Press Release: Latest jobs figures show Government still letting Edinburgh down

Jobcentre Plus

  • Long term unemployment up 19% and long term youth unemployment up 30%
  • Online search for jobs undermines Tory and Lib Dem claims that ‘the jobs are out there’

Commenting on today’s unemployment figures, Edinburgh East MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore said:

Here in Edinburgh long term unemployment is still up 19% on the year, and long term youth unemployment is up 30%. It is getting clearer by the day that this government is letting down our area.

We urgently need action to get local people into work. This is why Labour is calling for a compulsory jobs guarantee, which will get any adult out of work for more than two years, or young person out of work for a year, into a job – one they would be required to take.

Commenting on Minister’s claims that ‘the jobs are out there’, Sheila Gilmore said:

Tory and Lib Dem Ministers often tell us that ‘the jobs out there’, and that unemployed people just need to look for them. But when I used the Government’s new Universal Job Match service to search for shop assistant vacancies today, I found a very different picture.

Although 76 vacancies came up, only six were actually based in Edinburgh, with others as far afield as Falkirk and Kirkaldy. What’s worse, 57 of the entries were from a company offering self-employed door-to-door catalogue sales jobs. With no guarantee on hours or earnings, these ‘non-jobs’ don’t offer people a secure and sustainable way out of unemployment.

ENDS

  • Click here to download spreadsheet of figures (Edinburgh specific on last tab).
  • Sheila Gilmore is a member of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. You can view the committee’s website here.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Bedroom tax doesn’t just hit ‘skivers and scroungers’

Last week I wrote a piece for the Edinburgh Evening News on the Bedroom Tax. I’ve reproduced it below.

‘I’ve just had a letter telling me to pay £50 a month more towards my rent from April, or move.”

I’ve had hundreds of people contact me with the same story. From April, working-age tenants who rent from the council or a housing association and have a spare bedroom will lose some of their housing benefit. If they can’t make up the difference to pay their rent, they’ll be forced to try to move. This is the Government’s “bedroom tax”, and across Edinburgh over 5000 households will be affected.

HousingThis formed part of the coalition’s Welfare Reform Act passed last year. Although my Labour colleagues and I voted against it in parliament, Tory and Lib Dem MPs forced it through.

It’s clear that this is just a crude cost-cutting measure – the savings are set out in the budget book. Ministers claim that by forcing out people who are in their view “under-occupying”, this will allow families in overcrowded accommodation to move in. But if everyone successfully reshuffled into the “right” size of house, they wouldn’t save a penny. No – the Government knows that most 
people will just have to take the financial hit.

Even those who want to move will struggle to do so because there just isn’t enough social housing out there, especially in Edinburgh. Many will end up in the private rented sector where rents are a lot higher. Ironically, this could wipe out the Government’s savings, despite all the misery endured by families forced to move.

This Government says that its welfare reforms are hitting “skivers and scroungers”. But the bedroom tax hits many people who are in work or are disabled.

Last week I met a couple who, after six years of waiting in 
unsuitable accommodation for somewhere that was wheelchair accessible, had finally been able to move to a two-bedroomed adapted ground-floor flat with space to move around and store equipment. The husband is his wife’s full-time carer, so making up the money by working more hours isn’t an option. As a result they’ll struggle to afford the extra £50 per month as a result of the bedroom tax, and could have to move again.

When confronted with cases like this, the Government points to a hardship fund given to councils to dish out to those affected. Edinburgh City Council has been allocated £1.5 million for these “Discretionary Housing Payments”, and council leaders have taken the positive step of topping this up with an extra £2m. That’s a lot to you and me, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the total shortfall.

The SNP’s response to this is to say “wait for independence” when they claim we would enjoy a more generous welfare system. But it’s far from clear that this would be affordable, and it’s all “jam tomorrow” rather than helping people now. The Scottish Government could use its existing budget to boost Discretionary Housing Payments further, but hasn’t. Instead, it has reduced funding for building new affordable homes, with new starts in Scotland down from 7900 two years ago to 3400 this year.

Sadly, building more homes is one of the best ways to tackle the Housing Benefit bill, as it would bring down spiralling rents. The coalition is aiming at the wrong target, and the SNP needs to take action now.

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The straw man argument

This is a favourite tactic of the Coalition. ‘Labour got it all wrong’ is their favourite cry. Now this is something all governments do to some extent but the Coalition has raised this to an art. It’s not just political knockabout but has been used to justify many of the huge changes David Cameron is making to our public services.

So education Michael Gove endlessly tells us that Labour’s education record was appalling. Therefore we need to speed up the freeing of schools from local authorities through setting up academies and ‘free’ schools. But on 24th July 2012 in the Independent Michael Wilshire, the head of Ofsted is quoted as saying that schools in London were 50 times worse in the 70s, 80s and 90s and are now in his words ‘hugely better’. So unless you believe there has been a miracle perfomed in the last 2 years maybe Labour did something right after all, even in London which has tended to get some of the greatest criticism.

So too it goes with health. Generally the line here is that despite substantially increased spending ‘things didn’t get better’. Productivty we were told was poor. Running with this line of argument brings the ability to imply that reducing spending doesn’t have an impact. It also is used to justify the wholesale reorganisation of the NHS in England

But if the basic premise is wrong then all this upheaval is unnecessary. The annual British Social Attitudes Survey tells a different story. Satisfaction with the NHS was sitting at 34 per cent in 1997 and rose to 70 % in 2010.

And the decline in productivity argument has also been challenged. In February 2012 the Guardian reported a paper published in the Lancet, in which Nick Black, professor of health services research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that although the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, claimed NHS productivity had fallen 15%, the opposite was almost certainly the case.

