Guest Blog Post: Richard Lynch on the worst unemployment for 17 years

The announcement, earlier in the winter, that 80,000 people had applied for the 18,000 temporary Christmas jobs advertised by Royal Mail, showed how bad unemployment has become under the coalition – and the latest Labour Market Statistics have confirmed it. These showed, amongst other things, that there are now more people out of work than at any time since 1994, when John Major was Prime Minister, and that youth unemployment is now higher than at any time since the 1980s, when Thatcher was in power. And all the indications are that it is going to get worse.

According to the statistics (which mainly cover the quarter to end September 2011):

  • Overall unemployment increased by 129,000 to 2.62 million, or 8.3% of the economically active population, the highest figure for 17 years.
  • The number of people unemployed for over a year increased by 31,000 to 868,000 and the number unemployed for over two years increased by 13,000 to 422,000.
  • Unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds increased by 67,000 to 1.02 million, giving a youth unemployment rate of 21.9%. This is the highest youth unemployment has been since 1992 when current records began, but previous records suggest that the figures haven’t been this high since the mid 1980s.
  • The number of economically inactive people (not included in the unemployment statistics) increased by 64,000 to 9.36 million, or 23.3% of 16-64 year olds.
  • The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) increased by 5,300 to 1.6 million, giving a claimant count of 5%.
  • The number of job vacancies increased by 7,000 to 462,000, leaving 5.67 unemployed people chasing every vacancy. Haringey in north London (where the summer riots began) is the hardest place in Britain to find a job, with 22.6 dole claimants chasing every vacancy. Lewisham in south London is the second hardest place to find a job, with 21.9 claimants chasing every vacancy.

The coalition is blaming everybody but themselves for this disaster and is shedding bucket loads of crocodile tears for unemployed youth in particular. Their Work Experience Programme is supposed to help young people into work by providing unpaid work experience in supermarkets and other big businesses to young JSA claimants. However, it has recently emerged that anybody accepting an unpaid placement on this scheme will have to continue working for eight weeks, for their JSA payment only, unless they opt out of the programme in the first week. And if they do leave, they can have their Jobseeker’s Allowance cut. So much for slavery being abolished!

*Update: October’s statistics have been published since the above article was written. These show that unemployment has risen again, by 128,000 to 2.64 million.

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Guest Blog Post: Richard Lynch on why we must have change in 2012

When David Cameron was giving his New Year message twelve months ago, he said that the coalition had pulled Britain out of the danger zone and had laid firm foundations for economic growth and for cutting the deficit. Yet it is now clear that the past year has been a disastrous one for the economy, with growth worse than Gordon Brown achieved when the country was emerging from recession and most economists predicting that a return to recession is likely in the first half of 2012. And as for the deficit, that is now higher than ever and will take longer to reduce than under the Alistair Darling plan which the coalition ridiculed at the time of the general election.

Promises to bear down on unemployment have also fallen flat with 2.64 million people now out of work and 5.67 unemployed people chasing every job vacancy. These are not only higher figures than applied at the worst point of the recession but the highest since 1994 when the Conservatives were last in power. And all the predictions are that there is worse to come, with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) expecting an increase to 2.85 million by the end of 2012 and Capital Economics expecting a rise to three million. And the coalition’s own Office for Budget Responsibility, which had predicted that public sector job losses would hit 400,000 by 2016, is now predicting 710,000 such losses by 2017.

Inflation has also been a huge failure for the coalition with the Retail Prices Index rising by 5% or more on 11 occasions in the first 11 months of 2011 (something which happened on only four occasions in the 13 years of the last Labour government). The Consumer Prices Index has not been quite as bad but has averaged 4.5% during the year and is now higher than the CPI in every other EU country, not to mention China, Japan and the USA. And rail fares have just risen by 5.9% on average, giving us the highest such fares in Europe.

Pay increases failed miserably to match inflation in 2011, with the gap between increases in average regular pay and the Retail Prices Index rising from 2.5% at the beginning of the year to 3.4% on the latest figures available. And, according to a recent CIPD survey, only 45% of workers got pay increases in 2011, with 48% having had their pay frozen and 5% having had it cut – worse figures than were ever seen during the recession.

