“Destitute children unlawfully denied support by local councils”

“Local councils are unlawfully denying destitute children support because their parents’ immigration status is under suspicion, the Guardian can reveal.

Families whose immigration status becomes insecure can quickly become destitute because they lose their right to work and access benefits. Such families who have dependent children can seek support under section 17 of the 1989 Children’s Act, which states that local councils have a duty to provide cash or accommodation to ensure a child’s immediate needs are met.

Hundreds of these families have been unlawfully denied this support since 2010 because local authorities have focused on the parents’ immigration background.

Many of the children affected are either British or entitled to British citizenship, and campaigners say it has now become normal practice for them to threaten local authorities with legal action in an effort to ensure a fair assessment. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/26/destitute-children-unlawfully-denied-support-local-councils-immigration-status?

“UN poverty expert hits back over UK ministers’ ‘denial of facts’ “

“… Alston, an eminent New York-based human rights lawyer, said the government response amounted to “a total denial of a set of uncontested facts” and that when he first read its public comment “I thought it might actually be a spoof”. He said he feared it showed ministers were not willing to debate official figures that showed 14 million people were living in relative poverty and therefore consider what he believes are essential changes to the welfare system.

“The statement is as troubling as the situation,” he said. “There is nothing that indicates any willingness to debate over issues which have generated endless very detailed, totally reputable reports across the political spectrum in the UK. All of these are dismissed.”

Alston’s report compared Conservative policies to the creation of Victorian workhouses. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, felt it was politically biased and alleged that Alston did not do enough research, only visiting the UK for 11 days. The government said it would complain to the United Nations and the UK’s ambassador in Geneva is understood to have this week requested a meeting with the UN high commissioner on human rights over the matter.

When Alston said the Department for Work and Pensions had created “a digital and sanitised version of the 19th-century workhouse”, some commentators said he had gone too far. Writing in the Daily Mail, the historian Dominic Sandbrook said it was “simply ridiculous” and “an insult to our national intelligence”.

But far from backing away, Alston, who describes his politics as progressive and left-of-centre, has pushed his argument harder.

“I think breaking rocks has some similarity to the 35 hours of job search [required per week to receive universal credit] for people who have been out of work for months or years,” he said. “They have to go through the motions but it is completely useless. That seems to me to be very similar to the approach in the old-style workhouse. The underlying mentality is that we are going to make the place sufficiently unpleasant that you really won’t want to be here.” …”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/24/un-poverty-expert-hits-back-over-uk-ministers-denial-of-facts-philip-alston

“UN report compares Tory welfare policies to creation of workhouses”

“A leading United Nations poverty expert has compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warned that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

In his final report on the impact of austerity on human rights in the UK, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of universal credit, since 2010. He accused them of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population” and warned that worse could be yet to come for the most vulnerable, who face “a major adverse impact” if Brexit proceeds. He said leaving the EU was “a tragic distraction from the social and economic policies shaping a Britain that it’s hard to believe any political parties really want”.

The New York-based lawyer’s findings, published on Wednesday, follows a two-week fact-finding mission in November after which he angered ministers by calling child poverty in Britain “not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. Now he has accused them of refusing to debate the issues he raised and instead deploying “window dressing to minimise political fallout” by insisting the country is enjoying record lows in absolute poverty, children in workless households and low unemployment.

The “endlessly repeated” mantra about rising employment overlooks that “close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now, 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty and millions of those who are in work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope”, he said. …

In his most barbed swipe at Rudd and her predecessors in charge of welfare, he said: “It might seem to some observers that the department of work and pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th-century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens.”

He said he had met people who had sold sex for money and joined gangs to avoid destitution.

[Owl won’t bother wirh the Tory responses …. predictable … everyone happy … no problems … only we can …. the usual drivel …]

Alston will present his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month and will argue that successive Conservative-led governments persisted with austerity and welfare cuts amid high levels of employment and a growing economy despite evidence that large-scale poverty was persisting. In doing so, “much of the glue that has held British society together since the second world war has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos … British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently designed to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping.”

The report slams the government’s austerity programme, with criticisms of “shocking” rises in the use of food banks and rough sleeping, falling life expectancy for some, the “decimation” of legal aid, the denial of benefits to the severely disabled, falling teachers’ salaries in real terms and the impoverishment of single mothers and people with mental illness.

Alston said austerity had “deliberately gutted” local authorities, shrinking library, youth, police and park services to the extent that it was not surprising there were “unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation”.

There was some praise for ministers for increases in work allowances under the universal credit welfare system and supporting the national minimum wage, but Alston said these measures had had not stopped the “dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well-off”.

