Students and student nurses caught in poverty trap

“Students – including trainee nurses – are losing hundreds of pounds when they move over to Universal Credit, because the new all-in-one benefit classes student loans as a from of income.

The Royal College of Nursing is now advising its students to avoid moving to the new Universal Credit system until it is compulsorily rolled out in their area, reports Nursing Notes. One student nurse told Nursing Notes her family was around £170 a month because of Universal Credit, and she was worried she may not be able to continue her studies.

The UK is already facing a nurse shortage, with the Nursing Times reporting that parts of the NHS are hiring only one nurse for every 400 jobs advertised. In September The BBC reported the NHS staffing crisis was becoming a ‘national emergency’, with then health Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying Brexit was to blame.

The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that, despite having to be paid back, the maintenance element of the student loan, which is intended to cover living expenses such as rent and bills, is classified as ‘unearned income’ and would impact a Universal Credit award. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/universal-credit-leaves-trainee-nurses-2439029

“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. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jan/07/need-to-sign-on-youll-have-to-walk-24-miles-to-jobcentre

After health “hubs” come rough sleeper “hubs”

Definition “hub”: a pseudo-service that is put in place when a full service is withdrawn, often with privatised funding and/or staff, usually resulting in an inferior service.

“Ministers have announced that 11 new “rough sleeping hubs” will be established next year through a £4.8m project aimed at tackling rising levels of people in England sleeping on the streets.

Unveiling plans for the centres, the government said thousands of vulnerable people will be able to receive specialist support to address mental health problems and provide immediate shelter and rapid assessment for rough sleepers.

It will form part of the already announced £100m rough sleeping strategy and will be launched in 11 areas in the spring across England, including Derby, Liverpool, Preston, Bristol, Lincoln and Nottingham City.

The measures coincide with an announcement from Labour, who have also pledged £100m to give every rough sleeper a place to stay in the winter months – funded through a levy on second homes announced at the party conference in September. …”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/rough-sleeping-hubs-homeless-uk-statistics-government-shelter-labour-party-england-a8687971.html

“Dickensian’ poverty increasingly prevalent in schools”

“Increasing levels of child poverty are affecting children and young people’s education, with schools dealing with ‘Dickensian’ levels of squalor, a major teaching union has warned.

A survey of members by the National Education Union found more than half (53%) believe children in their school will go hungry over Christmas, putting the blame on welfare cuts as well as those to schools and children’s services.

The poll of 1,026 NEU teachers in England revealed that 46% believe holiday hunger – a lack of access to food in the absence of free school meals – has got worse in the last three years.

The NEU’s report, published today, highlighted the “stark” impact of poverty on children’s education. Poverty-related problems include: absence from school (83%); behavioural issues (85%); concentration (81%); health (59%); and lateness (79%).

The survey heard from teachers who were buying or washing clothes for students who could not afford them. Some teachers said their students had been sleeping in their school uniforms because they don’t have pyjamas, and other children had food delivered to their home by the school.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “This is a Dickensian picture of the poverty that far too many children and their families are having to endure.

“The government has failed to recognise the human cost of its cuts to schools and other children’s services and to the social security system, and its failure to address the in-work poverty faced by one in five workers.

“The government must stop hiding from the facts. Children can’t escape the poverty trap without an urgent change to national policies.”

The poll also found 46% of teachers believe that poor quality and overcrowded housing conditions are affecting the education of children and young people more than they were.

Many schools are now offering free breakfast clubs for children and also running foodbanks, giving hampers to families and providing meals during the holidays, the survey found.

But union members said that school funding cuts were restricting the help that can be given.

A government spokesperson said: “Teachers shouldn’t have to step in to tackle the issues highlighted by this survey, and we’re already taking action to make sure that they don’t have to.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/12/dickensian-poverty-increasingly-prevalent-schools

“Food bank opens AT SCHOOL after famished children start stealing from lunchboxes”

“A primary school has set up a food bank for hungry kids whose parents are struggling under austerity.

Head Debbie Whiting launched it after seeing pupils so famished they were stealing from other children’s packed lunches.

“You can’t learn if you’re hungry,” she said. “Children need to be fed, clothed and warm.”

The food bank at North Denes juniors in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, is thought to be the first at a British school.

Staff and some parents donate extra items from their shopping and a charity has given £1,500.

Mum Sadie Carter, who has two children at the school, said she fell to “rock bottom” after running out of money and was “crying for days”.

She said: “I didn’t know what to do. Then the school came to help.” ….

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/food-bank-primary-school-hungry-13741828

East Devon Alliance councillors spur council to decry poverty in East Devon

“The number of people using food banks in the Sid Valley has more than doubled in the last six months.

The Sid Valley Food Bank’s co-ordinator Andie Milne told East Devon councillors on Wednesday night of the alarming numbers of people and the stark rise in numbers of people they are seeing.

She said that six months ago, they were dealing with 15 families a week, but last week, more than 30 families came through their doors, with 36 children being helped.

And she added that last week they helped a family from Axminster as there was no help available in the East of the county for them, and raised concern over what would happen to the emergency food bags located at the council’s Knowle HQ, that sometimes are refilled four times a week, when the council offices move to Honiton early in 2019.

Her comments came prior to the full council unanimously supporting a motion brought forward by Cllr Cathy Gardner, of East Devon Alliance, calling for a report on the potential impacts of benefits changes and spending cuts on people in East Devon and whether there was a need for further support from the council in supporting the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention or for local food banks.

Proposing her motion, Cllr Gardner said: “Most of us are doing okay and are comfortable, some are doing extremely well, but some are struggling, and we have a civic duty to see if we can do more. I would be horrified to learn if a child suffered as we failed to something in some way to help.

“I am not criticising the council or the hard work that our officers do to help people but simply to ask if there is anything more that we could do, as we know that people are struggling with Universal Credit.

“If the report says it is all perfect, then we can rest easy, but I want the report to come forward so we can be seen as outstanding, caring and vigilant.”

Cllr Marianne Rixson, supporting the motion, added that some people are being forced to use food banks just to make ends meet, even though they are in employment.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that the national picture showed there were 2.5m people living just 10 per cent above the poverty line. She added: “A small reversal of the economy could put 2.5m people below the poverty line in weeks. We all know of people who are struggling and other who could very soon be struggling.”

The motion received unanimous support from across the council chamber, with Conservative councillor Mike Allen said that he really liked the motion and thanked Cllr Gardner for bringing it forward.

He said: “If you work in a food bank, you get to understand how little accidents or small things can trip someone into a poverty – be it a divorce or splitting up with a partner, or a jobs loss, which leads to a massive hole in your income and you cannot afford what you used to take for granted.”

Cllr Jill Elson, portfolio holder for sustainable homes and communities, said that the council worked very closely with food banks across the district and that council staff were currently co-located in the job centres in Exmouth and Honiton to get the 1,013 people in East Devon claiming Universal Credit and were going the extra mile to help them, be it by helping them fill in the forms or giving them food bank credits.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/number-using-food-banks-part-2323249