The constant suggestion that the NHS ‘isn’t working’ can have other impacts too. A few weeks ago here in Scotland I was in a conversation where someone said ‘with the NHS on its knees why are we letting in so many immigrants to use our services’. While resources are always at a premium in health, not least because of the way in which medicine is always developing and able to do more and we have an ageing population, the NHS is far from being ‘on its knees’ and such exaggeration by politicians does little to assist rational debate on either the NHS or immigration.

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Lib Dem opposition to welfare cuts is hollow

On Friday morning last week I read Edinburgh West Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart’s STV local piece bemoaning the Westminster Government’s changes to the welfare system. As an MP that takes a keen interest in this issue, I’m afraid I nearly choked on my cornflakes.

Mr Crockart was specifically referring to the cuts in Housing Benefit for people in housing association or local authority accommodation that is deemed to be too large for their needs. From April 2013, working-age tenants will experience a reduction in their entitlement for every spare room in their house. One in seven Scottish tenants will be left worse off. The Government’s defence is that this will encourage people to move to smaller housing.

Unfortunately Ministers have failed to account for places like Edinburgh where there is an acute shortage of one bedroom properties. Downsizing will be difficult if not impossible. The effect of the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ will instead be to force hundreds of low income families to dig into savings or declare themselves homeless.

So what surprised me so much about Mr Crockart’s piece was his claim that:

I did not vote with the Government on under-occupancy.

I’m afraid to inform readers that this is not strictly true.

What is true is that Mr Crockart DID vote in favour of an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill – the legislation that contained the policy – to remove the provisions for the bedroom tax. Unfortunately this didn’t extend to all his fellow Lib Dems, and despite Labour’s best efforts the amendment was defeated.

Where he is being somewhat misleading is that, prior to this defeat, he had voted in favour the bill as a whole both at second and third reading, with the provisions on the bedroom tax entirely intact.

I like to be as fair minded as possible towards my fellow parliamentarians, and I appreciate that some MPs will sometimes be persuaded by their party leaders to vote for things that they don’t themselves agree with.

However where I draw the line is when that same MP subsequently makes public claims about their position which bear no relation to what actually happened in reality.

I’m afraid Mr Crockart is guilty of that classic Lib Dem trait – political opportunism. He’s said one thing to please his constituents, but done another to please his party leader.

And what’s worse is that the negative impact of the Welfare Reform Bill (or Act as it is now) isn’t limited to the bedroom tax:

  • There’s the uprating of housing benefit in line with inflation as opposed to local rents;
  • There’s the 20% cut to the Disability Living Allowance budget;
  • There’s the means testing of sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance after a year;
  • And there’s the introduction of charges for single parents to use the Child Support Agency.

I appreciate that savings have to be made to reduce the deficit. But these changes don’t hit benefits scroungers. They hit ordinary hard working families, the sick and disabled and children.

  • The housing benefit cuts will lead to a widening gap between benefit payments and what tenants have to pay, and will mean people in work won’t be able to pay their rent.
  • Slashing DLA will mean disabled people won’t be able to pay for care or mobility aids and will thus lose their independence.
  • Cuts to ESA will mean people who have both saved for their retirement and paid their taxes all their working lives could lose out if they fall ill.
  • Charging for the CSA will make it more difficult for parents to get child maintenance from former partners, and their children will lose out as a result.

It’s a shame Mr Crockart and his fellow Lib Dems didn’t join with me in voting against these measures when he had the chance.

An edited version of this article originally appeared on STV local.

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A mandate for deep cuts?

Do I think that these big, big cuts are merited or justified at a time when the economy is struggling to get to its feet? Clearly not.

Not my words – those of  Nick Clegg in a  BBC, interview with Jeremy Paxman, 12 April 2010.

Liberal Democrat VAT posterEven more interesting is the following quote:

I would say this, look, the decision on how we govern this country and how people vote shouldn’t be driven by fear of what the markets might do. Let’s say there was a Conservative government, right? Let’s say a Conservative government announced in that sort of macho way, ‘We’re going slash public spending by a third, we’re going to slash this, we’ll slash this, we’re going to do it tomorrow’, because it has to take early tough action.

Just imagine the reaction of my constituents in South West Sheffield. I, I represent a constituency that has more people working in public services as a proportion of the workforce than any other constituency in the country, lots of people work in the universities, the hospitals and so on. They have no Conservative councillors, they have no Conservative MPs, there are no Conservative MPs or Conservative councillors as far as the eye can see in South Yorkshire. People like that are going to say, ‘Well who are these people telling us that they are going to suddenly take our jobs away, who are these people who are suddenly they’re saying they’re going to threaten my local – what mandate do they have? I didn’t vote for them. No one around here votes for them.’ And I just, you know I think if we want to go the direction of Greece, where you get read social and industrial unrest, that’s the guaranteed way of doing it, thinking that the old tub-thumping way of conducting politics is the way that you bring people along with you.

(Nick Clegg, Yorkshire Post, Question Time event, 19 March 2010)

This is particularly interesting because time after time, in and out of Parliament , Clegg and co have used ‘Greece’ as a reason for supporting speedy deficit reduction, now arguing that if the UK didn’t do this we would be at the mercy of lenders ‘like Greece’.

It can be depressing after a lively debate going into the voting lobbies knowing that ‘they’ have a hefty majority. Usually when a Government has a comfortable majority like this it can argue that it has a ‘mandate’ for using that majority to carry through its own policies. But that isn’t the case here – there is no mandate ! The Tories didn’t win massive support for their policies and most of those voting Lib Dem thought they were voting for the policies Clegg & Co were speaking up for before the election. So how is this a mandate for what they are doing?

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