Pensions have also been hit hard, and not only in the public sector (where two million people from 30 unions struck on 30 November – more than took action during the general strike). The Association of Consulting Actuaries recently said that there has been a ‘seismic collapse’ in private sector pension provision, with nine out of 10 private sector defined benefit schemes now closed to new entrants and 25% of companies planning to dispense with such schemes entirely in the next five years. According to other reports, employee participation in occupational pension funds is now at its lowest level since 1956 and 65% of employees have no such pensions and will only have the state pension to look forward to when they retire.

Because of the above and other factors, living standards have fallen sharply in the past year, with poorer families and those with children the worst affected. And all the indications are that this trend will continue, with the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicting that half a million more children will fall into ‘absolute poverty’ by 2015-16. This is not only reversing the fall in child poverty which we saw in recent years but indicates a level of impoverishment which has no precedent in modern times. And living standards are collapsing for older people as well, according to Age UK, with 1.8 million pensioners below the poverty line and local authority care services for the elderly cut by 4.5% in 2011.

While this is happening, the poor are being fleeced by pay-day loan companies like Wonga which can charge interest rates of up to 5,000% a year and by companies running ‘rent to own’ schemes which allow the poor access to cookers, washing machines and other necessities, but at outrageous prices. Pawnbrokers have also been doing a booming business and are making record profits from those who find themselves having to use their services.

The coalition says that all this austerity is inevitable because we have been living beyond our means and that we all have to make sacrifices before we can get back to the good times. Yet Britain is still one of the richest countries in the world (seventh richest according to the most recent assessment) and is awash with millionaires, multi millionaires, billionaires and cash-rich corporations for whom the good times have never disappeared.

These include corporate executives like Mick Davis of Xstrata, who made £18.4 million last year, Bart Brecht of Reckitt Benckiser, who made £17.9 million, Michael Spencer of ICAP, who made £13.4 million and Terry Leahy of Tesco, who made £12 million.

They also include Phil Bentley, CEO of British Gas, whose remuneration package was £4 million last year and Dave Hartnett, the HMRC head who agreed to let Goldman Sachs off interest payments of £10 million, who will be retiring this year with a reported £80,000 a year pension and a cash lump sum of £160,000.  And F1 Chief Bernie Ecclestone has been so untouched by the hard times that he has been able to put £3 billion in a trust fund for his two daughters and reportedly gave £27.5 million to a banker to encourage him not to disclose information about that fund to HMRC. (His daughter Petra lives in a £54 million mansion in LA and had £12 million spent on her wedding. His daughter Tamara lives in a £45 million London mansion which has a spa and massage parlour for her dogs, as well as other features.)

It is because of people like these that income inequality is rising faster in the UK than in any other developed nation, as the OECD recently pointed out in a report called Divided we stand: why inequality keeps rising. That report said that the richest 0.1% of people in the UK own 5% of the country’s wealth, the richest 1% own 14%, and the poorest 30% of people own only 3%. Yet it is the poorest who are affected most by the coalition’s austerity programme!

In his 2012 New Year statement, David Cameron said that he ‘gets it’ when people tell him they are suffering because of job insecurity and rising prices – and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ‘feels their pain’ as well. But what he doesn’t get is that it is his austerity programme which is destroying the economy, because people who have lost their jobs are not paying taxes to bring down the deficit and people whose living standards are being squeezed are not able to spend on the goods and services which other people are providing; consequently, economic growth is being choked off.

And what some of us are not getting is that there is an alternative to these attacks on our jobs, living standards, the welfare state and our rights at work and that we can turn them back if we stop believing the lies we are being fed and join the growing resistance to coalition and employer austerity policies at work and in our communities in 2012. Let’s do it!

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Free Fireworks display – Saturday 5th November at 6pm to 10pm in Barham Park

Following Lib Dem and Tory cuts to Brent Council, there will not be a Diwali parade along Ealing Road like there was last year. However, there will be a free fireworks display at Barham Park to celebrate fireworks night and Diwali on Saturday 5th November from 6pm to 10pm. The Funfair at the park will start at 6pm with fireworks at 8.30 pm with lasers. The event is scheduled to close at 10pm.