He recommended ministers reverse local government funding cuts, scrap the benefits cap, eliminate the five-week delay in receiving initial universal credit benefits and rethink the privatisation of services including rural transport.

“Thomas Hobbes observed long ago, such an approach condemns the least well-off to lives that are ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’,” he said. “As the British social contract slowly evaporates, Hobbes’ prediction risks becoming the new reality.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/22/un-report-compares-tory-welfare-reforms-to-creation-of-workhouses

” ‘A national shame’: headteachers voice anger about pupils’ hunger”

“Headteachers have spoken out about the hardship their students are facing in the wake of a Human Rights Watch report that highlighted the growing number of children in the UK going hungry.

Those working in schools said hunger had led to children stealing sachets of ketchup and exhibiting noticeable weight loss. They said that levels of poverty meant some schools had to provide breakfast clubs, food banks and clothes for pupils.

Geoff Barton, a former secondary school headteacher who leads the Association of School and College Leaders, described the situation as “astonishing” and “a national shame.” He added that tackling food poverty was becoming a main priority for a number of headteachers.

“The most striking conversation I had last year was with a group of headteachers in Lancashire – mostly secondary heads,” Barton said. “I asked what the biggest issue they were facing was, and usually they say funding or recruitment and retention. But the number one issue they said was hungry children. They were spending the first half of the day making sure children had breakfast. It’s shaming.”

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based NGO, accused the UK government of breaching its international duty to keep people from hunger by pursuing “cruel and harmful policies” with no regard for the impact on children living in poverty.

The report concluded that tens of thousands of families did not have enough to eat, revealing that schools in Oxford were the latest to have turned to food banks to feed their pupils. The government dismissed the findings, saying it was misleading to present them as representative of the whole country.

Barton said: “The fact you even have some schools having to provide something as basic as food and becoming surrogate food banks … should leave us all with sense of national shame.” …

The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “All too often I’m hearing that schools are now acting as a fourth emergency service, forced to step in because the Tories have cut society’s safety net to shreds. It is a scandal that, in one of the richest countries in the world, there are children struggling to learn because of poverty and hunger.

“Our schools have suffered from years of cuts and are themselves increasingly relying on donations from parents. Cuts to public services and social security have combined with low pay, insecure work and rising costs to leave too many families on the breadline. It’s clear that, despite this prime minister’s claims, austerity is far from over for our children.

“A Labour government will take action, investing in the support children need and providing a free healthy school meal to all primary school pupils, so no one goes hungry at school.”

A government spokesperson said the HRW report was not representative of England as a whole, adding: “We spend £95bn a year on working age benefits and we’re supporting over 1 million of the country’s most disadvantaged children through free school meals. Meanwhile, we’ve confirmed that the benefit freeze will end next year.”

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/may/20/a-national-shame-headteachers-voice-anger-about-pupils-hunger?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

“UK’s ‘cruel and harmful policies’ lack regard for child hunger, says NGO”

“Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the UK government of breaching its international duty to keep people from hunger by pursuing “cruel and harmful polices” with no regard for the impact on children living in poverty.

Examining family poverty in Hull, Cambridgeshire and Oxford, it concluded that tens of thousands of families do not have enough to eat. And it revealed that schools in Oxford are the latest to have turned to food banks to feed their pupils.

In a damning 115-page report that echoes previous expert condemnation of the UK’s policies on food poverty, the NGO – better known for documenting abuses from Myanmar to Haiti – said that the government was breaching its obligations under human rights law to ensure people have enough food.

Volunteers and staff at schools in Oxford confirmed that they were now reliant on donations, saying that teachers were noticing pupils who were missing meals at home and needed to be fed.

HRW said that ministers had “largely ignored growing evidence of a stark deterioration in the standard of living for the country’s poorest residents, including skyrocketing food bank use, and multiple reports from school officials that many more children are arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate”.

The report will provide further ammunition to those who say that the government is failing in its duty to the poorest. It comes before Wednesday’s release of the final report on the UK by Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty, who has already highlighted the same issues in his interim findings, following a two-week tour of the UK last November.

The report, which will appear on the eve of the European parliamentary elections, is likely to echo Alston’s warning last month that the political preoccupation with Brexit meant that issues like poverty are being ignored in a way that will leave the country “severely diminished”. Alston said: “You are really screwing yourselves royally for the future by producing a substandard workforce and children that are malnourished.”

The government dismissed the findings, saying that it was misleading to present them as representative of the whole country, and said it is helping parents back into work to reduce poverty and is ending the benefit freeze next year. …

Kartik Raj, the author of the HRW report, said growing hunger was “a troubling development in the world’s fifth largest economy”. He said: “Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable. The UK government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/19/uk-government-cruel-policies-child-hunger-breach-human-rights-says-ngo

“Welfare shake-up ‘will double number of children in poverty’ “

“Flagship welfare reforms will trigger a big increase in families unable to make ends meet, new analysis reveals.

