Tag Archives: poverty

Poverty and homelessness figures show how children are being let down

The End Child Poverty Coalition reveals in a report today that in some parts of the country, more than half our children are living in poverty. What a way to treat the next generation!

Lib Dem Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

This is an appalling indictment of a Tory Party that are failing to protect the most vulnerable in society.

The gulf between children born in the richest and poorest families is widening, but Theresa May is more preoccupied with the gulf in her cabinet over Brexit.

When we fail our children like this we fail as a society. The government must take action.

Cuts to social security, benefits for people in and out of work and low pay push more and more families into poverty. The roll-out of Universal Credit sees the poorest families lose over a four-figure sum every year. And let’s not forget the benefits freeze – effectively cutting benefits as prices increase. The Benefit Cap was a bad enough idea when it was introduced under the Coalition but the minute we were off the scene the Tories cut it even further. And what is even more terrible about that is that it’s applied directly to the housing cost so that people fall into rent arrears and face eviction and homelessness.

That would explain why figures in Scotland showed that 10% more children were in temporary accommodation last year than the year before. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think of those young lives in turmoil.

Imagine being 8 and being made homeless and having to stay in temporary accommodation, maybe a Bed and Breakfast, with lots of strangers around, with your entire family in one room which is unlikely to be in great shape. 

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How we could abolish relative poverty in five years

Do we want to abolish relative poverty in five years? Here’s one way we could do it.

In December the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its report UK Poverty 2017

The report states:

14 million people live in poverty in the UK – over one in five of the population. This is made up of eight million working-age adults, four million children and 1.9 million pensioners. 8 million live in families where at least one person is in work.

The question for Liberal Democrats is how can we eliminate relative poverty over the course of a five year Parliament.

The JRF report defines relative poverty as “when a family has an income of less
than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs”. They set out levels of income (after Income Tax, National Insurance and housing cost have been deducted) needed for different types of family units:

Family type £ per week, equivalised,

2015/16 prices

Couple with no children 248
Single with no children 144
Couple with two children aged 5 and 14 401
Single with two children aged 5 and 14 297

Source: Households Below Average Income 2015/16, table 2.2db

It is depressing to recognise that poverty among pensioners is increasing (from 13% in 2011/12 to 16% in 2015/16). In 2015/16 the Pension guarantee was set to £151.20 for single people and £230.85 for couples while the pension rates were only £115.95 (single) and £185.45 (couples). To eliminate poverty for couples we could increase the couple rate by 1.5% above the normal increase for 5 years (totally 7.73% compared to a shortfall of 7.43%)

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Does it matter what colour your passport is?

My reaction to the news the other day that blue passports were going to be coming back after Brexit was one of frustration and annoyance.

I am not young by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve never had an old style passport. My first one, issued in 1993, was the burgundy European Union one.

It’s not the colour change that upsets me so much but what it symbolises. Those words European Union signify openness and co-operation. That translates into meaningful rights for me as a citizen. It means that I can travel freely across the EU. It means that I am part of something that protects my rights – even when my own Governments, Scottish and UK, seek to undermine them.

I absolutely cherish those words. The change in passport colour symbolises a retreat from those values.

Tom Brake made the point the other day that there is a huge financial cost to each of us that he put at £721 per passport. That’s based on a £35 billion settlement to the EU divided by 48.5 million passport holders. He said:

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Baroness Olly Grender writes…Give renters fair access to affordable credit #makerentcount

Creditworthiness, yet another poverty gap issue, is one that could be so easily closed.

You’ve paid your rent all your life in full on time. You go online to buy a washing machine. You fill in your credit details. But because you’re renting in social housing, that washing machine will cost you somewhere between £300 and almost £1,000 more than someone with a mortgage.

Over two thirds of renters, in private and social housing, pay their rent. Renters are often managing bills, juggling finances and paying a far higher proportion for their housing costs than many owner-occupiers.

Last week, The Big Issue’s John Bird introduced a Bill to make this fairer. It will mean that rent paid in the past, and council tax, will be included when someone applies for credit. It will ensure that renters have as much of a digital identity as owner-occupiers. It will make rent count.