Visitors are advised not to drive to the event as it is on a Wembley Stadium Event day and therefore parking is restricted in the area and if you park without a permit, your car may be towed.

You can use the following bus routes to get to the event: 18,92, 182, 204, 245. The actual address for the Park is, Barham Park, Sudbury HA0 2HB.

If the event cannot go ahead on 5th November because of bad weather,  it will be postponed to Sunday 6 November 2011.

Brent Central MP and Tory Liberal Minister Sarah Teather ridiculed in the national press

Brent Central’s Tory Liberal Coalition MP Sarah Teather has been ridiculed in the national press after her attempt to add humour to her speech at the Lib Dem Conference in Birmingham fell flat. Sky News has covered what happened here – LINK

Cringe.

The rich could be granted a divine right to places at top Universities if they can afford it

More controversy with the Tory Liberals and Universities reported in the Guardian here – LINK

So, this is what the Tory Liberals are discussing and here is what it could mean:

At the moment person A – is from a lower income family. A has to get the right grades and go through a rigorous selection process to gain a place at a top University.

Person B – is from a rich family but quite rightly has to get the right grades first. The less financially fortunate person A has to fight for his or her place, whereas person B has a rich mummy and daddy so can bypass the process that ordinary people have to go through to get a place at University.

My head tells me that they’ve been forced into looking at this because Universities have had their funding cut by 80% by the Coalition Government. Undoubtedly this must be having immediate and medium term budget pressures on Universities as the new fees system in the future will mean that it could be a number of years before Universities start getting money from student fees leaving a huge gap that will need to be filled in funding.

I hope this proposal never sees daylight.

Ellie May Southwood: Brent Labour’s candidate for Kenton by-election

I am delighted that Ellie May Southwood has been selected as the Labour Party candidate for the Kenton Ward by-election to the London Borough of Brent. The election was called following the death of Councillor Arthur Steel and the date for the by-election vote to replace Mr Steel will be on February 17th.

Ellie was born blind but that has by no means deterred her from being successful in life. She is a management consultant as well as a trustee for the RNIB in addition to being a trustee of a governor at a school for children with complex needs.

Ellie’s key pledges are to protect Kenton’s open spaces, work to put an end to local flooding problems in Kenton, fight to keep the Safer Neighbourhood Team, protect Kenton residents from Coalition cuts and to campaign for opportuniites for young people.

Ellie at a protest outside a Lib Dem MP's office over tuition fee rises

Ellie would make an excellent choice for the people of Kenton to represent them at Brent Council and I hope that she will be successful in her quest to join me as a colleague following the vote on February 17th. I will be actively campaigning to help Labour and Ellie win in Kenton.

Coalition Cuts to Brent Council: Children and Families

I previously mentioned here, that I would provide greater detail to reduction in Central Government Grants allocated to Brent Council for Children and Families. In Summer 2010 the Government cut £1,882,000 to Brent Council’s Children and Families Grant.

The detail of Sarah Teather’s Government cuts stemming from the reduction in ‘hidden grants’ to Brent’s Children are impossible to justify or defend.

They include:

  • £68,000 reduction to care at home packages.
  • £101,000 reduction in grant to fund Connexions. This will lead to non-renewal of four staff contracts and reduce contracts with the voluntary sector. Connexions provide information and advice to people to help make the decisions and choices in their lives.
  • £26,000 grant to help tackle young people’s substance misuse. This could lead to a reduction in outreach work and targeted support.
  • £162,000 reduction in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.
  • £211,000 reduction in the Children’s Fund grant which could lead o a reduction of contracts for ESOL classes, parental support for vulnerable families, targeted sexual advice and support and an e-safety programme.
  • £27,000 reduction in Teenage Pregnancy Grant which could lead to reduced services provided to children in Brent at risk of becoming parents.
  • £45,000 reduction in the Youth Opportunities Fund which will lead to schemes being reduced or re-prioritised.
  • A whopping £326,000 reduction in the Think Family grant, which will lead to a reduction in support to parents which is available at universal as well as targeted levels as well as a reduction in the Family Intervention Programme.
  • £75,000 reduction in the Playbuilders grant which will lead to ceasing or scaling back of schemes that were already agreed to extend children’s play facilities.
  • £30,000 cut to the Brent Community Friends grant, which will lead to some loss in services that are provided directly to looked after children.