The number of children living in families that have a monthly deficit will double in some areas, because of the combined impact of universal credit, a two-child limit on some welfare payments and the benefits cap.

The research, produced for the children’s commissioner, found that a quarter of children in its sample would be hit by the measures. Almost half of low-income households examined were affected, losing on average £3,441 a year.

Charities and researchers are already warning of rising child poverty. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has been attempting to soften the government’s reforms, putting more money into universal credit, limiting the two-child policy and sanctioning fewer claimants. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/12/welfare-children-poverty-low-income-families

Universal Credit: a cancer sufferer’s story

“A single mum with breast cancer was left with just 84 pence after a Universal Credit nightmare.

Teacher Gillian Sykes found out she had cancer in January and is preparing to have a double mastectomy operation in the summer, Liverpool Echo reports.

She has had to quit work as a supply teacher but says she has been left to ‘fight for survival’ with the Department of Work and Pensions.

Gillian explained how she has been turned down for support and was even made to take bank statements into the job centre just two days after her first draining bout of chemotherapy.

She said she also had money taken away because of the DWP made mistakes over dates – and was eventually left with just 84p to live on, forcing her to rely on hand-outs from family and friends.

Gillian was also told she needed to be looking for work – which the DWP later said was just an ‘automated response.’

The 45-year-old, who lives in Ashton-in-Makerfield with her two teenage children, spoke about the devastating moment she discovered she had cancer.

She said: “I found the lump myself on the 28th December when I was going to bed – and I cried myself to sleep.

“We’ve got a family history of it – its the 20th anniversary of my mum’s death this year.

“I was in an absolute panic and got an appointment shortly after – then two weeks later I was sent to see an oncologist who confirmed what I already knew, that it wasn’t a cyst, it was a solid mass.

“A week later I got given the news and things progressed quite quickly from there. I’ve now had three rounds of chemotherapy. My hair is coming out in handfuls daily.”

“This summer I will be having as double mastectomy – which is not nice.”

Gillian began a lengthy, draining battle with the Department of Work and Pensions to get the benefits she needed to help her through an incredibly difficult time.

After her cancer diagnosis, Gillian said she was never told she qualified for Limited Capability for Work Related Activity – which is supposed to provide extra cash for those who are unable to work.

She was left battling with the department for weeks in a bid to get the extra support.

Gillian said: “To be going through that is enough, only to then to deal with this – after paying into a system as a teacher system that I desperately need help from.

“I’m having battles left, right and centre with Universal Credit – and issues with not being told what I can and can’t claim.

“I’ve had more support from Macmillan nurses than the government.”

“Two days after my first chemotherapy session, I was told I had to take my bank statements in to the job centre to prove that they had taken money from me that they shouldn’t have.

“I’ve had statutory sickpay penalised – I complained and complained. I spoke to a different person on the phone every time.

“I just feel like I’m fighting for survival with benefits, that I shouldn’t be fighting with right now. I’ve got enough stress.”

After spending weeks waiting to find out if she could get the vital extra LCWRA payments, Gillian decided to apply for what is known as a Universal Credit budgeting loan – used to help those who are struggling.

She said: “This particular month was really hard, I rang them to be told by someone that nothing was available to me because ‘all the buttons were greyed out – and we don’t know why.”

“Someone else told me nothing was available because I had earned at least £2,600 in the last six months – well of course I did, I’m a teacher, I was working full time with my agency up until Christmas – so I’ve been punished for actually going to work.

“What I do get from Universal Credit, I’m paying a mortgage, I’ve got two kids. I didn’t expect this to happen to me.

“I have suffered with depression for several years, which has been greatly under control and I have been able to work – and this is now what’s happening on a daily basis when I find out the next step, the next fight.”

After she spoke to the Liverpool Echo, the Department of Work and Pensions told her she did in fact qualify for the extra cash.

The following day she was told she would be backpaid hundreds of pounds that were owed to her, and an apology from the DWP followed.

A spokesman told the ECHO: “We have apologised to Gillian Sykes for the distress caused by this delay and are paying her full arrears.

“She has been placed in the long-term health condition group, meaning she receives a higher level of support and will not be required to seek work.

“We want to ensure that anyone with a health condition gets the support they need, which is why the Government is rolling out a recovery package to support people diagnosed with cancer and over 300,000 people will benefit every year by 2020.”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/mum-needing-double-mastectomy-left-14312002