles as his eyes stream from the cold. “There’ve been a few moments.” The police have picked him up a couple of times and taken him home to ensure his safety, he recalls.

Come the end of March, other Ramsey residents may have to embark on this trudge that is nearly the length of a marathon. That is because the No 30 bus that is the sole public transport link between Ramsey and Huntingdon is due to be cut. The only alternative for anyone without a car will be to beg lifts from friends or family, cycle or find the £40 round-trip taxi fare. It is an impossible sum for anyone on a low income, and even most working people couldn’t find it five days a week.

To experience the route Taylor has walked “oh, maybe 20 or 30 times”, we meet at the more civilised hour of 8am by the decorative wrought-iron bus shelter next to Ramsey’s clocktower. The night before, driving across Cambridgeshire, gusts of wind hurling rain across my windscreen, I begin to dread the walk to come. Morning, however, has dawned bright but chilly. Hoiking our rucksacks on our backs, we pull our hats down and head south out of town. We are accompanied by Steve Corney, the town council’s new mayor, and Jane Sills, the chair of the Ramsey Million Big Local residents group, which has campaigned for the past 18 months against the cutting of the No 30 bus.

“For the people here, the bus means everything,” says Corney over the noise of traffic streaming out of Ramsey. There are no big employers in the town, so there is a daily exodus. “It’s frustrating because when you see it, there’s a lot of people on it.” Corney notes too that housing development means Ramsey’s population of 8,000 is expanding.

We pick up the pace as we reach the edge of town, where Corney peels off. As we march past a long-abandoned RAF station, it is the isolation suffered by older people and teenagers in cut-off rural areas that is on Jane Sills’ mind. James Palmer, the mayor of the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority, which is reviewing all the area’s bus routes, will visit Ramsey later this month, and Sills’ group of residents intends to lobby him hard. “He should know by now just how important it is for people on low incomes and for young people that they’re not trapped in a small town with their life chances inhibited,” she says.

Sills has a strong card up her sleeve. As well as marshalling a petition that gained more than 1,000 signatures – and secured a short-term stay of execution for the route – members of her group decided to use some of the Big Local Lottery money they had been awarded to strengthen their case. A report commissioned from the Campaign for Better Transport revealed that the local authority subsidy paid to the bus operator Stagecoach to run the No 30 bus is the lowest of any on the list of proposed route closures in Cambridgeshire.

The report also showed, Sills says, “how Ramsey already compares poorly to other parts of the county” in terms of its access to buses.

If Cambridgeshire’s long-term transport strategy is ratified later this year – it is the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority, not Ramsey town council, that will set commissioning policy until 2031 – Ramsey will be cut off from the new “hub and spoke” public transport system. There will be no buses in or out at all.

Ramsey’s residents, of course, are not alone in their plight. The Campaign for Better Transport calculates that since 2010, councils in England and Wales have cut £182m – 45% – from the support they give to bus routes that would otherwise be unsustainable. Some areas have seen particularly harsh cuts: Somerset by 50%, Leicestershire by 72%, North Yorkshire by 81%. In the past year alone, according to the charity’s recent Buses in Crisis report, more than 300 routes have been reduced or withdrawn in England and Wales, and 3,347 since 2010.

“Whole areas are now transport deserts,” says the charity’s chief executive, Darren Shirley. “The people who are the most impacted are those who are most in need of public transport. Jobseekers who are reliant on public transport to get to work. People in poor health who need it to get to hospital.” Buses, he points out, are the only form of transport in England not to have a long-term investment strategy. …”


“Yvette Cooper: It’s time to boost Brit towns and not lock cash funds in cities”

“… Research done for the Labour Towns group of MPs and councillors found that overall job growth in towns since the last recession has only been half the rate of growth in cities.

The economic divide between cities and towns is growing and the Tory Government is making it worse. …

Austerity has hit towns and smaller cities hard, so it isn’t just retailers who have been leaving.

Often the libraries, police stations, council offices, magistrates courts, swimming pools, community centres, A&E or the maternity services have been closed, forcing people to travel to nearby cities instead. Lottery and arts funding is higher in cities too.

Manufacturing jobs in towns are being squeezed while new service or creative opportunities are concentrated in cities.

Meanwhile most of the transport money goes to London or other major hubs. Buses have been cut.

… It’s time to support Britain’s towns. Instead of making everyone travel to cities for public services, we need more in towns.

Instead of rolling out new broadband or 5G infrastructure in cities first, why not start in nearby towns? Instead of always using all the transport money on overruns for big city projects like HS2 or Crossrail, why not start by improving local trains and buses?

The Government seems to think if you only support cities, everything will just trickle down and out to the towns, but it hasn’t worked. Let’s have a fair deal to boost our towns and cities together. … “


“Academies failing poorer students, research shows” (and there are many more poorer students)

“Two-thirds of academy school groups performed below the national average for disadvantaged pupils, according to research released today.

A five-year study by the Sutton Trust educational charity analysed 58 ‘academy chains’ – partnerships between a group of academies – and found in 38 of these disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools.

In 12 of the 58 chains analysed, poorer pupils performed above the national average but this good practice had not been shared with other academy chains, the report found. It defined disadvantaged pupils as those entitled to the ‘pupil premium’ – a funding package from central government.

Becky Francis, director of the UCL-Institute of Education and co-author of the report, said it was “perplexing that the government has done so little to explore the methods of these successful chains and to distil learning to support others”.

“Our five year analysis of sponsor academies’ provision for disadvantaged pupils shows that while a few chains are demonstrating transformational results for these pupils, more are struggling,” she said.

Francis said that the government should capitalise on the successes of various schooling organisations including local authorities and multi-academy trusts.

The report found that long-standing academy chains achieve better exam results, with newer chains frequently performing poorly.

Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “Two-thirds of academy chains perform below the national average for all state schools on key measures of attainment for disadvantaged young people. Improving their educational achievement was the original reason why academies were set up. In this regard they have not succeeded.

“We at the Sutton Trust are recommending the sharing of good practice of the best academy chains with the rest. More generally schools should make increased use of the body of what works evidence.”

Lampl noted struggling schools are having difficulty attracting and retaining good teachers.

The charity’s report said there is “little to suggest” that regional schools commissioners – who are responsible for approving new academies and intervening in underperforming ones – are bringing about improvements.

RSCs must act “more decisively” with chains that do not deliver improvement on time, the trust said.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “This research reinforces the compelling need for the government to give councils the powers to improve struggling schools.

“Councils have a strong track record in school improvement, with 91% of council-maintained schools now good or outstanding while evidence shows councils are better at turning around failing schools than those converted to a sponsor-led academy.”

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

An annual report released last month showed that academies in England recorded a £6.1bn deficit in August 2017.

Previously the National Audit Office called on the government to ensure that academies could be trusted to manage large amounts of public money.”