A version of this scheme has already been set up by Big Issue Invest by using rental data. This brilliant project, the Rental Exchange, is transforming credit freedoms. In almost 80% of cases, tenants can gain an improved credit score when rent data is shared, and the evidence also shows a jump from 39% to 84% in digital identity authentication when rent data is included in credit files.

Fairness for renters was the reason for my Renters Rights Bill last year, which focused particularly on banning tenancy fees to lettings agents. Many Lib Dems got behind it and, thanks to our successful campaign, it’s now a Government Bill.

By 2021, nearly one in four of us will be renters, still paying the poverty premium, currently an additional £1,300 for the basics of energy, phones, white goods and furniture. But people living in poverty must not be forgotten about. The financial system drives renters into the arms of the most unscrupulous lenders, which, in turn, drives a vicious cycle of poverty.

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Changing the mood music of politics: Let’s get angry about poverty and refuse to stand by while papers demonise the poor

I remember the feeling of sadness when I saw these figures from a Scottish Lib Dem freedom of information request. In Christmas 2015, 26,320 adults and 11,200 children were homeless. Those figures are up 8% and 16% respectively in two years. As the party’s housing spokesperson, I wanted to highlight this and, as the photo shows, the story was picked up by the Sun. I said:

It is absolutely heart-breaking to learn that more than 11,000 children were homeless last Christmas. It is intolerable that the number of families without a permanent roof over their head continues to rise.

Across the last three Christmases, 100,000 people were homeless, almost a third of them children.

We judge the strength of a society by how it looks out for its most vulnerable. These figures are a stain on the national conscience.

The Scottish Government have failed the children and families who don’t have stable warm home at Christmas. Many will have been in temporary accommodation but that it hardly a suitable or sustainable way of tackling homeless in the long term. The failure of the SNP to deliver on their previous social housing promises has undoubtedly contributed to this situation.

That is why the Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to press SNP ministers to get a grip of the housing crisis and increase the number of homes for social rent.

11,200 children would almost fill Scotland’s concert venue, the Hydro. It’s about a fifth of the population of the town where I live. For each of these children, homelessness means insecurity, disruption and uncertainty that limits their life chances. They could be placed anywhere in their local authority area and moved to another part of it at a moment’s notice. Imagine what that feels like to a young child. Being taken away from your familiar surroundings, school and support networks is hard enough once, but what if you have to wait months or even years for a permanent home and are constantly moved. Add to that that you may not be actually accommodated in a house, but in a hotel or hostel, sharing facilities with others. Read this family’s account in the Sun last week, of being made homeless after their father lost his job as a forklift truck driver because of a back injury.

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Willie Rennie talks about solutions to poverty, poor housing and low wages

Holyrood Magazine has been asking Scottish political leaders what they would do to tackle poverty. Here’s his ambitious answer to a question about whether the Scottish Government’s child poverty targets (less than 10% in relative poverty and 5% in absolute poverty by 2030) were acceptable:

Any child in poverty is unacceptable and any government should be working towards eradicating poverty altogether. Obviously, that is quite a challenge but we should set ourselves to be that ambitious. ​

And if we had to pay more taxes to ensure that? His answer isn’t surprising given that he’s the only Scottish leader to propose a rise in income tax for a “transformational” investment in education.

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A policy solution to poverty-promoting pre-payment meters

It is frequently asked how we reach the lower paid and those in poverty who have made up a large proportion of whose who may have been disenfranchised or chosen to vote for UKIP in the past. A big part is about getting the message across in a way which isn’t patronising or condescending but it’s also the day to day issues that need addressing. Liberal democrat policies need to be addressing these issues.

Those who have struggled financially, having fallen in to arrears, or are in rented accommodation are highly likely to be placed on pre-payment meters for their energy needs. The BBC today reported that these customers are likely to pay on average £220 more a year than customers who are not on the pre-payment meters.

The Ofgem report released today promised:

Those on pre-payment meters, who are among the most vulnerable and least likely to switch, will be protected by an interim price cap which will save them around £75 a year from next April.

I don’t think this goes far enough, pre-payment tariffs will still average a cost of around £145 more a year and, furthermore, the use of the word ‘interim’ highlights that the cap is not even a permanent reduction to pre-payment tariffs. This potentially means that pre-payment tariffs may become even more unfair after any proposed cap expires.

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