As the Government Minister in the Department for Education, it is atrocious that MP for Brent Central Sarah Teather is inflicting so much damage to Brent’s children. Especially to those who are most vulnerable as the outlined cuts mentioned above suggest.

Brent housing benefit campaign update

Brent Council’s head of housing commented on the Government plans last week (30 November) to delay the capping of housing benefit for existing claimants until 2012 saying – “delaying change is not addressing the problem.”

Martin Cheeseman, Director of Housing and Community Care, has been at the forefront of a campaign by Brent and London Councils to encourage the government to introduce changes to the benefits system that fairly reflects living costs in London.

In a recent interview for The Guardian website’s housing blog, Martin outlines the risk of homelessness facing thousands and the vast costs to councils and taxpayers if the proposed changes go through as planned. He also points to the social problems that will follow including the creation of ghettos or ‘dumping grounds’ and the demise of sustainable communities that local authorities have worked hard to forge.

Speaking about the recent announcement Martin said: “Brent has lobbied hard to get government to rethink their proposals which threaten thousands of people, with many families facing the possibility of leaving their homes and the lives they have built in the borough.

“Postponing the caps does indicate that the government are hearing councils calls to rethink the proposals but delaying change is not addressing the concerns or the problems we will face from this type of benefit reform.

“Brent and many other London councils feel these changes hit the poorest hardest making the most vulnerable – such as pensioners, carers, vulnerable adults and families – pay a huge price for the countries debt without offering sustainable results.

“Whilst we recognise the benefits system is in need of reform the issue cannot be addressed without taking into account the lack of affordable housing in London which leaves councils dependent on the private rented sector. Neither of these issues can be looked at independently of each other if we want a system that works.”

The delay means that from April 2011 existing Local Housing Allowance claimants will have their benefit entitlement reviewed on the anniversary of their last claim and will then have up to nine further months before the new caps are imposed.

Anyone making a new claim from April 2011 will be affected by the caps immediately.

Coalition Cuts to Brent Council: Performance Reward Grants

Further to my post of Central Government Grant reductions here, I mentioned that I would provide greater detail to reduction in Central Government Grants allocated to Brent Council. In particular, this blogpost will focus on reductions to the Performance Reward Grant.

I cannot stress the importance of Central Government Grants to Local Authorities. Brent Council receive around 80% of our funds from Central Government. 20% is raised through Council Tax.

In simplified terms, the Performance Reward Grant is awarded to Local Authorities to provide services. Reductions from the Coalition Government to our Performance Reward Grant impacted on multiple services. Below are just some of those impacted:

  • £71,000 cut to Domestic Violence Prevention Programme. This money contributes to an advocacy advice service.
  • £60,000 Volunteering Programme cut which was previously funded through the Performance Reward Grant.
  • £287,000 cut in Sports Development for disabled children and diversionary activities for children at risk of getting involved in crime schemes as well as encouraging adults to be more physically active.
  • £90,000 cut the Performance Reward Grant which was used for the Sustainability Green Zones scheme. Project support funding from National Government was halted resulting in the loss of two members of staff.
  • £155,000 cut to a range of work to tackle Climate Change. Brent may now only be able to pursue meeting statutory minimums in this area.
  • £100,000 cut to Library funds which was to be spent on improving library book stocks.
  • £83,000 cut to Private Housing Services which was set to be used to meet the demand needed for the Disabled Facilities Grant. This Growth would have provided two new surveyors for Brent.
  • £90,000 income maximisation cut which focused on reablement and hospital discharge projects. This was to support 500 people between the summer and March 2011.

Stay tuned for the hidden grant cuts to Children and Families Grants, the sector for which Brent Central MP Sarah Teather has Ministerial responsibility for throughout the whole country. The impact on cuts to these services to Brent is despicable. Especially seeing as we have a Government Minister imposing these cuts on our own children.